That, in the opinion of the House, the Conservative government has broken its promise to reduce medical wait times and to provide the necessary funding and resources to achieve the goals of the First Ministers' accord on health care renewal.
She said: Mr. Speaker, we are here today to talk about an important issue, an issue that impacts all Canadians from coast to coast to coast and an issue that impacts Canadians of all socio-economic and cultural backgrounds, and that is the issue of wait times and health care.
When we look at the issue of wait times, we see that it is an issue that impacts all Canadians, Canadians who need to look for specialists, Canadians who need access to doctors and Canadians who need access to health care in their times of need in hospitals.
I, along with many of my colleagues, believe that unfortunately the Conservative government has broken its promise to reduce wait times in Canada. This abandonment of a promise to implement a national wait time guarantee has become rhetoric and, unfortunately, has not been translated into reality.
During the election campaign, the wait times guarantee was put forward by the Conservatives as one of their top five priorities. However, now that it is in government, this priority seems to have fallen off its agenda altogether.
The whole responsibility for the wait times issue has been downloaded to the provinces and the territories, without any type of funding and without any additional resources. Canadians want their national government to show leadership on this issue. The provinces and the territories have gone through their challenges in ensuring their health care dollars actually meet the needs of their respective residents and constituents. Canada alone spent an estimated $142 billion on health care in 2005, which is almost $4,400 per person. After we take into account inflation, this perhaps is almost three times as much as what was spent in 1975.
It is for those reasons and after looking at those figures that we realize we must work together as parliamentarians to ensure we actually achieve results.
I will take the House back to 2004 when all the provinces and the territories, along with leadership from our Liberal minister at that time, Minister Dosanjh, put forward the 2004 health care accord. This $41 billion long term agreement on health care was made in 2004 with the support of and in collaboration with all premiers. This was a 10 year plan to strengthen the public health care system by reducing wait times, by ensuring that we invested in human resources, by the implementation of a national pharmaceutical strategy, by ensuring we had a catastrophic drug coverage plan available for all, by ensuring that we actually supported health promotion and the prevention of disease and by ensuring that we promoted and had a national immunization strategy.
This plan actually recognized all of these issues that we needed to address to ensure the best possible public health care system for all Canadians, a health care system that was effective, efficient and provided quality health care.
This 10 year plan had a deadline of December 31, 2005 for the determination of wait time benchmarks for key medical procedures. This deadline was met with the support and the leadership of everyone involved, the provinces, the territories and Canada's former Liberal government. Wait time benchmarks were set for five priority areas: cancer treatment, cardiac care, sight restoration, joint replacement and diagnostic imaging.
It was also agreed upon by everyone that research, support and resources would be provided to support ongoing benchmark development in other priority areas that were important to Canadians.
In the budget of 2005, the former Liberal government put its money where its mouth was and allocated $41 billion to support this accord. In addition, $5.5 billion were invested to ensure that the establishment and creation of a wait times reduction fund would take place. This $5.5 billion investment assisted the provinces and territories to actually reduce wait times.
The former Liberal government went one step further when it appointed Dr. Brian Postl as the new federal adviser on wait times. Dr. Postl worked diligently with the federal, provincial and territorial governments to achieve the commitments made in the 10 year plan. His report was delivered to the new Conservative government in June 2006.
In his report, Dr. Postl states that the wait times are a symptom of a much larger issue. He states that in order to create a more efficient and effective health care system within Canada, we need to ensure that we transform our system. He says that as Canadians, as government and as all stakeholders, we need to ensure that patients are put in the centre of the system. He believes that it is only by working in collaboration and in coordination that we will ensure wait times across Canada are reduced.
He stated that several elements required attention for the transformation to take place and all of them were necessary. However, they are not individually sufficient to create change, but by working at all of the initiatives that he has outlined, he is sure that with the support and leadership of all governments and stakeholders, we will make this transformation and ultimately achieve the goal of a reduction in wait times.
We need to ensure, he stated, that we have ongoing research to support benchmarking and operational improvements, that we have the adoption of modern management practices, that we invest in information technology in Canada's health infoway, that we ensure we have an increase in health-human resources, that we trust our regions and our municipalities and ensure they receive the resources and the funding they need for the development of their infrastructure and their particular needs, and that we ensure we have public education to support this transformation.
It is his view that by addressing these key areas, patients will be better served, wait times will be reduced and health care systems will become respective of the needs of the patients.
As a result of the 10 year plan and the guidance of the former Liberal government, many provinces have worked diligently to ensure they reduce wait times. In British Columbia, the median time for starting cancer treatment in 2005 was almost, in some areas, less than a week. In Alberta, the number of people waiting for open heart surgery declined by 55% over a two week period in December 2005. In Saskatchewan, the Saskatoon's health region waiting list for an MRI was cut by 45% in 2005.
When we move on to Quebec we see that the number of patients awaiting cataract surgery has been significantly reduced by the redistribution of the surgeries to a smaller number of facilities. In Ontario we have seen that the provincial health minister, George Smitherman, has announced funding for an additional 42,000 medical procedures to be allocated under the provinces wait time strategy.
It is unfortunate, however, that over the last 10 months we have seen an increase in wait times. In Manitoba, wait lists have jumped to an average of 18 weeks for services, such as CT scans and orthopedic surgery, a 9% increase from 2005. Nova Scotia's average wait times have increased to 22 weeks in 2006 alone. New Brunswick has recorded some of the highest wait times in the country, with patients having to wait 31 weeks for surgery and 20.8 weeks to consult a specialist. When we take a look at these statistics, we realize that we all must do more.
It was during the 2006 election platform that the Liberal Party actually put forward the Canada health care guarantee. The guarantee put forward by the Conservative Party when it was elected as the New Conservative government, unfortunately, has not been acted upon, but more so, the Conservative government has not provided results to Canadians on the issue of wait time guarantees.
We have seen as well the importance of ensuring that we invest in health care in the aboriginal and first nations communities. Another disappointment has occurred with the Conservative government and its failure to implement the Kelowna accord. The full funding for the Kelowna accord was $5 billion, but many individuals who were involved in the negotiation and the signing of the accord see that there was $1.3 billion allocated to aboriginal health care, health care which many Canadians take for granted but unfortunately is not received by many aboriginal and first nations Canadians.
We have a responsibility. We had a responsibility when we signed the Kelowna accord and in 2006 we continue to have a responsibility to ensure that our aboriginal and first nations communities receive the very best in a health care system that our country has to offer.
Once again, we have seen that unfortunately the Conservatives have not honoured the full support of the premiers of all political stripes and the premiers, along with Canadians and the aboriginal federation. Many other stakeholders continue to call on the government to implement the accord. The AFN continues to call on the government to implement the accord as it understands what Kelowna represents. It represents an investment in the aboriginal and first nations communities and, more importantly for today's motion, an investment in health care.
We have seen that the conditions for first nations communities have not changed. They continue to struggle and face challenge after challenge. While the government has gone on to implement a pilot project for 10 aboriginal and first nations communities, this is a pilot project ensuring prenatal care that many Canadians across this country actually take as a basic standard.
