Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thank you for inviting me today to present the health portfolio financial overview of supplementary estimates (B) for the period 2017-18.
I am thrilled to be accompanied today by my deputy minister, Simon Kennedy; Dr. Theresa Tam, our chief public health officer; Carolina Giliberti, executive vice-president of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency; Yves Bacon, CFO and vice-president of the corporate management branch of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency; and Michel Perron, executive vice-president of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.
We are pleased to have the opportunity to discuss the resources that we are requesting to maintain and improve the health needs of all Canadians.
The health portfolio continues to deliver on several priority initiatives for our government. In these supplementary estimates (B), the health portfolio's budget will increase by just over $297 million, raising its proposed authorities to date to $7.16 billion. This constitutes an increase of approximately 6% over our authorities to date.
This funding will allow the health portfolio to achieve several key objectives in several priority areas, which I will now briefly address.
Our government recognizes that Canadians expect the health care system to adapt to their changing needs. They also expect federal, provincial and territorial governments to work together to strengthen our health care system.
In August, the Government of Canada and the provinces and territories agreed to a common statement of principles on shared health priorities. This common statement of principles outlines the priorities for federal investments in mental health and addictions as well as home, palliative and community care. It commits governments to work with the Canadian Institute for Health Information on a set of common indicators to measure progress in these areas. And it reaffirms a shared federal, provincial and territorial commitment to improve the affordability, accessibility and appropriate use of prescription drugs.
Every province and territory has also agreed to its share of $11 billion over 10 years in federal funding for home care and mental health. They have also agreed to the broader funding arrangements under the Canada Health Transfer, which will provide more than $200 million in federal health funding over the next five years.
Health Canada is now in negotiations with each province and territory to develop multi-year bilateral agreements that will outline the terms and conditions for the remaining funding over 10 years.
The Government of Canada is committed to a renewed nation-to-nation relationship with indigenous people. Part of that commitment involves ensuring that first nations and Inuit have access to culturally appropriate health programs and services.
In December, the Government of Canada announced the formal creation of the new Department of Indigenous Services Canada. This is truly an important step in the government's transformation of services to indigenous peoples. By consolidating services into one department, we will be improving the sharing of information and strengthening our capacity to meet the needs of the people we serve.
Therefore, significant funding associated with indigenous programming included in these supplementary estimates will now fall under the purview of .
I truly remain committed to supporting our government's important goal of improving indigenous health. Throughout this transition period, I will support my colleagues, and , to help ensure that first nations and Inuit continue to have access to high-quality health services and programs. I will also work to ensure that we maintain effective relations with our indigenous partners.
Another key file under the health portfolio is the legalization and regulation of cannabis. We know that the current approach to cannabis does not work. It has allowed organized crime to profit while failing to keep cannabis out of the hands of our young people. This is why our government introduced Bill to legalize and strictly regulate access to cannabis.
In these supplementary estimates, we are requesting $39.1 million to develop, implement and administer a federal framework to legalize and regulate cannabis. This will include the licensing and oversight of producers of cannabis for medical and non-medical purposes.
Another health priority that we are addressing is the opioid crisis. We continue to use all the tools at our disposal to address the growing number of overdoses and deaths caused by opioids. As you know, there were more than 2,800 apparent opioid-related deaths in Canada in 2016, and the preliminary data for 2017 suggests that the number of opioid-related deaths will exceed 3,000. These estimates include an increase of $6.2 million to address the crisis. This includes funds to support increased access to harm reduction measures and to prevent infectious diseases that may result from sharing drug-use equipment.
This is a complex health and social issue, and it will not be fixed overnight. This is why our government will continue to work with partners from across the country to take action on this public health crisis.
With respect to the impact of climate change on the health of Canadians, I am pleased that Budget 2017 allocated $47.1 million over five years to Health Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to address the health risks associated with a changing climate.
