April 28, 2003

BQ

Michel Guimond

Bloc Québécois

Mr. Michel Guimond (Beauport—Montmorency—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île-d'Orléans, BQ)

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise tonight for this emergency debate on a very important subject, the SARS epidemic, an issue that transcends partisan politics.

I think that the most important thing we need to keep in mind when it comes to this tragedy is that people have been affected. Some are sick and others, unfortunately, have died. Families have also been affected by these deaths. I am fortunate in that my parents are still living. I have never lost a close relative, but we know that under the current circumstances, it must be terribly difficult to lose a loved one to this epidemic, to this invisible enemy that is SARS.

I would like to remind the House that the SARS epidemic continues to be a very serious situation that deserves a great deal of attention. And while prudence is called for, we must not give in to panic, but instead concentrate on appropriate measures to safeguard public health.

This tragedy, which has already claimed a number of victims around the world, must be brought under control as soon as possible in order to minimize its spread. The Toronto area has unfortunately been hit hard by this epidemic. The Bloc Quebecois sympathizes with those who have been affected, directly or indirectly, by the situation. We in the Bloc Quebecois are convinced that it is vital to take all necessary measures, and the government can count on our full cooperation to that end.

Right now it is 9:13 p.m. in Ottawa, and while preparing my speech, I watched the 9 o'clock news. The first item on the news was a squabble: the Minister of Canadian Heritage—and Liberal leadership candidate—said plump and plain that the Minister of Health had completely absented herself from the debate and that she was totally incompetent in dealing with the situation.

I do not mean to say that the Minister of Canadian Heritage is wrong in describing the Minister of Health in this way. The issue is not whether she is right or wrong. However, in the grips of this epidemic, we would expect that our government would act responsibly, rather than dissolve into petty political bickering.

I said that I am not playing politics. But I believe that the government side would be well advised to reassure everybody. People are quite worried.

Next week, as you know--if you do not, I am telling you now, Mr. Speaker--I will be hosting seven or eight groups from my riding in Quebec. Unlike yours, my riding is not located in Cornwall, at a one hour and fifteen or thirty minutes' drive from Ottawa. For one of the groups coming to pay me a visit it will take five to five and a half hours by bus. I host groups like that seven or eight times a year; half are senior citizens groups and the other half are student groups, from primary school or high school. All this to say how tense the situation is because fear is a difficult thing to control.

One of the groups from my riding, l'Âge d'or de Montmorency, in Beauport, was supposed to come and see me in Ottawa next week, on the 5 and 6 of May I believe. On Friday I got a call from the organizer saying that these elderly people were afraid to go to Ottawa; they feared that the epidemic had spread to Ottawa.

I am not saying this to blame those who are afraid but to illustrate a situation. When psychosis takes hold of people, fear becomes hard to control, especially when dealing with older people, 75, 77 and 79 years of age, who are a bit afraid, who are a bit more concerned about their health; it is difficult to control.

Instead of barnyard squabbles and street fights between the Canadian heritage minister and the health minister, we expect some leadership from this government. Showing leadership is doing a lot more than announcing that the next cabinet meeting will take place in Toronto tomorrow. It is a lot more than announcing that the wife of the Prime Minister will go shopping on Thursday in various department stores in Toronto. A government that shows leadership would do a lot more than that.

The money that the federal government is about to spend to encourage tourists to come to Toronto—about $10 million, according to what we heard—would be much better invested in Ontario—the situation being more critical in that province with 21 or 22 deaths so far, if I am not mistaken—to hire new hospital workers to replace those already exhausted by the work overload and the stress, and also to compensate people who must be quarantined so as to encourage self-identification. In my opinion, this would be money much better spent by this government.

Again, we must applaud, in a non-partisan way, the initiative taken by the government in changing the employment insurance regulations. The Bloc Quebecois believes that it will encourage people to remain quarantined without being penalized financially. The question that people who think that they may have contracted the disease may ask themselves is “Without any income, can I afford to stay home and take the antibiotics that the doctor prescribed?” Or they may say “If I feel well enough to work, I will go, even though I risk exposing my co-workers and others around me to the disease”. We applaud this initiative by the government with regard to employment insurance.

I remind the House that, on April 4, the federal government abolished the two week waiting period for those who might be suffering from this disease. We are glad that the government has agreed, in this instance, to amend the employment insurance legislation. But we would also like to remind the government that it could take similar measures in other areas where workers are not quarantined, but are affected by decisions made abroad.

Let us take Quebec's lumber workers for instance. Over 7,000 workers have been affected by the softwood lumber crisis generated by the U.S. The same thing goes for the cod fishery. The House will be holding another emergency debate tomorrow to discuss the crisis in the cod industry, which might bring the government to consider new improvements to the employment insurance legislation.

So, on the one hand, the measures that were taken were fine, but on the other hand the government should try to be a bit more sensitive to the needs of other sectors where workers are hurting.

However, if we need to suggest some kind of enhancement to help the government consider this issue, we in the Bloc Quebecois would like the self-employed to be covered by the current employment insurance scheme.

It is sad to see the government spend money on ad campaigns but do nothing for the self-employed who are as much at risk as any other worker. I hope nobody believes that union members in a company or in a hospital are less likely to suffer from SARS than the self-employed. Anyone can catch this disease, whatever their employment status. I think we all agree on that.

The government should look for a way to provide coverage for the self-employed and for some income support measures for these workers who often rely on short-term jobs. We realize that self-employment is not always the ideal situation.