Has much really been done? We take a look at aboriginal communities and talk about fetal alcohol syndrome disorder, which one of the members on this side of the House has worked on diligently over the last many years to ensure that there are solutions and that a proactive approach is put forward.
We have seen that fetal alcohol syndrome is a leading cause of mental retardation in the western world and yet it is absolutely preventable. Honouring the Kelowna accord would have invested the money, time and resources that we need to address this issue within the aboriginal and first nations communities.
We must also take a look at another important issue in the health care accord and that is the national pharmaceutical strategy. This strategy was announced in 2004. It was intended to protect all Canadians from all socio-economic backgrounds to ensure that they would have access to the medications that they need when they need it.
We had put forward a catastrophic drug plan within the national pharmaceutical strategy and as part of the 10 year plan to strengthen health care, first ministers actually directed health ministers to establish a ministerial task force to develop and implement these national pharmaceutical standards. However, when the first ministers met in 2005 and then in 2006 with the new Conservative government, it is unfortunate that we did not have the leadership we needed to have this implementation.
The ministers had agreed to expand the common drug review to ensure that recommendations on which drugs were eligible for reimbursement would be made possible, to work toward a common national formulary to ensure that there was more consistent access to drugs across the country, and also to ensure that the Patented Medicine Prices Review Board would monitor and report on non-patented drug prices. They wanted to allow the board to regulate the price of non-patented drugs and for the provinces to formally consider delegating this responsibility to perhaps the federal government.
However, during all these reports and suggestions that were put forward by the first ministers, they all wanted to work together to be able to collect, integrate and disseminate information on the real world risks and benefits of drugs. The ministers reaffirmed their commitment to this report, the development and implementation of all elements of the national pharmaceutical strategy, to the first ministers in June 2006.
It is unfortunate that the , when Canadians were looking for national leadership, did not even show up at the release of the report for the national pharmaceutical strategy. Putting partisan politics aside, that is an absolute shame.
We have also seen the incredible need for more funding in the area of research, innovation, and HIV-AIDS research. There are 58,000 people living in Canada with HIV-AIDS and one-third do not even know that they are infected. There are 3,400 Canadians who are newly infected every year. It is estimated that almost 11 people are newly infected with HIV in Canada on a daily basis. That means that every two hours a Canadian is infected with HIV. Since 2002 the number of people in Canada infected with HIV has increased by almost 16%.
On December 1 we will celebrate World AIDS Day throughout the world. It is during that time perhaps when we are celebrating World AIDS Day around the world that we will realize that we must do more. We must provide the research, the investment, and the resources to address this international and global issue.
Let us look at what the government has done. It is unfortunate when we as Canadians in Toronto were hosting the International AIDS Conference that the did not even see it worthwhile or fitting to attend. It was an absolute embarrassment for many of the stakeholders, the researchers and the organizers planning the HIV-AIDS conference.
When Canada had a chance to make its mark and make an announcement for investment and research, we as a country failed because our did not provide the leadership that was required.
On November 21, 2005 the previous Liberal government announced over $60 million in funding to fight HIV-AIDS globally over the next six years. Of this amount, $15.2 million was intended to enable Canada to meet its commitment to provide 4% of the four components of the UN AIDS budget for 2006-07.
Another $12 million was to support the international AIDS vaccine initiative for 2006 as its previous funding expired in December 2005. We renewed that commitment as the former Liberal government. In fact, from 2000 to 2005 the Liberal government actually committed more than $800 million to combat HIV-AIDS globally. This included our contribution to the global fund to fight AIDS, TB and malaria, and more than half of which actually went to combating HIV-AIDS, not only here in Canada, but throughout the world.
When we talk about the investment in HIV-AIDS research, when we talk about a national pharmaceutical strategy to ensure that we have catastrophic drug coverage, or when we talk about a national immunization strategy, the fact is that the funding for the national immunization strategy is up for renewal in March 2007. We would hope that the Conservative government is going to support to continue to renew this particular strategy which has impacted and helped thousands of Canadians across the country.
Whether it is about HIV-AIDS or a national catastrophic drug coverage or a national pharmaceutical strategy or the national immunization strategy, we must all work together as parliamentarians to provide the leadership that is needed to address these issues.
When poll after poll is done in this country, it is very apparent that the number one issue that resonates with Canadians from coast to coast to coast is the issue of wait times. It is an issue that impacts all Canadians. As a health care provider and having worked in my constituency of , I have seen firsthand the challenges that patients face on a daily basis. We must ensure that they get the health care services that they need in a timely fashion.
Patients fall ill and many of them, unfortunately, have never been to a doctor or they cannot find a doctor. Once they do find a family physician for their particular problem and if they have to be sent to a specialist, it takes months and months for them to access a specialist. Then, if they are required by the specialist to go on to receive a CT scan or an MRI scan or other diagnostic imaging, that takes another few months.
We have seen this particular story, it is one that every single Canadian can relate to, one where they had to wait. When there are conditions such as cancer and other terminal illnesses wait times have an impact on the number of days that they may have to live.
That is why I believe it is the responsibility of all parliamentarians to put our partisanship aside to address this important issue and work together to honour the health care accord that we signed in 2004. More importantly, we must work together to provide the leadership to take action and to ensure that we do reduce wait times in this country.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to share my time with the member for .
I listened to the member's comments and also to her response to my question. It is a bit rich for the member to say that it is not right to call the Liberal approach to the compensation for hepatitis C victims meanspirited, because I think a lot of Canadians who look at the issue saw that approach as meanspirited. As for the term “meanspirited”, I got that from the Liberal side of the House. In every question period we hear that term many times, and even the member herself, I believe, has used that term. If the member has a problem with the term, perhaps she should talk to her colleagues and ask them to stop using it when describing others.
In regard to the motion itself, I do find it ironic that the motion has been brought forward by a member of the previous government, because the previous government has a very poor record when it comes to health care. In that regard it is a partisan issue, because the Conservative government is doing what we have historically done and that is to try to fix the problems that Liberal governments have created, and surely health care is a major problem.
Let us put it in context for a moment. It was the Liberals who cut $25 billion in transfers to the provinces. It was under the Liberals that wait times doubled. It was under the Liberals that there was a deliberate policy to cut the number of health care professionals in the system. That occurred about 10 years ago and now we have a major health care profession crisis because we do not have the HR. I think people who apply common sense will see that the Liberal record is very poor.
However, in the last election the Conservative Party came up with a tremendous concept and commitment, and that is the patient wait time guarantee. In fact, I was honoured that the made that announcement in my campaign office on Portage Avenue in Winnipeg, Manitoba. In that announcement, he described what the guarantee is. It is to ensure that people get the health care they deserve in a reasonable amount of time in their jurisdiction, and if they cannot get it where they live we will provide the option to send them to some place that can provide that care.
As the , I know that Canadians have said that establishing a patient wait time guarantee is their priority. Now the Government of Canada has committed to a wait time guarantee that offers recourse when wait times become too long. It is time to state the obvious: the status quo is not acceptable and failure is not an option. It is time to declare it unacceptable in a nation as wealthy and modern as Canada to have a health care system that permits long delays and offers patients no recourse to alternate treatment options.
