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View Peter Julian Profile
NDP (BC)
Madam Speaker, since we have just 10 minutes before the start of question period and since I will not be able to come back after that, I will limit my remarks to five minutes so my colleagues can ask questions. I think this is an extremely important conversation. I will stop talking five minutes before question period so my colleagues can ask questions.
We are facing a pandemic around the world. When we look at how our universal medicare is working, we see an illustrative example of why we are calling on Parliament today to ratify the idea of a universal, public pharmacare program. There is a clear difference between Canadian-style medicare, where we have managed to keep the risk of COVID-19 low, and public health officials across the country working hard to maintain that level, and other jurisdictions, for example the United States, where the medical system is neither universal nor publicly administered. As a result of that, it is much more costly than in the Canadian context.
In British Columbia, the B.C. NDP government, John Horgan and public health officials have been working hard to contain the virus. When we compare the infection rates of COVID-19 there to those in Washington state, right across the border, two hours from my home and from my constituency, we are seeing brush fires erupting in the area of Seattle. In Lynnwood, for example, we are progressively seeing schools closing, churches closing and not celebrating mass or communion. A series of senior centres have had to close as well. The difference is quite clear.
That is part of why, in Canada, it is so essential that we have access to the health care system at all times, without having to worry about having to pay or whether our families have the capacity to pay. It is the same principle with pharmacare. This is why this debate is so vital today.
As parliamentarians, we have had Liberal governments promising to deliver pharmacare for almost a quarter century. The choice needs to be made for a Canadian-style, universal, publicly administered pharmacare program as called for in the Hoskins report, as called for unanimously by the Standing Committee on Health, and as called for by the Standing Committee on Finance. In the report we tabled just two weeks ago, the Standing Committee on Finance called for a public, universal and national pharmacare program.
The difference between that and some kind of piecemeal, for-profit pharmacare program is quite clear. We know with piecemeal, for-profit pharmacare many people are left out, and the costs are much more expensive. The reality, as detailed by the Parliamentary Budget Officer, is that Canadians as a whole would save $4 billion if we moved to universal, publicly administered pharmacare. Businesses would save about $6 billion. Provinces would save, because of the federal government's contribution.
Canadians who are struggling to pay for medication prescribed to them by their doctor would benefit enormously from pharmacare. It would protect our whole country in the event of these kinds of pandemics that can occur.
I am going to tell two stories before I sit down to allow questions.
The first is about Jim. Jim sits outside the House of Commons in -30°C weather, in blizzards and in the blazing sun because he needs to beg to pay for his medication. He gets about $800 a month on social assistance, which is enough to pay for his room and his food. He cannot work because of his disability, and because of his need for that medication to keep him alive, he needs an additional $500 per month. It breaks my heart to see him every day. I make contributions, of course, and I think a number of other members of Parliament do, but in a country as wealthy as Canada, situations like Jim's should not exist. People should not have to beg in order to pay for their medication.
Another story is of a family that lives just a couple of blocks from my home in Burnaby, B.C., just off Cumberland Street. That family is paying $1,000 a month for heart medication that keeps the father of the family alive. They are having to make the tough choice, because of the escalating rents we are seeing, of whether to keep paying for the heart medication or to pay their rent. Canadian families should not have to make that choice.
That is why we need national, universal and publicly administered pharmacare, not piecemeal, not for-profit, not much more expensive, but the kind of universal program Tommy Douglas always advocated for and that the NDP and our leader are proposing today.
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