In Debate: on the future of Healthcare

Mrs. Cathy McLeod (Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, CPC)
That, in the opinion of the House, the government should encourage and assist provincial and territorial governments, the medical community and other groups to lessen the burden on Canada's health care system through: (a) an increased adoption of technological developments; (b) a better recognition of the changing roles of health care professionals and the needs of Canadians; and (c) a greater focus on strategies for healthy living and injury prevention.

Ms. Irene Mathyssen (London—Fanshawe, NDP):

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to this private member's motion from the member for Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo. It is my understanding that it is intended to give guidance to the federal legislature to encourage and assist better cost efficiency within provincial and territorial health regimes by focusing on three areas: technology, health human resources and healthy living promotion and injury prevention.

I would like to address each of these three areas. As it turns out, the New Democratic Party, the party of medicare, the party of Tommy Douglas, the father of medicare, has policy in these three areas.

We have policy on which we, as the NDP members of the House of Commons, are prepared to act. These are policies in which we believe because we know they are effective and will advance the medicare system we defend across the country, the system that we wish to see improved and advanced for the people of Canada.

The motion before us sets out guidance for the federal Parliament in technology, health human resources and illness prevention. Unfortunately, it does not contain any specific actions to be taken. I do wonder what value it has without action.

I think it is safe to say that health care is a priority for Canadians and our health care system is a source of great pride. As I have already said, New Democrats are dedicated to defend universal health coverage in Canada. It is among our top priorities.

The guidance the motion provides is in keeping with the NDP vision for health care in Canada. It encourages a stronger, more efficient health care system. However, it does not go far enough as it does not address the core issues respecting the health of Canadians, in particular the determinants of health.

If the government and members opposite were truly serious about improving the health of Canadians, they would take steps to alleviate poverty, particularly child poverty, and establish a national housing strategy to put all Canadians on an equal footing.

When we look at the face of poverty in the country, it is the face of women and children. In 1989 the House unanimously agreed to end child poverty by the year 2000. In order to end child poverty, we must end the poverty of the families in which our children live. We have failed utterly.

The poverty rate among children is higher now than in 1989. One in six Canadian children is poor. One in six is under-housed, poorly nourished and lacking in the advantages that will help them make meaningful contributions, the contributions they would wish to make as members of our communities. Affordable housing would help these children and these families, in fact, all families.

If the Conservative government wanted to make a difference in the health of Canadians, it would improve the quality of our air, our water and our soil. Our environment plays a huge part in our health and quality of life.

Last December, in Copenhagen, the government demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt that the environment, the air, the water and the soil that sustains all life is second fiddle to its preoccupation with big oil and its determination to pander to that industry and those that contribute to pollution and climate change, no matter what the cost to our planet.

If the government truly wished to make health a priority, it would take significant steps to improve the health among first nations. It would sign the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. It would respect and respond to the UN Convention to End Discrimination Against Women by addressing the poverty first nations women face. It would take real action to address violence against aboriginal and indeed all women. It would make the necessary changes to employment insurance and pension plans that would provide economic security for Canadians. None of this is addressed within the motion.

The Canada Health Act is an incredible tool to provide federal leadership on health issues. However, it is not once mentioned in the motion.

I want to refer to the three areas of focus within Motion No. 513. The first is an increased adoption of technological developments.

We must improve health care so no one is left behind and to do this we must be innovative. The current government has not taken the initiatives necessary to develop research and innovation in Canada. We have the human resources and the scientific know-how to make significant improvements to our health care system, but more federal leadership is necessary in promoting and developing technology in health care.

There is immense potential in technological advancements to link rural and isolated communities to experts in larger centres and give better tools to local health professionals to assist with diagnoses and treatment. This requires investment and, as we know, the most recent federal budget actually reduced investment in the kind of research that could have made a profound contribution to the technology of the 21st century, the technology we need to enhance and streamline our health care system.

The next part of the motion makes reference to better recognition of the changing roles of health care professionals. We need to train substantially more health care professionals, including more doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners and midwives to ease staffing shortages and cut wait times. To do this, we need to better fund post-secondary education and relieve student debt.

Finally, the motion calls for greater focus on strategies for healthy living and injury prevention. The promotion of healthy living and the promotion of injury prevention are essential elements of the leadership role that the federal government can take. New Democrats do have something to offer this discussion by way of our policy platform. We absolutely agree that federal leadership on healthy living is essential.

This is what it should look like. The federal government should assist the provinces to develop long-term strategies to better manage chronic diseases such as diabetes and lifelong medical disabilities and conditions such as autism. It should dedicate 1% of the health care budget to physical fitness and amateur sports promotion, including investing in the development of more community centres, seniors centres, recreational facilities and playing fields.

It should launch a federal determinants of health initiative with emphasis on clean air, safe water, reducing poverty and improving children's health and nutrition. The feds should ban trans fats and expand other initiatives to promote healthy foods and healthy eating, including addressing the crisis of childhood obesity by implementing a pan-Canadian strategy and limiting the exposure of children to junk food.

It should ensure that all infants in Canada have access to hearing testing in co-operation with the provinces and territories, increase support for provincial and territorial health initiatives, including cancer control systems, and invest in trails associations across the country, joining forces with Canadians who are blazing new trails by walking, cycling, wheeling, skiing and running their way to healthier, more active lifestyles.

These are all important steps the government should take. These are the steps New Democrats are committed to take. These policies should be combined with other NDP policies related to the determinants of health, such as well-paid jobs, green jobs, pension reform, employment insurance reform, affordable housing, national child care and environmental protection. We are committed to training more doctors, nurses, midwives, nurse practitioners and health care technicians to ensure they have the scope of practice that allows them to contribute all their considerable expertise. The expertise they have to give will indeed make medicare stronger and better.

I think this is an important debate and an important discussion, but I am waiting for action. We have been waiting for action on some of these issues for many years. The time to act is now. The time to set aside differences is now. We can and must improve our health care system.