That is not just my opinion. That is the opinion of the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has said, under the Liberal record, that unless we are able to provide care in a timely manner the Supreme Court will step in and allow people the option to get the care they deserve. That is really the ultimate indictment of the previous government's record. Perhaps that is why the people of Canada elected a new government: to try to fix that problem and to get control of the situation so that people will get the care they deserve in a timely manner.
Doctors overwhelmingly support this concept. Health care professionals support the guarantee. The public supports the Conservative guarantee. In Canada we have a deal: people pay their taxes and government provides reliable health care. Canadians have lived up to their side of the deal. They have paid their taxes year in and year out, but they have not been getting the value they deserve for that money. The health care wait lists are still too long.
Canada's new government understands this fact. Canadians expect all levels of government to work together to get things done for families and taxpayers. They expect practical health care programs, properly managed. Are wait time guarantees a new idea? In Canada it is innovative, but other countries in the world are doing it. New Zealand, Denmark and the United Kingdom all offer some sort of guarantee.
In fact, the current has travelled to some of these countries to see what their experiences have been. Fortunately, our federal health minister has also been on the provincial side as a health minister, so he knows how to work with provinces, territories and all our health care partners to deliver a system that is more accountable to patients, not to policies or providers, but to patients.
For too long, patients have been treated as a cog in the wheel. Doctors care, nurses care and family members care, but the system does not care. It was not designed to put patients first. Patients need and deserve to be at the centre of the health care system. Canada's new government is committed to a patient-centred approach.
It is obvious that we cannot do everything at once, but I know that reducing wait times is a key component. We have to start somewhere. The good news is that we have indeed started.
Canada's new government is taking action to deliver and improve health care results for families and taxpayers. Canadians have told us that this is what they want. The Supreme Court has told us that this is what we must do. We will do it.
What does a patient wait time guarantee mean to Canadians and their families? It means a system that provides certainty and confidence that care will be there when we need it. It means a system that is responsive, accommodating changing health care needs in a timely manner. It means a system that is fair, based on need, and transparent, providing us with readily available information and keeping us in the loop. Finally, it means a system that is accountable so that Canadian taxpayers see value for their money.
In 2005, all the provinces and territories worked together to establish an initial set of benchmarks for acceptable wait times in priority areas. As they say in business, “If you can't measure it, you can't manage it”. With these benchmarks in hand, we can now measure against them in order to determine which areas of our system we need to focus on for improvement.
In budget 2006, our government committed to honouring Canada's health care accord by continuing to transfer to the provinces an additional $41 billion over five years, including $5.5 billion specifically earmarked to reduce wait times. We also are committed to a 6% increase in funding in each of those five years.
Let me emphasize that: each and every health ministry in every province and every territory can now budget to receive a 6% increase every year through the Canada health transfer. For the first time in over a decade, the health ministers are working with health care budgets that are increasing. We have given them the money to make these improvements and Canadian taxpayers expect to see these improvements.
We have seen reductions in wait times for hip and knee replacements in Alberta, from 47 weeks to 4.7 weeks. We have seen the Manitoba wait time for cancer radiation therapy going down to under one week versus six weeks. Quebec and Manitoba have publicly declared de facto guarantees for select cardiac and cancer services. Last Friday we introduced the Canadian strategy for cancer control, which the previous government refused to fund or implement. We have a patient wait time pilot project for first nations that will be a landmark, especially for a community that is all too often forgotten.
The Conservative government is taking action. We are increasing funding and looking for innovative approaches. We support the Canada Health Act, which is important to all Canadians. Thank goodness for the Conservative Party.
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to this motion. When I first looked at it, I was absolutely appalled. It is appalling because it is a motion that is so absolutely partisan. It was introduced on September 26, eight months after the Conservatives formed government. The Liberals are saying that we broke promises on wait times and have not provided the necessary funding or resources. We have not cut any funding or resources. That is exactly what has happened with regard to health care.
We have introduced some wait times initiatives, and I will talk about those in a few minutes. However, the partisanship of this is appalling. If we want to talk about partisanship, I will talk a bit about what the last Liberal government did. I do not want to dwell on the negative, but I have to level the playing field and set the record straight with regard to 13 years of terror in health care, one might say, by a Liberal government. It did nothing but increased wait times to 91% longer in the time it was in office. It pulled $25 billion out of health care in the mid 1990s.
By the year 2000, it decided there should be an accord to do something about health care. There were three accords in fact. There were accords in 2000, 2003 and 2004. What is really interesting is it followed the accords with a bunch of studies. The oldest trick in politics is when one does not want to make a decision, one puts it off to a commission, a committee or a study. That is exactly what happened.
We saw the Mazankowski report on what the provinces were doing. We had the Fyke report, the Clair commission, the Kirby report and the Romanow report. We were reported to death. The problem is not that we have not studied health care.
When we look at what the previous government did, it is absolutely startling. When it is in a situation where it refuses to deal with a problem at hand, it can cost a tremendous amount of money. We saw that in health care. However, it is worse than that. When a government dithers and does not take the initiative to lead--
An hon. member: The previous government.
Mr. Rob Merrifield: Yes, the previous government.
We saw an example of exactly what could happen when the SARS crisis hit Canada. We saw that dithering cost not only billions of dollars but 44 lives. That was due, to a large degree, to ineffective leadership by the Liberal government. We could discuss for the entire day the disaster that happened because of the inaction of the Liberal government. We are not talking dollars, we are talking lives.
Let us go on to wait times. Why is it so important that we have a wait times guarantee? It is important to understand that some of the commissions studied it and recommended it. The Mazankowski report recommended it as did the Kirby report. It is a very important concept. People have to understand that if a government is prepared to say that it will provide necessary services as a public system and then the public does not have the opportunity to access those services, something is wrong.
The Supreme Court decision in the Chaoulli case in 2005 said that medically necessary services must be provided by the state in a timely fashion. If we are not going to do that, then we are saying that we are prepared to allow individuals to die on those wait lists before we provide the services. That is not compassionate, nor is it the way we should run our health system and it does not reflect Canadian values.
It is interesting to look at what happened in the last election. On December 2, the Conservatives announced the care guarantee saying that we would guarantee care to Canadians.
What was really interesting about that and why I bring this up, is the Liberal government, when it was embarrassed and knew it had to come out with something on health care, on January 3 said that a care guarantee was needed. That was after 13 years of saying no, that it was not going to do what needed to be done in health care. I am upset because of the partisanship and shallowness of the motion. We must stop playing politics with health care if we are to sustain it over the next 30 or 40 years.
We have to get down to work in the best interests of Canadians. We have to put the patient first. We must stop all this rhetoric and nonsense. A care guarantee absolutely must take place.
There is much that can be done with the dollars we have put into health care. It is not that Canadians do not want to support the system. It is not that there is not enough funding in the system. There is a significant amount of funding in the system.
The health committee wanted to look at care guarantee and wait times in order to make a recommendation to the minister with regard to wait times. We brought in a good number of witnesses last spring to look at what is happening in the provinces. We have to look at the provincial jurisdiction, understanding that it is the provinces that deliver on health care, and then determine what we can do from the federal perspective to assist them in dealing with the situation.