The Public Health Agency of Canada recently accepted proposals for the Infectious Diseases and Climate Change Fund. These proposals will address gaps in knowledge related to climate-driven food-borne, water-borne and zoonotic infectious diseases in Canada. This includes preparing for and protecting Canadians from climate-driven infectious diseases, including Lyme disease and the West Nile virus.
Our government is also committed to promoting and improving public health and increasing vaccination rates across the country. Vaccination remains one of the most effective public health tools to protect Canadians, which is why we are allocating $1 million in funding towards an advertising and public education campaign to help Canadians make informed decisions on vaccinations.
Vaccines are effective and safe, and they play an important role in the protection of our health and of our communities. I am pleased that the government, in partnership with the provinces and territories, has endorsed new vaccination coverage goals and targets for reducing vaccine-preventable diseases by 2025.
These supplementary estimates reflect an increase of $7 million in the budget of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, which will support the CFIA's important ongoing work in plant protection, animal health and food safety.
Safer food remains a top priority for the CFIA. While Canada already has one of the safest food safety systems in the world, our government is dedicated to improving that system so that Canadian families continue to have confidence in the food they eat.
The CFIA has increased its focus on prevention, preparedness and response to minimize risks to human, animal and ecosystem health. This includes plant protection and animal health, the first links in the food chain.
In conclusion, I am confident that the amounts noted in these estimates and the funds identified in Budget 2017 will allow the health portfolio to continue to support better health outcomes for all Canadians and to build a healthier country.
Thank you again to the committee for inviting us to join you today. I look forward to answering your questions.
Thank you so much, Minister, for coming. We appreciate your doing this today.
As you know, I'm a recovering emergency physician. I spent 20 years working in emergency departments. Any problem with public health often came down on our departments first, and we would see trends. Among the trends we would see was the detrimental health effects when people couldn't afford their medications and became ill simply because of that.
As you know, we're studying the structure and implementation of a national pharmacare program. One of the things we've found is that Canadians pay the second-highest drug costs in the world. Although the report is not out, we have a parliamentary budget office report that says that if we had a national pharmacare program, the nation would save roughly $4 billion a year.
Could you share with us what steps you, and Dr. Philpott before you, have taken to reduce the costs of medications to Canadians?
It's certain that our government is committed to strengthening Canada's health care system, and that includes enhancing accessibility and affordability, and appropriate prescription drug use. At the end of the day, that's absolutely a priority of our government.
In budget 2017 we were able to invest $140 million to lower drug prices, improve access to prescription drugs, and support the appropriate use of medication. We were also able to join our provincial and territorial partners, and we became members of the pan-Canadian pharmaceutical alliance. This enabled us to actually do bulk buying when it came to prescription medication. As a result, we've been able to save a significant amount of money with respect to the costs related to that.
As I'm sure you're aware—because you've been doing some studies—we are in the process of modernizing the patented medicines regulations in the Patent Act, and that is certainly going to be very helpful in the work that needs to be done. When we look at the Patented Medicine Prices Review Board, modernizing it is something that hasn't been done for many years, so it is certainly a step in the right direction. I look forward to the continued work that's going to be done there.
I'm also aware that your committee has done in-depth research on this issue, and once again I'm really looking forward to reviewing the recommendations brought forward by the committee, as I think we can certainly continue our conversation.
Finally, I'd like to say that in October I had the privilege, for the first time, of having a meeting with the provincial and territorial health ministers. The issue of drug prices came up, and both the provinces and territories and the federal health department have indicated that it's a priority of ours to improve access to medication. We recognize that Canadians pay way too much for drugs, and that is certainly something we want to address.
Taking these steps to start off is certainly a step in the right direction.
With respect to the work that we've done in the opioid crisis, first of all, as indicated in my opening statement, we recognized as the government and as all Canadians have that we're faced with a public health crisis when it comes to the opioid situation. Again today, we've seen some numbers that have been released from Ontario, and the numbers are devastating. We recognize that they're not just numbers. These are people's children, their mothers, their fathers. They're personal stories, and the damage that is created by these losses, the collateral damage, is huge to families and to communities. It's certainly an area of priority of mine as Minister of Health.
