Madam Speaker, I rise today to address a very important piece of legislation. Looking at it, I could not help but reflect on the previous debates that we had and the process in the development of Bill C-14, which led us to the point where we are today.
If members who were not here want to get a good sense of how thorough the debate and discussions were, I recommend they take a look at some of the comments in the standing committees, the many lead-up discussions, different presentations and the pre-study that was conducted.
I enjoyed listening to the debates then, because like the member who just spoke said, we heard a lot of personal stories. When people ask me what I enjoy about being in the chamber, it is the different types of debates that we have. These are the ones, like the debate today, that I learn from. I appreciate the stories that come before the House.
We are all concerned about protecting vulnerable individuals in our society. At the same time, it is important as legislators to have a role to support the eligible person to be able to seek medical assistance in dying. It is a very difficult issue.
A good number of us felt with the passing of Bill C-14 that we had something that would move us forward. Even during the height of that discussion, there was a feeling that in a number of years we should review it and take a look at what has transpired in the previous years. We are quickly getting to that point.
However, last September, a Superior Court in Quebec made a determination. Members of the Conservative Party say maybe we should have appealed that decision. I respect that opinion. I do not necessarily believe that would have been the best direction for the government. The direction we have chosen is to make changes to the legislation now, in the hope that we will better serve Canadians.
Having said that, once we get into the summer months, there is going to be a great deal of discussion because it is mandated. When I think of the Bill C-14 debate, and I will provide some personal thoughts on the issue of palliative care, I would like to see us talk about the issue of mental illness. I am hoping that, when we do that comprehensive review, we incorporate that along with palliative care.
I am sure I am not unique and that all 338 members would concur when we think of health care in Canada, there are a couple of issues at our doors: the issue of mental health care services and palliative care services. I used to be the health care critic 15 years ago in Manitoba. We did not have the same sort of dialogue that we hear in the last number of years on those two critically important issues.
British Columbia many years ago elevated the issue of mental illness and made it a separate ministry. There was a minister of health and a minister of mental health illnesses.
I say that because, more and more, provinces are aware of the issue and the importance of mental illness. The Government of Canada has invested hundreds of millions of dollars over the last number of years, and continues to invest in mental illness and palliative care across the country. We are on a very strong footing when we look at where we are today.
We need to reflect on what brought us here. There were many consultations: literally thousands of people were engaged and many hours of debate and dialogue took place. It could have been in the thousands of hours. I do not know that for a fact, but I am sure that, between the time committees met on second reading of Bill C-14, the amount of consultation with Canadians in all regions of the country and the responses received via all sorts of mediums, hundreds of thousands of Canadians in all regions of our country were able to weigh in on this issue.
If we advance to January of this year, again there were consultations and round tables that took us to the different regions of Canada. There was the survey that has been referenced already today on several occasions. Approximately 300,000 Canadians were engaged in that particular survey at the beginning of the year. I do not know if all of the results have gone public to date, but I trust the individuals who helped formulate the legislation we are debating today did their homework in terms of consultations and incorporating all of the ideas. I know the Department of Justice and the Department of Health are following this debate and listening to what members have to say.
From a personal perspective, based on experiences I have garnered over the years, there are two concerns I want to express. One is with regard to health care services and the other deals with the legislation itself. Let me expand on both points.
If we were to ask Canadians what makes them feel good about being Canadian, we would often hear our health care services. I suspect this is probably number one. I referenced mental illness and palliative care. I have witnessed first-hand the evolution of palliative care.
My grandmother was in the St. Boniface Hospital, and many hospitals in our country have palliative care sections. Many of them panel seniors, in particular, who cannot get the quality care necessary in personal care home facilities or the supports they need in their communities and in their homes, so they end up going into hospitals and are panelled.
Many of them will go into palliative care because there are no designated palliative care units in health care facilities, so they end up in hospitals. My grandmother was one of them. She had terminal cancer, and we watched as the weeks went by. Family members visited and it was very difficult on them.
We had a very special relationship, as we all do with our grandparents. Many of us wondered why she had to be in a hospital. Even though it was kind of sectioned off from the emergency department and other aspects of the hospital, she was still in a hospital. It is a different type of a situation, and not necessarily the most comfortable.