What are the provinces doing? There are some wonderful examples. One is the Cardiac Care Network of Ontario which appeared before the committee and described how it was improving access for patients. There is a joint approach between cardiac care and a system of services. Decision making is being improved through the way the data and experiences are being put together. A significant amount of research is being done. As well, there is an early warning system.
The one that struck me the most was the Alberta bone and joint transplant project. This is a pilot project led by Dr. Cy Frank from Alberta. It reduced the wait times from 47 weeks to 4.7 weeks within one year for joint and hip replacements. That is a wonderful statistic. The first thing that ran through my mind was the cost, but it actually cost us zero. They put $20 million into the project. Most of that money was for the extra joints and hips. The most astounding fact is not one more doctor was needed in order to provide that service and to reduce the wait times by 90%. It is astounding when a public system can actually do that.
The question that begs to be asked is why that cannot be done for every procedure in every province right across the country.
Dr. Cy Frank was in my office about a week ago and I asked him what else has happened. A significant amount of these projects are on their way in every province. Other provinces are modelling what has happened. This is the kind of innovation that we need in the public system. If we are going to sustain it, we have to stop the rhetoric and start working with the provinces that have the jurisdiction to accomplish what needs to take place to sustain the health care system over the next 40 years.
Because of the baby boomer bubble, an intense weight will be put on this system starting in about 10 years and increasing toward 2040 and beyond. It will take every Canadian working as hard as he or she possibly can to sustain the health care system as we know it today. We do not have time for rhetoric. We have to get serious about solving the problems and fixing what is out there.
My hon. colleague talked about the funding. There was the $5.5 billion in the 2004 accord and none of that money has been cut. It is all going out there. This year alone there is $1.2 billion for reducing wait times, focusing on health human resources. When we talk about health human resources, the minister actually added another $18.3 million last week to a specific project to deal with those immigrants in Canada who might be driving taxis right now, but who need to receive medical credentials. They need to be brought into the mainstream of the health care system to use their abilities in the best possible way for the benefit of Canadians. The goal with the $18.3 billion is to increase the number of doctors by 1,000, nurses by 800 and other health care professionals by 500. Those are the kinds of things that are actually happening.
That is not all. There is another project. It is the mandate of the federal government to deal with first nations. The first initiative is a care guarantee for first nations. After a woman's first pregnancy appointment, she will be cared for within four weeks of that visit.
I come from the province of Alberta where there are regional health authorities. Before coming to the Parliament, I worked for a regional health authority for 20 years.
The care guarantee is such in my riding that if an individual has a back problem and needs back surgery, he can go to Edmonton, which is not too far away. He may be on a wait list for six to eight months, or maybe even a year. Or he could go north to Grand Prairie to a smaller hospital and have that surgery within two weeks. Those are the kinds of examples.
The concept is that the individual needs the option to get the care as fast as he possibly can to add credibility and competitiveness within the system. That needs to transplant itself right across this country, in every province, in every area, so that we can use the dollars in the most effective way possible for the benefit of all Canadians. That is where we need to go. The rhetoric has to stop. We have to fix health care and we will do it.
Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to speak, especially after the chair of the Standing Committee on Health, who is a member of the government and therefore in a position of authority. I am particularly glad to speak to this motion on the Liberal opposition day. The motion reads as follows:
That...the Conservative government has broken its promise to reduce medical wait times and to provide the necessary funding and resources to achieve the goals of the first ministers’ accord on health care renewal.
We agree in part with this motion by the Liberal Party. It was a toss-up whether the Liberal Party or the Conservative Party was guiltier. In 10 years with the Liberals, the Canada social transfer sometimes missed the mark. The provinces were also struggling to reduce the deficit, at a time when the Liberal government had cut off the funding that would have allowed the provinces to meet the public's needs. Every province was fighting to reduce the deficit. I wanted to give a bit of background.
In Quebec, decisions were made. I am not here to judge the aim of those decisions, but they did let the public down. Many nurses were laid off, with the result that Quebec has a shortage of nurses today. This was done so that the province could meet needs with the money allocated to it. That is why we take a special interest in that part of the motion. But it is hard to know which of the two governments is responsible.
The Conservatives have been in power for just under a year, but from what I have seen, the Conservatives and the Liberals seem to be more or less on the same page when in comes to pursuing health objectives in provincial jurisdictions.
Yesterday I pointed out to the chair of the Standing Committee on Health that I found it somewhat contradictory to see a press release announcing a cancer program in Montreal that Quebec did not want to take part in. He said, rather ironically, that he could understand that Quebec only wanted the money. I would like to explain, once and for all, why Quebec wants the money. It does not want money for money's sake, just to have more in our pockets, but because the programs are already in place. I would like people to stop answering this question in such an arrogant and simplistic manner, which is the only way I can describe it.
Why not respond to Quebec's needs simply by saying, “Yes, it is true, Quebec wants the money and we can understand why because it already has programs in place”. Indeed, Quebec is often a leader in implementing a number of actions and it responds to the urgent needs of the people, especially in health matters.
As far as waiting lists are concerned, we know full well that the current government and the Parti Québécois would have had the same reaction. The outcome might have been different in certain respects, but the problem would have been addressed in order to truly meet the needs of the people. In Quebec, the entire population and the social and economic players know quite clearly and precisely how the government should behave toward the public. Every political party chooses its own objectives in various matters.
If I say we want the money, I do not want to feel intimidated. It is true that Quebec demands that provincial jurisdictions be respected. I am not the only way who says so, all the premiers of Quebec have asked for this. Health is a provincial jurisdiction. Furthermore, in the health accord signed by all the first ministers, a “Quebec clause” exists for Quebec's jurisdictions.
For example, on child care services and on wait times programs are being implemented and there are also reactions in the parliamentary commissions.
We have parliamentary commissions in Quebec for all these issues.
If other provinces do the same, even better. Members must rise in this House and say that this is what their governments want.
Why should we get bogged down in endless administrative procedures regarding the implementation of national programs for which there are often Canada-wide institutions that cost a great deal of money? Millions of dollars are spent on administrative costs.
I will cite only two examples, although I could give a very long list of the cost of all such agencies that oversee the entire Canadian population and all departments, in Quebec and elsewhere. If that suits all Canadians and the Canadian provinces except for Quebec, then good for them. We would understand and would not feel threatened or targeted unfairly.
Why should we contribute to funding the Public Health Agency of Canada, when the same agency exists in Quebec and carries out almost the same mandate? Our request is very simple. We should have a portion of the operating funds from the Public Health Agency of Canada, because it is not needed to supervise Quebec.
I am looking for my notes because I just mentioned the cost of the Public Health Agency of Canada. In the beginning, we all know that the Public Health Branch was within Health Canada. The two roles were divided with respect to all the public servants who work there. Thus, a budget of nearly $354 million was transferred, along with the equivalent of 1,164 full-time employees, to be precise.
Over the years, obviously, costs have increased, first, by $56 million with 385 more employees, then, by $76 million with another increase of 260 employees. Furthermore, some programs were eliminated in research and staffing related to hepatitis C. They decided to end the programs in an attempt to save $63 million.