I have to say that the first briefing that I received as Minister of Health was specifically on the opioid crisis and it's my number one priority, which I'm dealing with on a regular basis, on a daily basis. As you've indicated, in terms of some of the key steps that we've been able to take so far, when it comes to Bill that was certainly an important step in the right direction in order to streamline the application process for the consumption sites that are out there.
We certainly need to make sure that we have a harm reduction approach when it comes to dealing with these situations and we are pleased to see the progress that has been made.
When we formed government, we had one of these sites available in Canada and now we have a total of 28 supervised consumption sites available. Those are certainly, again, steps in the right direction.
Also, when you mentioned about making naloxone more readily available, ensuring that it's a non-prescribed medication certainly allows many individuals to have access to that tool. That's exactly what it is, something they need to effectively deal with the situation on the ground. Certain provinces make sure that is available free of charge, but again, that's a decision that's brought forward by provinces and territories. We certainly need to do all that we can to ensure that the naloxone product is more readily available.
We've also made significant investments as well when it comes to addressing this situation. When the Health accord was being negotiated last year, there are a few provinces that indicated that the opioid crisis was an absolute priority in the areas that needed to be addressed. Above and beyond the monies that they received for the health transfers, if we look at the Province of British Columbia, for example, they received $10 million in direct funding to deal with this crisis on the ground.
If we look at the Province of Alberta, they received, I believe it was $6 million to deal with this crisis on the ground. There's also Manitoba, there was a series of targeted issues that they needed funding for but opioids was certainly one of those as well that was listed. They received additional funding as well.
Aside from that, we also can't forget that Canadians as a whole have told us that mental health and addictions is absolutely a priority for them. Through our budget in 2017 and with the health care agreements, we recognize that we made significant investments, $6 billion in the area of mental health.
Again, they're steps in the right direction, but I can't say enough that we recognize that we cannot be complacent when it comes to this crisis. We have to continuously monitor the situation. We have to address the needs that are out there. We have to be progressive. Also, we can't deal with this alone. There's no one single solution to this, and we recognize that we have to work with the provinces and the territories and front-line workers. That's going to be key.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you, Minister, and your staff for being here today.
Minister, you alluded in your presentation to the topic of Lyme disease briefly. Of course, after almost six months, this committee did finally just yesterday get your letter, your response on the Lyme disease investigation that we did here in committee. The response from you, Minister, is certainly not going very well in the Lyme community and I'm not surprised.
There are hundreds if not thousands, as you know, Minister, of Canadians suffering daily from Lyme disease. We know that there are likely many more that have been misdiagnosed or are not getting the treatments that they need. There have been conferences. We studied it here in committee. There have been experts who provided their opinions and recommendations, and we've had public consultations as well. Enough talking has happened and now it seems that no action is really taking place. Without proper funding, nothing is going to happen.
The government of course, as you know, has set aside $4 million. Let me put that into perspective. We spent more on a hockey rink out on Parliament Hill than we are now spending on this major public health issue. Why do you, Minister, believe that proper Lyme disease research can be done for less than the cost of putting up a patch of ice on Parliament Hill?
Thank you for being with us, and thanks to your staff.
Minister, in 2009 the H1N1 flu virus caused 428 deaths in Canada. In response, the federal government mobilized an emergency operations centre 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This provided more than 6,000 person-days of assistance to help coordinate emergency responses across the country. Now, in comparison, we had 2,800 deaths in 2016 and 3,000 deaths this year from the opioid overdose crisis, yet only 113 person-days of assistance have been reported by the Public Health Agency of Canada, and that's to help write two reports.
In addition, during the H1N1 outbreak, the Public Health Agency of Canada spent $322 million on communications and advertising alone. In contrast, your government's total commitment to fight the opioid crisis is $123.5 million, and that's spread over five years.
Minister, given the longer, more entrenched, and more serious death toll of the opioid overdose crisis, why has your government's response been so substantially less than what was done for the H1N1 health crisis?
