(The House divided on the motion, which was negatived on the following division:)
Hon. Hedy Fry (Vancouver Centre, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, the reason we are discussing this report in the House today and debating this issue is that time and again we have heard the government make statements about what it is doing to prevent, protect and ensure that Canadians are safe and have good health care but the facts do not support any of that. When we discuss issues as important and urgent as this one, the whole parliamentary tradition of debating these issues at committee and bringing in expert witnesses to speak on these issues, we find that this is all short-circuited at committee. The government does not listen to witnesses and continues to ignore them.
This report is a glorified toothless report. It says nothing, does nothing and only pats the government on the back. The government did not listen to any of the recommendations that any of the witnesses made.
The Liberals put forward a dissenting report. We listened to the witnesses and heard what they had to say. They were experts, not only in health, chronic diseases or aging, but they were also people who talked about the other factors that we need to take action on to deal with this problem.
When we look at the demographics of the aging population, the problems they face and the costs to the system providing health care and medications, we see this as a really important problem. The problem is that it was given short shrift. The report does not reflect what the committee heard, which is why we felt a need to bring forward a dissenting report. Debating the issue brings this to the attention of the public and ensures that parliamentarians understand the nature of the issue of chronic disease and aging.
Demographics tell us that we will have an enormous increase in our aging population. With the first set of baby boomers entering retirement in 2011, we are looking at an enormous number of people who will become aged and who will be suffering from chronic diseases.
We heard from witnesses at the committee who said that chronic disease was not a natural component of aging. We heard that for many seniors who have chronic diseases today, it is because enough is not being done to prevent disease and to promote health in Canadians starting from the early stages. We now find that we have an epidemic of one in four children being obese and who are at risk of having type 2 diabetes or heart disease. We know that but we do nothing about it.
I heard an echo across the floor from someone who said that we all know that. Well, if the member knows it, why is the government not doing anything about it when it has the power to do something?
Sixty per cent of diseases are preventable. They are not only caused by viruses, bacteria and the breaking down of organs. They are also caused by poverty. Poverty is the greatest indicator of ill health. Many seniors live in substandard housing or have no access to housing. Nutrition and the ability to have good food is important. The ability to look at how people eat and how they are housed are not things that we look at in the budgets that are presented in House. These massive budgets are also never given the opportunity to be debated or discussed at any length in committee or to have recommendations that are meaningful and accepted. None of this happens. It is all a whitewash that goes on around here.
Under her mandate, the Minister of Health has the responsibility for health promotion and disease prevention for all Canadians, but, specifically, to deliver health services to the first nations, the Inuit, the RCMP, the armed forces and veterans. Nothing is being done to help them.
We never hear about housing in any of the budgets. In the last two budgets, the word “housing” was not even mentioned and yet substandard housing is one of the things that all witnesses invoked as a major cause of ill health. It definitely stems from poverty.
We also heard that the ability to look at regulating foods was important.
We know that the biggest cause of chronic disease right now is cardiovascular disease. We know that the biggest cause of chronic disease in aging is diabetes. We know that those are all preventable.
The minister has the ability to regulate. All the indications given to the federal Minister of Health from all of the experts, not only within her department but by a committee of experts who advise the minister on these issues, were that she must regulate trans fats in food but she has refused to do so. She has been advised to regulate energy drinks, which are now causing serious arrhythmia and other problems, and even death in young people under the age of 18, but she has refused to do it. We know about the amount of sodium in foods. This is evidence-based stuff. The minister has been advised to take steps to regulate these things but she does not do it. The minister is abdicating her role. The government pats itself on the back for what it is doing to promote health and disease prevention but it is doing very little.
We also know that the cost to medicare will be very high because one in four people will depend on pharmaceuticals as he or she ages. One in four seniors depends on prescription drugs right now. Seniors cannot afford the costs because of something that was mentioned but was never responded to by the Conservative government and the minister. What are we going to do about the cost of drugs for chronic diseases? People who cannot afford their medications buy their medications until they feel a little better and then go without for a couple of months but then they get sick again. Then they take it for another month or two because that is all they can afford. That is not how to treat people who are ill.
In fact, this is something that was recognized by the premiers and the health ministers of the provinces and territories and by the federal government when the 2004 health accord was signed. Everyone from the government loved to ask what it mean. Into that accord was put $41.2 billion over a period of 10 years. That money had a 6% escalator clause attached to it. The government continues to say that it is increasing transfer payments by 6%. Well it was a signed document for 10 years. There was nothing the government could do to stop the 6% escalator. However, it is promising that as soon as the 2004 accord sunsets it will start slashing the transfers within two years by 50%. The federal government is even walking away from the work that was going to be done by the accord and the work that the provinces need to do to deal with the aging demographics.