There was an another increase in 2006-07: an additional $48.6 million and 190 employees; then a further increase of $34.9 million tied to the integrated strategy on healthy living and chronic disease, with another 120 employees.
In late 2006, the cost of managing the Public Health Agency of Canada is $506.6 million and there are now 2,000 full-time equivalent employees.
I am citing these figures because during the committee hearings I remember asking the new director of the Public Health Agency of Canada, appointed by the previous government, what the additional costs would be and how many jobs would be created. These figures were provided by the Public Health Agency of Canada and I wanted to compare them to the cost of my suggestion of transferring to Quebec the money used by the agency for administration and supervision, since Quebec already has a similar agency. For example, the $34.9 million increase in the envelope tied to the integrated strategy on healthy living and chronic disease for supervisory purposes. Why not give Quebec a portion of this money since it has the Institut national de santé publique du Québec? Its representatives also appeared before the committee to provide their input on the increase in obesity among Canadians and Quebeckers.
I should not be told, with a smirk, that we are only after the money. This money would give the Government of Quebec some latitude enabling it to be even more proactive and to improve its human resources.
Today, we are talking about wait lists. Things do move slowly in some areas. That is the reality and I have experienced it. Someone in my family is waiting for intestinal surgery. She had it and is now connected to a tube and has been waiting for an operation for a year, because there is no room.
I know what it means to have to wait for surgery. Certainly, money is not the answer to everything, but if we want more effective strategies, then we need a little more money to pay people and support the public. We are not entirely wrong to ask for more money. Quebec's health minister is currently asking for more money for health in order to meet the public's needs.
Here again, this is not partisanship. The hon. member asked which of us was the more partisan. I believe that everyone is trying to make his or her point. But on the issue of health, the Liberals fell short of the mark for a number of years. The current government is taking the same approach to health, instead of realizing that there is the Quebec clause, looking at that clause and seeing what it can do.
You do not sign just any agreement or use just any words. You do not boast about understanding Quebec society and the Quebec nation. Recognizing Quebec as a nation also means working together to understand Quebec society. That means adopting strategies to meet all the public's needs. A person can distinguish himself or herself by developing a strategy faster than someone else.
The final report of the federal wait times advisor has been issued. The report contains many encroachments on provincial jurisdictions, particularly in Chapter 7. I will not go into this in detail, because the report runs to several hundred pages. I would just like to point out that the current government is still operating as the Liberals did. For example, the table of contents includes public education and contains the following items:
7.1 The need for a public education strategy
7.3 How Canadians are informed about wait times and implications for a public education plan...
7.6 Public education on key transformations
If that is not encroaching on fields of jurisdiction, I believe that many would agree with me in saying that once again it is a step in that direction.
I spoke of the costs of the Public Health Agency of Canada. There is also the Health Council of Canada, which, if my memory is correct, supervises the agreement reached in 2004. They established the Health Council of Canada. How much does it cost? In 2005, the Health Council of Canada cost $3.2 million. In 2006, there was a slight increase and it cost $4.8 million.
What is obvious is that each time there is a federal agency, all the money goes for administration. I am not sure that is the best way of doing things. I am a member of the Standing Committee on Health and I can tell you that Health Canada—which has a very specific mandate—and the Public Health Agency of Canada often fall short of the mark, and the answers to our questions are very feeble. I could give you some very specific examples. I am not sure that they follow the letter of all their assigned mandates, or that they do it in a very effective way. Often, they set out to cast a wide net but in practice achieve the opposite effect.
There is a news release on the effective management of expenditures by this government. They went looking for money. They want to lead by example and check the effectiveness of programs. During the committee meeting last week, the appeared before us and spoke of his generosity toward victims of hepatitis C. He boasted of the existence of a billion dollars for the victims of hepatitis C. However, that billion dollars has still not reached the pockets of those victims.
That is what I told him. I also said to him, “You can boast when you stop delaying and immediately provide a temporary fund so the victims of hepatitis C can have better support at all levels”.
There was much talk about waiting lists, but what is needed is action. I am not sure that either the Liberal government or the Conservative government that is now in power is capable of the best reactions or the best strategies for providing more support to the provinces.
I am not sure whether I made myself understood clearly in terms of the funds Quebec is asking for. In my opinion, what it is asking for is very justified and justifiable, particularly when a Liberal premier whose praises are constantly sung is asking for the same thing and his Minister of Health is asking for the same thing. This is not money being spent foolishly and simplistically, because this is money that will be used to be more proactive in the measures that the public of Quebec as a whole are calling for.
This also brings me to another point. Any talk of waiting lists opens up the broader issue of the fiscal imbalance. We know that the Conservative government is not capable of offering us a concrete roadmap for the direction that will be taken on the fiscal imbalance. The recent economic statement made very little reference to it.
If the Conservative government in power, which accused the Liberals of a lot of things, is going to be consistent, it will pay the fair value of this fiscal imbalance, the value that Quebec’s political spokespeople are calling for. That comes to $3.9 billion.
We understand that these are figures that have already been stated. Various political strategies have been used in order to throw us off the trail, but we know perfectly well that this is the amount we called for to be recognized and to solve the fiscal imbalance. Why? To put an end to the financial pressure on the provinces and on Quebec so that they can meet the challenges they are facing in a number of areas, in this case health care, but also in education and social programs. There is also the matter of equalization.
When that party was in opposition, it said that interfering in areas under provincial jurisdiction was not their cup of tea. Now, little by little, we are seeing that the Conservatives are not entirely prepared to meet the provinces’ demands when it comes to federal government interference.
Obviously, no matter what party is in power, the centralization of national programs is an objective that a majority of the members of this House will pursue, be they Liberals, Conservatives or even New Democrats. Nonetheless, Quebec’s wishes must be respected.
I know that I am going to vote for the bill introduced by the NDP, because it recognized that Quebec was entitled to opt out of a child care program and it recognized that $2 billion was being invested in child care services.
Quickly, I can show how the Conservative members frequently contradict themselves completely. I know that they have managed to scrape together $1.1 billion by making cuts to all sorts of programs. In non-core programs, they are going to save $4 million by eliminating funding for medical marijuana research. I do not know why they want to withdraw from that program. Apparently, it is because it falls within provincial jurisdiction.
I find it ridiculous for them to respect provincial jurisdiction when it suits them, but when it does not suit them, on the other hand, they do the complete opposite. This information comes from a press release give to us by this government.
We could entertain ourselves with the inconsistencies of the present government.
Mr. Speaker, the New Democratic Party has, since its inception, and the CCF before that, put health care first. It is not a partisan issue. It does not come up from time to time. It does not come up only during elections, before elections or as some crisis hits the health care system. It is a part of the founding of this political party. I believe I am speaking to this motion without attempting to make health or wait times a partisan issue.
However, I will talk about what I think are some of the significant challenges around the fact that this wait times guarantee has not been met.
When the Conservative government was elected, I believe Canadians had certain expectations on what the wait times guarantee would mean. I do not think that what the people of Canada have seen is in any way what they expected to see given the focus and the priority that was placed upon health care and patient wait times guarantee by the government. I do not think the Canadian people see the commitment or the political will to move this agenda along.
