Madam Speaker, I stand today to speak about my support for this motion.
I want to start with the COVID-19 pandemic. It is a timely reminder that we are all global citizens and are all connected to one another. The health of Canadians is connected to the health of people around the world. Some days we may even take our health and health care system for granted, but not today of course. The global pandemic is a stark reminder that our health is fragile and so is our health care system.
Across the planet, countries that have had the infrastructure and capacity to quickly isolate and treat patients have had the most success at flattening the curve of infection. These countries have been able to save the lives of what will probably end up being thousands if not tens of thousands of people. While Canadians are rightly proud of our national health care system, we lack the critical element that other countries possess: the ability to provide ongoing medical treatment through pharmaceuticals. As I said, we are all connected. My health affects others' health. If I cannot access the medications I need, others may suffer the consequences. Canadians understand that.
I am a new member of Parliament, and one of the members who have never run for office. It was a real privilege to knock on doors in my riding of Edmonton Strathcona to learn from my constituents. I was particularly struck by the intelligence and generosity of opinions expressed by the people of Edmonton, people who clearly understand the growing disparity between the haves and the have-nots in Canada.
Edmonton Strathcona is a very diverse riding, with Canadians from every region of the world and from as wide a range of socio-economic backgrounds and situations as we would see in any major city in this country. When speaking with my constituents on their doorsteps about the NDP's priorities, I was not surprised to hear overwhelming support for our platform from those struggling to make their needs met. However, I was a bit surprised by how often my constituents who were not struggling were concerned about the very same things.
I will never forget one young man, a successful business owner living in a beautiful new infill home. He told me that his number one priority was health care for struggling Canadians. We talked for a long time about the NDP's plan for pharmacare, dental care and mental care, and he told me about his two young daughters and the children at their daycare and school. He was deeply concerned for his daughters' well-being of course, but he emphasized that their well-being was directly linked to that of their friends.
He described to me those he knew, many of them new Canadians who were not able to access the medicine that they needed. They or their children were going without necessary medications because they did not have drug coverage. He then looked me straight in the eye and said, “This is ridiculous. My child's health is in danger because these people can't pay for their drugs. You need to do something about this.” I am here hoping that I can.
Last week, Alberta was facing an economic crisis. Unemployment in Alberta has skyrocketed over the past nine months. Edmonton has the highest unemployment rate in the country. Thousands of Albertans have lost all or some of their employer-provided prescription drug coverage.
To make matters worse, Jason Kenney's United Conservative Party government just cut prescription drug coverage for thousands of seniors and their dependants, cut funding support for medical assistance devices for seniors and cut access to necessary biologics for thousands of others. In total, 46,000 Albertans have lost their health care and medication coverage or have had it drastically altered. Now these Albertans will have to pay out of their own pockets, if they can. If they cannot, they will pay with their health and possibly their lives.
One family affected by Jason Kenney's cruel cuts reached out to me recently. Helen spent 35 years in our community serving as a nurse. She had to retire before age 65 because of a brain injury. Thankfully, her husband Steve, who is over 65, had coverage for her and their son through a provincial seniors drug program. All three members of this family have health issues. When Jason Kenney kicked dependants off the seniors drug program, Helen and her son lost their coverage.
Today, this family is facing an additional $4,000 in drug costs. That is $4,000 per month. Helen and Stan are desperate for answers. Right now, they are looking into selling their home to cover the additional costs, but they do not know if that strategy will work. With unemployment so high in Alberta, housing prices in Edmonton are really declining.
This family is facing the most difficult decision of their lives. They are having to decide between their home and their health. This family and hundreds of thousands of other families across Canada live with these impossible dilemmas because Canada does not have a national universal pharmacare program.
When Jason Kenney cut this family's drug coverage, he saved the Alberta government millions of dollars, $72 million to be precise, and that is a lot of money. If we put that into context, the costs and savings hardly add up. For every tax dollar that Jason Kenney sent to foreign stockholders with his corporate tax cut, he got 1.5¢ in return from people like Helen and Stan. The cruelty is mind-boggling.
If we want to get a sense of how many Helens and Stans there are out there, we can ask a health care worker. Doctors know, and that is why they support universal pharmacare. Nurses know, and that is why they support universal pharmacare. Nearly every health care professional in our country supports universal pharmacare.
As I have mentioned in the House before, I am a cancer survivor. In fact, I have the incredibly good news to share that last week I was declared cancer-free. While I should have celebrated that news, I struggled to do so because I realized that I was lucky to access medication and the care that I needed to stand here as a cancer survivor. That is not the case for people in my province.
I had the opportunity to visit with my pharmacist the other day and discuss this issue with her. She told me that people would be shocked to learn how many people go without medicine because they cannot afford it. They stand in line with their prescriptions in hand and submit them, but when they find out how much their prescriptions cost, they leave. Those are the easy cases for her. Far more difficult for her are the ones who do not just leave, the ones who try to buy one or two pills, the ones who offer to pay for part of the cost now and some of it later, the ones who cry and the ones who beg.
She told me about one woman who, after paying for a prescription of medication her child needed, simply gathered up her child and her purse from her shopping cart and walked away, abandoning her groceries. This did not happen in a low-income area of Edmonton. This happened in the heart of Edmonton Strathcona, in an area full of lovely homes and well-educated residents.
It is not going to get better; it is only going to get worse. Last week, Alberta was facing an economic crisis. That was last week. This week, Albertans are facing economic collapse.
Tommy Douglas, the father of medicare, knew that our health care system was not complete without pharmacare. He recognized more than 40 years ago that health care is not universal if Canadians still have to pay out of pocket for their medications. In 1984, he said:
Let’s not forget that the ultimate goal of Medicare must be to keep people well rather than just patching them up when they get sick. That means clinics. That means making the hospitals available for active treatment cases only, getting chronic patients out into nursing homes, carrying on home nursing programs that are much more effective, making annual checkups and immunization available to everyone. It means expanding and improving Medicare by providing pharmacare and denticare programs. It means promoting physical fitness through sports and other activities.
The lack of pharmacare is a gaping hole in our health care system and Canadians are falling through.
For the past 23 years, the federal Liberals have made pharmacare a priority, or so they have said. It has been a cornerstone of the Liberals' platform in every election of the past two decades. The Prime Minister promised pharmacare in 2015 and 2019, and I suspect the Prime Minister will make the same promise again when the next election is called. How cynical must one be to continue to do this to Canadians? It is time to stop promising pharmacare. It is time to enact pharmacare.