We've had an opportunity to discuss this one on one, and I'm happy that you bring up the question again today. We also have to recognize that the issue of the opioid crisis, as I've indicated in my earlier remarks, is quite devastating when you look at the numbers that are coming in right now. Again, with the report that came out from Ontario, it's very alarming to see the numbers that are coming up.
I have to say that our government certainly has taken steps so far in order to address the situation. When we formed government, one of the first bills that was brought forward was Bill , a bill that really streamlined the application process to make sure that individuals had access to supervised consumption sites, and we recognized that saves lives.
Also with the issue of naloxone, we know that making sure that naloxone was a non-prescription type of medication that was available for people also saves lives. When the provinces and territories told us they were dealing with a targeted situation in their provinces, again, a specific funding was given to them. If you look at British Columbia, your province, they received an additional $10 million with respect to targeted funding and also, with respect to Alberta, they received some additional funding.
Just last month when I was in Calgary, we made some announcements. When we look at the Canadian youth substance abuse strategy that was put in place, we've also made some investments there as well to look at the issue. Again, when it comes to services that are on the ground, it's truly important to make sure that we continue to work with provinces and territories. The federal government absolutely has a role to play, and we certainly cannot be complacent when it comes to this crisis.
Minister, the question was asking you to contrast why the federal government spent triple the amount of money on H1N1 than today, and I didn't hear an answer to that, but I'm going to move to medicinal cannabis. My colleague brought this up.
From a health perspective, we know that medicinal cannabis is not zero rated. Already medicinal cannabis users have to pay GST and HST. We know that most prescription plans in this country don't cover medicinal cannabis, so already men and women who are struggling already have to pay extra money for medicinal cannabis.
Ironically, opioids are covered by most plans and are zero tax-rated exempt. Ironically, patients are incentivized to pursue a riskier option, and that's even compounded by the fact that studies are now showing that medicinal cannabis is proving very effective at helping people wean themselves off opioids. It's clearly a flawed policy to make medicinal cannabis more expensive than opioids.
I'm just wondering, at the cabinet table, Minister, would you advocate, from a health perspective, to at least treat medicinal cannabis the same as opioids.
Thank you so much for the question.
Another portfolio that I became quickly briefed on and versed in is our healthy eating strategy. As probably many of you are aware, last year the previous minister of health, , launched the healthy eating strategy. Certainly some progress has already been made with respect to work that needs to be done.
When I look at the healthy eating strategy, I really look at three pillars, three areas in which work needs to be done. The first one is Canada's food guide, which I believe is the one you guys are studying right now. Another one is marketing to kids, and the third one would be front-of-pack labelling.
We recognize that as Canadians we are facing an obesity crisis, really and truly. One in three children are either overweight or obese. Two out of three Canadians are either overweight or obese. We recognize that what we eat certainly contributes to the chronic health crisis that we're faced with, as well as the level of chronic disease in our country.
We also recognize that as a government we're spending over $26.7 billion a year when it comes to chronic health conditions in this country, so work needs to be done.
With respect to our healthy eating strategy, we recognize that it's not the only avenue that will help address this health crisis, but it's certainly a step in the right direction.
When we look at the issue of Canada's food guide, I'm really excited to see the review that's under way right now, and I'm really looking forward to the results of the study you guys are doing, as well. We recognize that Canada's food guide is a bit dated now, but it's certainly a document that many Canadians use because it's the second most requested document from Canadians, so we certainly know that people still feel the value of having Canada's food guide.
What I would say is that we certainly have to make sure that our food guide is modernized and up to date. We live in a multicultural country right now, and there are many different diets out there, so it's really important to make sure the research is done. For Canada's food guide, I really see it as a model to be able to tell Canadians not what to eat but the types of things they can eat to get the nutrients they need. At the end of the day, that's really what the new version of the food guide is going to be all about.
With respect to the food guide, that's really the work that's being done there and I'm very pleased that the department, hopefully by mid-2018, will be able to give an update as to where we're at there.