One of the reasons for this that might cause people to wonder is that one of the Conservatives' five priorities during the election campaign was to work with the provinces to establish a patient wait times guarantee. People saw that as being one of the Conservatives' priorities and whether they voted for them or not, they expected that to happen because that was the promise.
When they hear the talking about being pleased that his government has made progress on all five priorities, from cleaning up the federal government, to cutting taxes, cracking down on crime, supporting families and strengthening our country at home and around the world, they may be great, but where did health care go?
When the government talks about its five priorities, why has it stopped talking about the patient wait times guarantee? Has it fallen off the table? Has it been recognized that there is no plan in place whatsoever on how to approach it or is there no political will and courage to carry it out? I do not know but I do know that Canadians are asking themselves those kinds of questions.
I have a friend with a back problem who had to wait seven months for spinal surgery. This happened after the election. Every day for those seven months she hoped the promise of the guaranteed wait times within a reasonable time, depending upon when the illness, disability or diagnosis, would come through. She does not have full recovery and will probably never have full recovery. However, she would have had full recovery had she had her surgery earlier. However, lying in pain for seven months on a bed or a chesterfield and not moving created a whole series of other problems, as well as further damage to her spinal problem.
I do not think it is any great wonder that Canadians are wondering about this promise.
While I support the motion, I find it ironic that the motion was brought forward by a Liberal member of Parliament, a member of the health committee. Where do we think these wait times came from? They did not develop overnight. They came from 13 years of the Liberals not taking any action on wait times. When they did take action it came at the very last moment when it was clear that we had an enormous crisis across this country and it was shortly before an election was on the horizon. They only waited 12 years to do something about the growing wait times and all the factors that contribute to wait times.
There are factors that have played into the increase in wait times where the government could have and should have taken earlier leadership, or is still to take leadership, that would have made a significant difference in the quality of lives of many Canadians, both adults and children.
Earlier someone referenced the recent dollars for foreign-trained, immigrant doctors. The dollars will go toward rewriting the curricula and looking at the context of the tests or exams with the possibility of rewriting them, and that is a good thing. However, although foreign doctors can take the extra courses and write the exams, the real barrier for them and the one thing that was missing from the announcement is that they cannot get residency positions.
If we were to go to the Lower Mainland of British Columbia and ask foreign-trained doctors what Canada has done to help them, they would say that it has allowed them to drive taxicabs. About every third or fourth taxi driver in the Lower Mainland is a foreign-trained physician, many of whom have made their way through the existing curriculum. It is fine to be looking at the exams and rewriting them but if these foreign-trained doctors cannot get residency positions, it does not matter because they will never be able to practice.
In that announcement or that concern about health and human resources, of which physicians are only one piece of course, there was no money for residency positions. I understand that many residency positions go to the medical students who have gone through the medical schools in their provinces. That is fair enough. They should have a chance for residency positions. I am not suggesting for a moment that they do not deserve that. However, there should be an expansion in the number of residency positions available, which is the piece in that announcement that was missing. If everything in that announcement happens, it still will not produce more physicians unless there are residency spaces. This is action that is missing a piece. This is a promise to foreign-trained doctors that will be broken because they will not be able to get residency positions.
One of the biggest things we could do to help with wait times would be to provide a national home support program or ensure that each province has some standards around home support. Across this country, from coast to coast to coast, the standards as to whether one gets home support are very different. Seniors who apply for an extended care facility or for long term medium care facility cannot get in because there are no housing initiatives for anything but private long term care. Some seniors, who could perhaps stay in their homes much longer than they currently do if they had help at home, can no longer get the help they need and therefore their physicians must admit them to the hospital. Once they are in a hospital they have first priority when an opening becomes available in an extended care facility. What does that do? It just backs up the entire system.
People talk about the crisis in emergency rooms but the crisis in emergency rooms is simply a domino effect backward. No beds are available because the people who are in the beds do not need to be there. They should be someplace else but there is no place else for them to go.
I understood the Conservative member to say that the Liberal opposition had done work on home support, that it had researched it and had some initiatives but that nothing came from them. I think he said that was in 2003 but this is 2006. Since January, what have the Conservatives done to either renew some of the oppositions' initiatives, if those were good initiatives, or to develop initiatives of their own? This is another way the government is driving up wait times in this country.
I want to speak for a moment to aboriginal health. The wait times for aboriginal people are also part of the pressure on wait times. We know that many aboriginal people are at risk of other health problems, diabetes among them, because aboriginal health has not been attended to in a manner that would have really made a difference in their quality of health which drives up wait times additionally.
I know that 10 out of the 623 reserves have a pilot project on wait times for prenatal care. I am not certain of the lessons we will learn from that project, although I am sure we will learn some, but there is an irony in picking wait times for moms.
We know that good prenatal care is absolutely critical, although the aboriginal people I speak with talk far more about the fact that women do not go early enough due to the lack of transportation to get them there. What happens then is they go back into a community like Kashechewan where health care for aboriginals is appalling because of all of the social indicators that have not been attended to due to the lack of action on the issue of aboriginal health.
That is a broken promise to aboriginal people and certainly not the kind of movement needed on patient wait time guarantees, although I am very pleased for those 10 out of 623 reserves involved in the pilot project. I do not think that is the kind of wait time guarantee action that was expected by Canadian citizens.
One of the things that would make the biggest difference in wait times is that of innovation. There is innovation in wait times going on across this country, not because of the government but in spite of the government. Are wait times going down? Yes, they are. Wait times are going up in many provinces, but there are many examples of excellence which have not come about because of the government.
I was fortunate enough to have my motion pass in the health committee to establish a database of innovation on how to reduce wait times. People from across the country could look at this database and see examples in P.E.I., British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba or wherever of how hospitals, sometimes very small hospitals, had been able to reduce their wait times. Why should we reinvent the wheel when people could simply look at a database? That would make a big difference for people.
That motion was passed by the health committee. So what? Nothing has happened. Innovation will make one of the biggest differences in wait times. I am pleased that it was passed by the health committee, but I am concerned about what happens after something is passed by a committee. It seems to go to some ether land where it is never to be heard of or seen again.
Recently, at least two private facilities have opened. One is a hospital with operating rooms, et cetera, and there is a story about a private emergency room opening in a hospital in Surrey, British Columbia or it has at least gone through a change in zoning.
There is a national leadership role for the government to play regarding the issue of privatization. Provinces must be held accountable and clearly British Columbia paid a $72,000 fine last year. There is not enough accountability with the privatization of health care. Where is the accountability with the fact that privatization violates the Canada Health Act? Where is the accountability regarding the standards? There are some stories about some very bad experiences people have had in some, and I only say some, private health care facilities.
The government has a national leadership role to play in research. It cut the medical marijuana research program. The physicians who are prescribing medical marijuana for patients who need it as a result of nausea or dealing with what is a debilitating or very often terminal illness need more research around what an appropriate dosage is and over what period of time. Now that research is gone. Those physicians are either left saying they will not use it any more or they will use it with the information they have, which is not currently as adequate as they would like it to be.