This is what we heard at committee. This is what witnesses continue to tell us, and they had some solutions. Going back to the accord, it said that there were five things that people needed to do to ensure that Canadians got the health care they needed when they needed it and that Canadians remained as healthy as they could. We have seen that Canadians today have reached a longevity of 80.9 years. That is now sliding. The longevity rates are going down. In other words, people are becoming ill as they age. They are dying sooner. They are disabled more often. We see a rise in mental disease. We see a rise in depression among seniors. We see a rise in Alzheimer's disease. We see a rise in stroke and in cardiovascular disease.
The accord suggested five objectives that were agreed on by the premiers. One of them was to look at how one deals with chronic disease in terms of delivery of health care. The provinces agreed that they would work with the federal government and that there would be a flexible jurisdiction. That is written in the accord. I would advise anyone in this House to go on line and read the accord. It was agreed by the provinces and the federal government that they would look at a shared jurisdictional responsibility to deal with an aging population, the rising cost of health care and the appropriate need for drugs. The current government walked away, in 2006, from working on anything that would deliver chronic disease care in the community and in the home, as opposed to in the hospital, which is a costly and inappropriate way of doing it.
That was one of the objectives, and the second was to look at a pharmacare strategy to deal with the cost of drugs for people who are chronically ill and cannot afford them. That was agreed to in the accord and signed. Nothing has been done. The government walked away from that segment of the table.
We have a farce of a report being written that pays absolutely no attention to what the witnesses said. We have a government that pays absolutely no attention to what was signed and agreed to in a health accord with Prime Minister Martin at the time, when the premiers and provinces all agreed to look at key issues of how and when we deliver care, and to whom. The government wants to abdicate its role, although the money is there and the 6% escalator clause is there. The government is doing diddly-squat because we know it does not really care about medicare and would love to see it go away and become fragmented, with every province and territory trying to do its own thing. That, we know, would be impossible because many provinces cannot afford it.
The government is actually going to penalize provinces even further. I understand the need for cuts, but we have to talk about what is going to happen to people who really need care, especially with chronic disease and aging.
This document that we are debating does not reflect anything that we heard at committee. While it provides the data, it follows that up with recommendations that say and do nothing. That is why both opposition parties agreed to write their own dissenting reports to echo what they heard. It is a farce when witnesses come to committee and speak with expertise and knowledge, presenting demographics and evidence, and are actually ignored. When none of their recommendations are listened to or taken into account, it becomes a joke.
I suppose the hidden agenda of the government is probably to do away with parliamentary committees altogether. Then no one would tell the government what to do, which would further its dictatorship and its lack of responsibility for people. Even if it does not want to take responsibility for the health of Canadians, it has a fiduciary responsibility for the health of aboriginal people, which is getting worse. We know that.
We see what is happening, but the government has done absolutely nothing to deal with the issues of health promotion and disease prevention. Saying that it is doing something is not good enough. The witnesses gave concrete recommendations, all of which are not only doable but would also prevent disease, promote health and consider issues of affordable drugs and the delivery of chronic disease care in communities, which is cheaper and more cost effective, with better outcomes than anything else. All of this is based on data; it is evidence. This is not something people are making up as they go along, but the government refuses to act on it. The Minister of Health refuses to take any kind of concrete action whatsoever. The government is looking at cutting transfer payments to the provinces down the road, and the latter will not even have the ability to take care of Canadians as a result.
This report is worthy of debate. It is a pity that government members do not see the need to debate it here, because they have fast forwarded and rubber stamped whatever they had originally started with. The original position of government members has not changed regardless of what they heard. It did not influence them in any way. The moving stories, the ability to come up with real concrete action, none of it swayed the government.
As a physician, I know that we could do better. I know that there are things we need to implement. Government members continue to use the mantra, “Don't look at us, it's a provincial jurisdiction”, while they sit and do nothing as the fifth largest provider of health care services in the country to the RCMP, the armed forces, aboriginal and Inuit people and veterans. They continue to fall down on the job. Veterans have had to take them to court to deal with their chronic problems, such as mental illnesses and post traumatic stress disorders, and their access to housing and good burial services when they die and have no money.
Why does the government have to be forced to do this? The mantra that the government has no role to play in the lives of these people is a joke. Why do the Conservatives want to form government if they have nothing to do and do not believe they have any role to play in the lives of Canadians? This is worthy of debate. It is a pity that the government does not debate it. It is a pity that the government continues to use all sorts of nice words and to present shiny objects for people to look at, but does nothing with any teeth to change it. This is going to get worse and Canadians will suffer.