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View Peter Julian Profile
NDP (BC)
moved:
That the House call on the government to change its proposed tax cuts by targeting benefits to those who earn less than $90,000 per year, and use those savings to invest in priorities that give real help to Canadians, including dental coverage for uninsured families making less than $90,000 per year.
He said: Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with someone who truly inspires me, the hon. member for Burnaby South. He will take the floor in the second part of my intervention.
What the NDP is offering today is an opportunity for all members of Parliament to get together to provide support for the one-third of Canadians who do not have access to basic dental care.
What we said in the motion, and what Parliament will be directing the government to do if it is adopted, is to cap the tax changes at $90,000 a year and to provide basic dental care to all those who are uninsured and earning less than $90,000 a year in this country.
I must say at the outset that Canadians already support this policy. A recent poll just last year indicates that 86% of Canadians support dental care for all those who are uninsured in this country. At the same time, other countries like the United Kingdom and the European Union have 100% dental coverage. Basic dental care is covered in those countries. Six million Canadians, when we put aside young people who have the opportunity to access provincial plans, are impacted by this lack of dental coverage.
That means that millions of Canadians will be affected by the motion being moved by the NDP today. Millions of Canadians will be able to access dental care once this motion has been adopted.
Let us hear some of the stories of Canadians who do not have access to basic dental care in this country. I would like to quote from a constituent, Jonathan, a man who works for minimum wage and who talked to me about the importance of having dental coverage in this country.
Jonathan works at minimum wage and cannot afford to get the basic cleaning that he needs as part of basic dental care. That means that because of bacteria in his mouth, he is often in pain. He tried to save up enough money to access the basic dental care that he needed, but then his car broke down. He needed it for work, so he had to make the tough choice between having transportation or getting his basic dental needs met. He simply could not do both.
He has tried borrowing money, but that has not worked either, because it puts him in a debt cycle that he simply cannot afford. He has looked into dental plans, as his family has, but they found that the cost was simply prohibitive.
In this country, half of Canadian families are $200 away from insolvency in any given month. Jonathan and his family are among them. A difference of $100 or $200 a month means the difference between managing to put food on the table, managing to keep a roof over their heads, and managing to pay the bills without going too much further in debt. They simply cannot afford the cost of a dental plan.
Canadian families are the most indebted of any families in the industrialized world, and we have the highest family debt loads in our country's history right now. The reality of Jonathan is a reality that many other people face across the length and breadth of this country.
One thing I should mention about Jonathan is that in addition to the pain, in addition to the struggles of trying to find resources to pay for basic dental care, he also says that he feels ashamed of himself, that because of his broken teeth and because he is in such pain, he simply is not able to smile. The adoption of the motion today would mean that Jonathan, like six million other Canadians, would get their smile back. That is extremely important.
I would like to talk about Elsie. Elsie is not her real name. She did not want me to use her real name because she works for a big corporation that makes a lot of profit and has been held just shy of the number of hours needed to access the company's dental plan. She works in the food and hospitality sector. Her teeth are literally rotting away, but because there is no basic dental care, she is unable to access the dental care that she desperately needs.
I will also talk about what I saw at the University of Montreal a few years ago. The dental clinic at the University of Montreal offers free dental care provided by students of the faculty of dental medicine who are studying to be dentists.
Fortunately, thanks to the University of Montreal, dental care is being provided, but there is a waiting list. People are lining up to get access and many of them are in pain because of the lack of basic dental care in this country.
That is the problem whether we are talking about Jonathan, Elsie or everyone else lining up to get care, not just at the University of Montreal, but all across the country. When there are free dental clinics, people are there because they are desperately trying to get badly needed dental care.
I recently had a meeting with working representatives from British Columbia, workers such as David Black, who is one of my bosses, a constituent of mine in New Westminster—Burnaby, as well as representatives from correctional workers, commercial workers and a teacher. They were all there in my office, and I mentioned that the NDP was bringing forward this motion. They said it was wonderful and that it could make a real difference in this country, and then they asked me what kind of dental plan members of Parliament had. I had to tell them that members of Parliament have granted themselves a good, effective dental plan that covers all of those basic needs.
Now those working people, who are here today, are saying through me to all members of Parliament that if dental coverage and dental plans are good enough for members of Parliament, they should be good enough for all Canadians across the length and breadth of this land.
In terms of cost, people may be wondering how much this dental plan will cost. The Parliamentary Budget Officer has already informed us that it will cost $800 million a year. The cost will be higher the first year, of course, because there are needs that will have to be met, but it should come to about $800 million, or rather $814 million, the first year.
If we take these amounts and compare them to the federal budget as a whole, we can see that they are not that high. Considering all the tax changes that the government wants to implement, this is something that would pay for itself.
Why is that? It is because we already know from emergency room physicians across this country that tens of millions of dollars every year go into last-minute care that is provided in emergency rooms by doctors who are not qualified. People who are desperately seeking dental care go into emergency rooms, and they are given pills or painkillers to get them through the following few days.
Emergency room doctors tell us that we need to have basic dental care in this country and that the absence of basis dental care is costing our health care system over $150 million a year. We are already paying the costs of this emergency care, as well as the costs for all of the people like Jonathan and Elsie who cannot even go to work because of the pain they are experiencing. The six million Canadians who do not have dental care are an incredible charge on our economy and our quality of life, without even considering the impacts on each of them.
Of course it makes sense to cap the tax changes and make sure we are taking care of basic dental care for all Canadians. This is a no-brainer. Members of Parliament need to get behind this idea. We need to make sure every Canadian has access to basic dental care in this country.
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