When we look at the situation that we're facing right now, absolutely, as indicated, we are certainly faced with a public health crisis when it comes to this situation. Again, when I heard the numbers this morning, it is devastating to see the number of lives lost in this situation.
We cannot minimize the actions that our government has taken to date with respect to regulatory changes and also the issue of Bill . Once again, providing access to individuals to supervised consumption sites saves lives. We know that. Also, ensuring that naloxone products are readily available to individuals as well saves lives.
Also, with respect to the changes made with respect to providing provinces and territories with the opportunity to open overdose prevention sites, that was an announcement that I made, I believe, about two weeks ago. When we met with the health ministers at the meeting in October, some provinces had indicated that they thought it would be appropriate if the provinces had more powers. Again, they're closer to their constituents and they know what's going on on the ground. We took that back, and just two weeks ago we indicated that we were prepared to look at providing class exemptions to provinces if they choose to open overdose prevention sites.
There is a difference between an overdose-prevention site and a supervised consumption site. Sometimes we talk about these terms and people aren't aware of the difference. On the supervised consumption site, when they choose to apply, the municipalities or the areas will get in touch with Health Canada and then from there the licensing will go through that department. It can take a bit more time.
When it comes to overdose prevention sites, however, we can certainly go through those requests in a very timely fashion. Minister Hoskins got in touch with us yesterday, and just today we were able to approve a class exemption. From there, the Province of Ontario will be able to determine what services need to be put on the ground in order to provide services to the individuals in their community. At the end of the day—
Thank you, Mr. Oliver, for the question.
Clearly, with regard to the supplementary estimates that this committee is examining, we were delighted to receive an additional $5 million, which has gone to some of the items that you indicated. One is the funding for the Canadian drugs and substances strategy, which the deputy referred to earlier. This is very much to address many of the issues specific to the opioid crisis.
This is in addition to our annual grant funding level of approximately $1.1 billion in available authorities. This is a significant amount of money that we try to invest as wisely as possible, given the very significant expectations and pressure on health research generally in the area of antimicrobial resistance that you referred to. For instance, in the past five years, we've spent well over $100 million in AMR research, an average of $22 million a year. We work very closely with the Public Health Agency and the like.
With regard to opioids, I would just indicate that many of the investments recently—whether through the Canadian drug strategy or our funding more generally—are to provide clear evidence of what works best in what setting and to provide the direct kind of clinical guidance required for clinicians and first-line providers to ensure that those efforts are well done. For instance, there's a study under way right now to evaluate models of care. Is it methadone or—
I have a point of order, or I think it's a point of order. I want to reflect on the sort of boondoggle we had in the first hour with the minister in terms of timing of questions. With the questions we have, the way they time out, and the 10-minute introduction, we have, within one minute—if people respect it—sufficient time for everybody to have their questions asked and answered. That's if people respect it.
To be fair to you, Mr. Chair, I know that generally as a committee we're pretty relaxed on this. We often have time left over, so you're very lenient, and sometimes you let people ask their questions after their minute, their time frame, is up, or you let the person responding go on, because they're good questions, we want to hear the answers, and we're interested.
But when we have the here and we have exactly one hour, I think it's important that you keep everybody to their exact time frame. We had one member who framed a question almost 30 seconds after their time ran out. We had another member who framed a question a minute and a half after their time ran out. We had another member who framed a question exactly as their time ran out. We were almost 15 to 18 minutes short of time. Mr. Davies' point of order was not that long. He was on his point of order for maybe two minutes. We really lost close to 15 minutes of committee questioning for those who didn't get on, because there were two five-minute blocks and a three-minute block that didn't get up.
When the or any minister is here and we have a one-hour time block to pose our questions, I'm going to ask that you keep us rigorously to those time blocks. If members want to make a long statement, great, but they're not going to get an answer.
The Chair: That's their time.
Mr. John Oliver: Their time has gone to their statement, and they can pose a question at the very end. I've been at other committees where the chair says, “Sorry, time's up. There's no time to answer the question”, and we move on.