Ultimately, my grandmother passed. Then, a number of years later, I had the personal experience of being there for my father in the days prior to his passing. He had to go from home into a hospital, and we were very fortunate that we were able to get him into the Riverview Health Centre. In that centre, with its large windows and beautiful atmosphere, you get the feeling that the type of care is very different.
I reflect on that. I was there at the moment of my father's passing, and we had discussions a number of days prior when he was in fear of what was going to happen, because he witnessed what had taken place with his mother, my grandma, at the St. Boniface Hospital. He did not have that choice, but we talked about having that choice.
I think, knowing my father, he would have been very happy with the way in which he ultimately passed. I really attribute it to his world-class treatment at that particular facility, and I kind of wish that my grandmother had the same sort of atmosphere. Not to take away from the fantastic work that those health care providers and others did at the St. Boniface Hospital, but it was a totally different atmosphere.
During the Bill C-14 debate, we heard many stories like the one we just heard from the member opposite. They are very touching, they are compelling and they make us ask what we can do here in Ottawa to ensure that we have the best quality of health care services we can possibly provide.
It is one of the reasons I am very passionate on the issue of the national framework. It does not have to be a system where we have one thing in British Columbia and another in Atlantic Canada or in the province of Quebec, or in provinces that do not have the same economic means or the same sort of treasury to provide the type of service that they should. This is where the national government has a role to play.
When I listen to comments inside the House with regard to where we might want to go from here, or very serious concerns about the current legislation, I would suggest that we reflect on what we are going to be able to potentially do in the coming months, when we have the opportunity.
Unlike in the Manitoba legislature, our standing committees can be exceptionally effective. It is truly amazing, the type of authority, ability and participation that we can witness if we are prepared to park our partisan hats at the door and try to do what is best for Canadians on this issue. If we can take a look at what took place, with regard to C-14, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that we can do that.
If members listened to the previous speaker, they would get a sense of what was taking place when we had the debates on C-14. Whether it is in the health standing committee or whatever it is that we come up with collectively, with representation from all the parties, I would encourage them to take into consideration the possibility of going outside of Ottawa.
Maybe we should look at different regions and see what some of these other provinces are doing, and maybe tour some of the palliative care facilities. There is a great variance.
We need to look. If I reflect on the province of Manitoba, we should take a look at what is happening in Winkler, Flin Flon or Winnipeg. We should take a look at the difference between Riverview Health Centre and what takes place in the Seven Oaks hospital.
Where, and what role, can we play as a national government to ensure that we are maximizing the benefits of providing the type of palliative care that Canadians expect and deserve, given the limitations that we actually have? Only the national government can do that. I suggest it is going to be in a very important role.
Earlier today, the standing committee on trade tabled the CUSMA deal, the trade agreement between Canada, the United States and Mexico. Many of the members were taking pictures of that particular committee, feeling very positive in terms of what they had been able to accomplish.
My challenge to the health committee, if that is going to be the standing committee, is to take that role very seriously in terms of the potentially life-changing report it could produce for Canadians.
I truly believe that the will is there to support what that committee is hoping to accomplish. It is just as significant as, and maybe even more important than, the report tabled today by the trade committee, which from what I understand was supported unanimously by all members of the House. If one listens to the speeches thus far, I do not think anyone would dispute what I said in regard to it.
I really encourage the standing committee, in the strongest way I can, to look at the mental illness issue using the same principles I talked about regarding palliative care. It is such a critically important issue, and Ottawa needs to play a stronger national leadership role on that. Hopefully that will happen, but because of time I am only going to highlight a few very brief points.
The proposed amendments would allow for a waiver of final consent for persons whose natural death is reasonably foreseeable, in the sense that they have been assessed and approved to receive medical assistance in dying, and have made arrangements with their practitioners for a waiver of final consent in certain situations because they were at risk of losing decision-making capacity by their chosen date to receive MAID.
I also want to highlight that the government is very aware of the concerns about the increased risks when MAID is provided to persons who are not dying in the short term. The bill, therefore, proposes additional safeguards that would apply when a person's natural death is not reasonably foreseeable.
These new safeguards aim to ensure that sufficient time and expertise are devoted to exploring requests for MAID from persons whose natural death is not reasonably foreseeable and that such people are made aware of, and seriously consider, available means for relieving their suffering.
There is another really important part to me, but maybe I will do it in the question-and-answer period.