The government has not taken up its role on national strategies, although I see the national cancer strategy was announced. I am waiting for the national strategy on autism. If we can do it on cancer, we can do it on autism. As I said, the government has not taken up the national leadership role regarding accountability.
The last thing I will mention is prevention and promotion. The biggest thing that we can do, if we do nothing else, is prevention and promotion.
I do not want to find a better way to deal with wait times, bring wait times down, but have just as large a percentage of patients in 10 years time. We must have good prevention and promotion which is always the poor sister of health care, provincially, federally, wherever.
Yes, the health committee has prepared a report on childhood obesity, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, but where do the reports go? We agree and pass these reports, and they disappear and nothing happens. Perhaps something happens, but I do not know how we figure that out because there is no mandatory action as a result of that.
Good prevention and promotion today is the most significant thing that we could do to bring down wait times in the future. Yet, that is what is focused on the least by the federal government and the provincial governments as well.
I will support the motion with the irony of where the motion comes from after 13 years of allowing wait times to grow. I expect courage and political will on the part of the government to take action and not to have its legacy be a legacy of broken promises.
Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to speak to the motion on the issue of the health care wait times and to the record of the government in this regard.
I want to thank my colleague, the member for , for bringing this motion forward and for the passionate work that she brings to the health care file.
Health care remains one of the most important concerns of Canadians. Certainly, in my riding of it is a big issue and it continues to be. We are very fortunate in my riding to have a wonderful community hospital, the Dartmouth General Hospital, which I think is one of the best hospitals in the country, but it has felt the funding stresses and pressures of the health care system. That is an issue.
My riding also has some of the very great nurses and doctors in Canada. Jake O'Connor is the former Family Physician of the Year. Louise Cloutier is the president of the Canadian Medical Association. They have both appeared at forums that I have held in my community, open forums, inviting people to come in and talk about health care and about population health, health promotion. The previous member spoke to that as well.
I think it is one of the most important concerns of Canadians. It is one of those things that defines Canada, and yet is a source of ongoing debate. Perhaps only health care and the Constitution, as we saw last night, are subjects of such similar discussion, argument and interest in Canada.
In the last election the Conservatives put forward a number of proposals that they intended to provide Canadians. They reinforced these after the election as the five key priorities of the government.
One of them was to promise the GST cut. No legitimate economist in the country has suggested this makes any sense. It is a cut that disproportionately benefits the wealthy, does virtually nothing for the poor and takes $6 billion out of the economy, out of the spending power of the federal government. It robs the government of $6 billion that could be used to better serve Canadians, to increase the basic personal exemption, to perhaps increase the Canada child tax benefit, maybe even to reduce taxes or redress the health care needs of Canadians.
The Conservatives dismantled the national child care agreement, a move based on narrow ideology, one that hurts Canadians and one, I would suggest, that adds to ill health and does nothing to help the health of Canadians.
The federal accountability act, another one of their promises, has been riddled with problems.
Today we can add health care as a key area of concern of the government since January.
Let me look back at the previous government's efforts in the area of health care to provide some context. Just two years ago, the former prime minister, the member for , met with the premiers and signed a historic agreement on health care in Canada.
In 2004 the federal government and the premiers agreed to a solution, resulting in billions of new dollars to the health care system over 10 years. Among the key parts, one of the things that was recognized in the agreement, was the federal government identified issues such as stable, predictable, long term funding and the provinces agreed. The provinces agreed to work together with the federal government to create home care and to develop a national strategy for prescription drug care. They also agreed the Canada Health Act would be respected and they would work on a national waiting times reduction strategy, which was identified as the number one health concern.
Specifically, the agreement signed by the previous Liberal government called for a $16 billion five year health reform fund for primary care, home care and catastrophic drug coverage; $13.5 billion in new federal funding to the provinces over three years; a $2.5 billion cash infusion; $600 million for information technical; and $500 million additional for research. Some $41 billion were committed to making health care more efficient and providing the provinces with the resources to fix health care for a generation.
The 2004 agreement focused on a national wait times strategy, a strategy with five key areas: cancer, cardiac treatment, diagnostic tests such as MRIs, joint replacements and cataract surgeries. As well, the agreement provided a deadline. The people to whom I spoke, whether it be the doctors in my community, like Dr. O'Connor, Dr. Cloutier and others, said that it was so important to get some wait times guarantees, but critically important was that we established benchmarks for wait times.
On December 12, 2005, provinces and territories set out the wait times benchmarks for five key areas: cancer, cardiac, sight restoration, joint replacement and diagnostic imaging.
Despite what we often hear in the House and the spin from the other parties, the previous Liberal government has nothing to be ashamed about on its record on health care, in spite of the enormous challenges that were presented. When we cleaned up the financial mess left to us by the Mulroney Conservatives, we invested in health care. We could only do so because the fiscal house was in order.
I have some other highlights of what our previous government did on health care.
In budget 2005 the Liberal government allocated another $5.5 billion over 10 years under the wait times reduction fund to assist the provinces and territories in reducing wait times.
In July 2005 the Liberal government announced the appointment of Dr. Brian Postl as the new federal adviser on wait times. He is working with federal, provincial and territorial governments to achieve commitments made in the 10 year plan. As a result of the 10 year plan, we were seeing some success in Canada.
In B.C. the median wait time for starting cancer radiation is less than a week. In Alberta the number of people waiting for open heart surgery has declined by 55% in two years. In Saskatchewan the Saskatoon health region's waiting list for MRI tests has been cut almost in half. In Quebec the number of patients awaiting cataract surgery has been significantly reduced by redistributing the surgeries to a much smaller number of facilities. In Ontario funding for an additional 42,000 medical procedures has been allocated under the province's wait times strategy.
That took us to the 2006 election. The Liberal government promised then that it would implement a Canada health care guarantee to ensure that Canadians had timely access to care. Included in that guarantee was a $75 million health care guarantee fund to assist patients and family members with travel and accommodation costs to a public facility in another province for quicker access to necessary medical procedures.
There were $300 million for regional centres of specialized care in university teaching hospital and $50 million for the Canada Health Infoway to accelerate wait list management technologies such as registries, booking systems and electronic health records.
That speaks to the initiatives of the previous government.
I will talk about an area of public health that is particularly interesting to me. When I contemplated running, one of the issues I made as part of my campaign was the issue of population health and healthy living health promotion. How do we keep people healthy? How do we focus on keeping people well, especially children, instead of spending all our time and money when intervention is required.
In truth, some say and I agree, that we do not have a health system, we have a sickness system. Our long term salvation is to turn it into a health care system. In fact, upon my election in 2004, it was for that among other reasons that I requested to be on the health committee.
Some steps are being taken. There is some very positive news. The creation of Canada's Public Health Agency, under the leadership of Dr. David Butler-Jones, is an important first step. As well as a focus on public health, SARS, West Nile et cetera, this agency has a mandate to improve the overall population health of Canadians. As well, the Public Health Agency is doing more research that looks at things like population health, health systems, demographic and regional issues in health.