For these important sessions where we have a minister at the committee, we all have things we want to ask and talk about, and I think you need to keep us to our time blocks.
I want to somewhat apologize, because what I thought, Mr. Chair, when you were interrupting me was that I was still within my seven minutes. That's what I thought.
I have been at other committees where the chairs—you've never done this—try to interfere with the questioning by directing. I have actually had chairs say, “Put the question, put the question.” I was standing up for the principle that each member of this committee can do what they wish with their time, and that's on all sides of this.
I was going to say that I think you've done an excellent job in using your judgment, and I think everybody goes over.... Every single member of this committee has gone over at one time—
The Chair: Like today.
Mr. Don Davies: —or the witness has been allowed to go over. You've been very fair about that.
What I would say is this. Quite honestly, I think the minister should be asked to come for two hours next time, not one hour. Surely the has two hours every six months for the Standing Committee on Health. I would rather see that happen so that members would actually have a chance to put their questions more fulsomely to the minister.
Some of my questions to the very able staff quite rightfully were deferred, as in, “You should have asked that to the minister.” I would like to have the chance to put those questions to the minister. The next time we ask the minister to come here, rather than try to truncate seven minutes or three minutes, I would rather ask the minister to come for two hours.
Finally, what I would say is that I also think the practice of the minister asking her officials to answer questions when she's here is inappropriate, because the staff usually stays after. Usually they stay for the second hour. That's when we have a chance to direct our questions to the departmental staff, but we only have limited time to put our questions to the minister. If the minister doesn't want to answer or wants to defer it to later, that's her prerogative, but to have our time taken up with the minister deferring to the ministerial staff takes the five minutes or seven minutes and makes it even less.
Those would be my suggestions.
On our committee business, we have Mr. Davies' motion.
Before you get carried away or anything, Mr. Davies, I'm just going to read the motion so everybody knows what it is. I'm going to make some comments, because I've had discussions with the , and even today we learned some things both from Mr. Kennedy and from the minister's statement.
The motion is:
||That the Standing Committee on Health study the status of health and health care within Indigenous communities in Canada, including status, non-status, on-reserve, off-reserve and urban Indigenous populations, with the objective of better understanding the particular health care needs of this population, the gaps in service delivery, review the effectiveness of the First Nations and Inuit Health Branch of Health Canada, and report its findings to the House.
I've had discussions with the chair of the indigenous affairs committee, and they intend to do this. They've done two studies already on it, and they want to continue. This is the third study.
Also, Mr. Kennedy just said a minute ago.... He wouldn't even answer a question about indigenous health, because that's all over to indigenous health. In her opening statement, the minister said, “Therefore, significant funding associated with indigenous programming included in these supplementary estimates will now fall under the purview of .” It sounds like indigenous health is moving to the Minister of Indigenous Services.
Those are just my comments.
Mr. Davies, go ahead.
I want to briefly review a bit of the record. I am going to quote from the meeting on February 17.
|| On another issue, I agree with Mr. Davies on indigenous health. It's come up from some members in talking to me. I haven't had any direction at all from the minister, by the way. I've not had one ounce of direction from the minister on this, and I'm pleased that we haven't. Eventually we will have, because there will be legislation, and hopefully she'll come here and make a presentation and tell us her direction, but nobody is trying to direct this committee. We're on our own, and I hope we stay that way. I appreciate that.
||I did talk to the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs because the aboriginal issue had come up, and I wondered if it would be a problem for her if we did this. She said, “No, I'd love you to do a study on aboriginal health.” Just to let you know, she said that to me, and I was very pleased to hear it.
That was February 17, 2016. On February 22, 2016, our subcommittee met, and that's where we prioritized some issues. We came back with five issues, which included pharmacare, antimicrobial resistance, community care, blood supply, and one other issue. We've done all of them except home care and aboriginal health. On March 7, 2016, this committee adopted the subcommittee's report, formally adopting those five priorities. There is no question that this committee has already adopted the priorities we set forth.
On the question you raised about whether we can or should undertake this study, as you have long stated—and very correctly, Mr. Chair—in these committees, we are masters of our own affairs. We don't take direction from anybody—not the minister, not other committees. There is nothing that prevents us.... I think it's important for my colleagues to understand that whether or not any other committee is studying something, that's not a barrier to our undertaking a study if we want, although it might be instructive.
Number two, I checked with , our critic, and he told me that no motion has been made before the indigenous.... You said you spoke to the of the committee, Mr. Chair, but—
—my understanding, unless I'm mistaken, is that no motion has been made before the indigenous affairs committee to study aboriginal health. We have an outstanding motion that has been here for quite a long time.
I wanted to mention one or two other things. Mr. Oliver mentioned a couple of concerns last time. He was wondering whether we were duplicating what the indigenous affairs committee studied up to now.
I have a copy of its report, “Breaking Point: The Suicide Crisis in Indigenous Communities”. The focus of the report was on suicide. I think the committee did look at some of the social determinants around that, for sure, but it was not looking at broad health indicators of indigenous people in this country at all.
The second concern was whether the federal government has jurisdiction over indigenous people when they're not on reserve. I could find the actual information, but my understanding and information is that absolutely the federal government retains jurisdiction over indigenous Canadians wherever they are in the country. So I don't think those are barriers.
The final question remains of whether we should do it.
I think I mentioned last time that the average life expectancy of first nations people in Canada is five to seven years less than the Canadian average. That is the number one health indicator: life.
Number two, the rates of tuberculosis are 37 times the national average. In terms of mental health issues, the suicide rate among indigenous people is five times higher. We know that there are chronic problems with diabetes, with obesity, and with a range of health issues that arise from living in poor housing and not having access to clean water.
The has said that no relationship is more important to this government than that with first nations. I would like to take him at his word on that.
I think that, as a health committee, if we're looking at studying health in this country, we should start with the single largest group with the biggest challenges facing their health and start to tackle the causes of this, broadly speaking, the real experience that they're having, and what recommendations we can make to the government to address them, as the health committee. I would respectfully suggest that it is our number one priority as a health committee, and we have many important issues that come up.
As I said last time, this committee has done zero travel. We have not left Ottawa. I don't think you can understand real health care problems in this country without actually getting into communities and experiencing it a bit. Particularly, that's the case in first nations communities.
Just at the last meeting, we had representatives of the health department tell us that the oral health of first nations is quite appalling. We know that studies were ordered to be done within the health department that looked at comparing services indigenous people have in remote communities versus other non-indigenous communities in remote communities. They weren't done.
I was really disturbed to see a report today of a young woman who committed suicide in Attawapiskat. She was 13 years old. Leaving aside the suicide and mental health component of it, when you read the story of this young woman, this young girl, it's an absolute microcosm of everything wrong with the health care system and indigenous people in this country. She lived in a house with 20 people. There was a mould problem in the house, and she had asthma. It was exacerbating her asthma. The sewage system backed up, so they were living in this house with the smell of raw sewage, which impacted her health in other ways. She was not able to access health care for her specific conditions. All of this led to a situation of despondency and depression, causing her to take her own life. I don't think that story is uncommon.
For all those reasons, this committee's prioritization, the priority the government has given to indigenous health, the crying need in this country to study....
Even if, by the way, the indigenous affairs committee does choose to study some aspects of health, I don't think that's a reason for us not to do it. Perhaps we can even join in some way. We could coordinate our services, because it's such a broad area that neither committee is going to be able to cover everything in health.
I'm sure the indigenous affairs committee will be looking at other things, perhaps the legal structure, perhaps constitutional issues, perhaps provincial or federal.... They could be looking at other areas that are specifically of interest to the indigenous affairs committee that we wouldn't be looking at as the health committee.
I'm going to ask my colleagues to support my motion that you've already read out, basically to study indigenous health in Canada as our next major study undertaken by this committee.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.