This is particularly important to me, coming from Atlantic Canada. Outside of our aboriginal communities, which probably suffer the most from chronic disease, Atlantic Canada is next on the list in suffering from chronic disease.
Another very important step forward was the establishment of the CIHR, which has been a tremendously important move forward. It has paid dividends all across Canada, particularly in Atlantic Canada. In Atlantic Canada researchers, like Renee Lyons and Judy Guernsey, have done excellent research, focusing on areas like rural health, women's health and even health in Atlantic Canada and the particular challenges that it faces. I certainly hope that CIHR gets the increased funding, which it needs.
My Government of Nova Scotia was the first province in the country to develop and implement a department of health promotion. It has come forward with some very successful initiatives. I compliment Dr. Hamm, the former Progressive Conservative premier of Nova Scotia, for the work that he has done in this area. Healthy living and kids activities in schools have all been initiatives started in the department of health promotion in Nova Scotia.
We have other allies as well in the not for profit health sector. My own involvement with the Heart and Stroke Foundation over 10 or 12 years has showed me first-hand how much work it and other health charities can do. They are allies and I would suggest even leaders in healthy living.
In the long term, our seriousness in addressing chronic disease prevention will determine how well we can sustain our precious public health care system.
Another area that I think we need to put more time into across Canada is the issue of what causes illness. We know that poverty is number one in the incidence of poor health. Too many Canadians are living in poverty, and when we cut literacy programs, when we cut the social economy and when we cut the great organizations that work in mental health and the boys' and girls' clubs, we make it harder for Canadians to achieve good health, not easier.
Another key for me, and this is one I learned at first hand, is to better treat patients who have had a medical intervention. This means we need better home care, better palliative care, better pharmaceuticals, et cetera.
I had the circumstance in my life of having both of my parents die of cancer three and a half years ago. It was a sad time, obviously, for our family and our friends, but it was made much easier by the fact that my two sisters, who were living in Toronto, moved back into the family home and provided full time care for my parents as they died. We were all there with them when they took their last breaths. Shelagh and Brigid left jobs and moved home and it made a very big difference.
We have a large family and we are not rich, but we had the resources to be able to do that. My parents died at home in comfortable surroundings, in a comfortable bed, looking out a window at a scene that they knew, with their family around them. I think that is very important. It was a sad time, but to have my parents die at home was a privilege.
However, it is a privilege that not all Canadians can actually share. We had great nurses and respite workers, but in my own province of Nova Scotia I know of a family with two children with autism. The parents were getting two hours a week respite. That was cut off because their income had gone over the level that they were allowed, and that was only because they saved every penny they had for when those kids were there and they were not.
The system is not working. It brings up a system of two tier health care, not only public-private but among provinces, rich provinces and poor provinces. I believe the federal government has a responsibility to act in that area. We need to do more there as well.
I believe that federally we need to take responsibility. A lot of these are provincial areas of direct responsibility, but the federal government has a role to ensure, as much as possible, equal access across Canada.
I do want to commend the government for the commitment to the Canadian strategy for cancer control. This is our initiative that came out of the cancer community from people who were working in cancer, people in Nova Scotia like Dr. Andrew Padmos, who has now left Cancer Care Nova Scotia, Theresa Marie Underhill, and researchers like Gerry Johnson.
Many people have come together to say that we can actually make a difference in cancer. We need to take it a little bit out, at arm's length of government, and work with research agencies, do better surveillance and identify what research we need. I was proud last year in this House to vote for the implementation of the Canadian strategy for cancer control. I commend the government for following through on that last week.
I want to take a look at the Conservative record on wait times. In spite of the fact that we have to do more on health promotion and also treat people after they have been ill, right now we have the current crisis in wait times. In the 2006 election, the Conservative government promised to implement the patient wait times guarantee to provide timely access to care for patients within clinically accepted waiting times or to enable them to be treated in another jurisdiction by another provider.
In budget 2006, the Conservative government basically reintroduced the Liberals' 10 year plan to strengthen health care, as well as the original $41 billion investment to assist provinces and territories to improve their respective health care systems. In budget 2006, the Conservative government also reintroduced the wait times reduction fund.
On this side of the House, we remain committed to a strengthened and renewed public health care system. We believe that through reduced wait times we can ensure that our system of health care remains sustainable for generations to come. Until the last election, significant achievements in honouring our commitments were, I believe, under way. We will continue to work to ensure that the commitments set out in the 10 year plan are honoured. We will accept nothing less on behalf of all Canadians and in the interests of protecting our public system of health care.
In the 2006 election campaign, the Conservatives promised a wait times guarantee of their own. I am going to quote directly, if I may, from the Conservative Party platform and a press release of December 2, almost exactly a year ago. The , the then Leader of the Opposition, indicated:
I am pleased to announce that one of the first acts of a new Conservative government will be to sit down with the provinces to develop a Patient Wait Times Guarantee...We will bring all governments back to the table, not to bicker about more money, but to set wait time targets across the country, and figure out a plan to begin meeting them. That process will begin immediately after the election, and conclude in 2006.
I find myself quoting Conservatives far too often recently, which I do not find particularly endearing, but I am using quotes from earlier this year to talk about inaction or reverse decisions, whether that be on accountability or income trusts.
That is what the said back then. If one says it and puts it on paper, one has to live up to it. That is the fact. No one has yet seen a plan put forth by the government.
Let us contrast that to the 2004 election. Health care was a big election item in 2004 and a big election issue in 2006. We had the election in June 2004. By the fall, we had the 10 year plan to strengthen health care, about which people like Gary Doer, premier of Manitoba, said it was a positive step. The premier of Saskatchewan, Lorne Calvert, said, “I believe that tonight, with the plan that we have signed, publicly-funded health care in Canada, not-for-profit health care, is on a more firm foundation...”. Then minister of health for Alberta Gary Mar said, “I think we've got a good deal for Albertans”.
The president of the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario said, “This agreement removes any concerns about funding and expands universally accessible health care services”. Linda Silas, president of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions, said, “The promised dollars in the agreement are great news for patients. Forty-one billion dollars over 10 years more than covers the Romanow Gap in provincial health care costs and is an impressive federal financial commitment”. Roy Romanow said, “This is...a very positive step forward for reform. I have no doubt about that”.
The election was in June 2004 and there was action in the fall. This year we had an election in January with a promise by the end of the year and we have not seen it. There is no indication of how much the Conservatives' phantom plan will cost or how it will be implemented.
The Canadian government should probably issue a new press release indicating that it actually had only four priorities, because it is clear that reducing wait times has slipped off its priority list altogether. The current minister is MIA. Perhaps he believes that by laying low and avoiding the subject of health care altogether, Canadians might not notice, but they do. They notice when a party says one thing and does not come through on that promise, whether it is making cuts to seniors, to poorer students, or to women in minority groups, or whether it is a broken promise on not getting jobs for political friends or muzzling their members or kicking MPs out of caucus. Canadians do notice and they will have the choice to make their voices heard.
Liberals believe that we need to make the necessary reforms to keep our health care system sustainable and accessible to all Canadians so they can receive treatment in a timely fashion. We delivered much in the historic agreement in 2004. It is now time for the new government to do something to build on that record of achievement.