In closing, I would like to say that we hope the federal government's recent actions will help stop the spread of the disease. We need to point out, however, that the federal government's efforts are uneven. Considering the number of cases and of fatalities in Canada, this is cause for concern. We even wonder whether the measures taken to detect the disease were effective at the start of the outbreak.

Unfortunately, I am running out of time. We could also talk about airport surveillance. Unlike the contagious diseases that were around in the 1700s or 1800s, with the means of communication and of travel that were available at that time, now we are in the era of the jet plane and distance no longer matters.

To take the example of someone who is infected and has visited a market and then takes a plane. It appears that the thing started somewhere in China in some kind of bazaar or public market with infected poultry or snakes. The disease was then transmitted to humans. It would take just one person, someone from Toronto or Vancouver who had travelled to Hong Kong for a nephew or niece's wedding, to get on a plane, and the virus would be here in eight, ten or twelve hours.

This is how diseases are spread now, unlike the Spanish or yellow fever of the 1800s. The spread of disease was far less an issue in the days of horse-drawn carts, the Pony Express and so on.

Once again—and I am sure that you are delighted, Mr. Speaker, although you need to remain neutral, and do not have to agree or disagree with me—I have tried to rise above partisan politics. When we make speeches that are not too partisan, I hope that the government members can take their earplugs out, and hear our constructive comments.

Topic:   Emergency Debate
Subtopic:   Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome
Permalink
LIB

Paddy Torsney

Liberal

Ms. Paddy Torsney (Burlington, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Erie--Lincoln.

Let me say that the debate this evening is a real opportunity to talk about a Canadian success story. That success story is that we have right across the country an amazing public health infrastructure that has been mobilized on a moment's notice to protect all of us who are working here tonight, who are working right across the country, to make sure we are not affected in any greater way by the SARS outbreak.

In my own community of Burlington, the staff at Joseph Brant Memorial Hospital have been exemplary in dealing with this emergency for over a month now. The executive director, Donald Scott, and the incredible team of individuals who have been working under very difficult circumstances are to be commended for their incredible efforts, the nurses and doctors on the front lines, the cleaners, the telephone operators. It has not been easy for them to work under these conditions and our hearts and prayers go out to them. We know it has been difficult. We thank them for what they have done. Certainly right across the GTA and Ontario, people have really shown what tough stuff they are made of to be able to deal with this outbreak.

The families of those who have been affected by SARS, by the scare of SARS, certainly are in our thoughts and prayers tonight as well. For all those people who are waiting for surgeries, who are waiting for medical tests to find out if they need further assistance, I know it has been incredibly difficult on all of them. Just the other night coming into my own home I bumped into someone who needs hip surgery and of course it has been delayed. Everyone has really demonstrated that they understand this problem and that they are able to deal with this problem. They really have been aided by this incredible infrastructure that we have developed through the years in Canada.

It is a great opportunity in this debate to congratulate the Minister of Health and her incredible team, her staff both on the political level and in the bureaucracy, for all the work they have done to support the province of Ontario, to support the people in Vancouver who are dealing with this crisis, and to reassure the rest of us that we are prepared and that the proper measures are being taken. They are not reassuring just because; they are actually reassuring because they know we have dealt with this and that we have the systems in place.

Health Canada has been collaborating with all the medical officers of health right across the country to make sure that the proper procedures are being taken to contain this, that proper procedures are being taken to prevent an outbreak somewhere else. An outbreak of this scope calls for national guidelines. Health Canada has lent its expertise and advice to ensure that all of us in this country are in fact as safe as we possibly can be, that we are equally protected and that we benefit from the experience of other countries and other parts of Canada.

All of us, instead of scoring cheap political points or creating more scare, should be saying that this is an amazing opportunity, that this is what people have worked so hard in public health to deal with, to make sure that we are limiting the number of people who are affected.

We have guidelines in this country for infection control and for public health in a variety of settings. They are being utilized in this present situation. We have a federal-provincial pandemic influenza committee, something I did not know about before the SARS outbreak. I know that we have been dealing with the provincial and territorial ministers at the federal level to make sure that we are putting together the right measures, the right surveillance, and addressing the clinical issues and the laboratory and infection control issues.

It is quite terrific that in spite of some of the difficulties that the various levels of government have had over the last couple of years, they are working collaboratively to make sure that everyone has the information, everyone has the tools to deal with this and everyone can disseminate that information. The right people are on the job and they are taking care of it.

In Ontario where the largest number of cases has occurred, health care professionals and the staff at the bureaucracy in the province of Ontario are to be commended for their outstanding efforts. I read about Dr. Sheila Basrur in Toronto who has done an amazing job. She even sent herself home one day because she was starting to come down with something. We appreciate all their efforts and hope that they get relief soon.

Early on in the struggle Health Canada was able to deploy 13 epidemiologists. They went down to Toronto and were able to help the ministry of health with the investigation of the SARS cases and work with the senior executive committee in the provincial response. We were able to send machines and processors for the two isolation units that were being set up in a non-hospital environment.

This outreach team that is in Ottawa has been in constant contact with provincial colleagues and colleagues in Toronto in particular to make sure that the right systems are there and to respond as new information comes on line. This is not a static situation. This is where the best minds have to respond to the issues and deal with the occurrences as they come up. We have expert advice and support. Disease control in all its conceivable settings is taking place. I was at the chiropractor this morning. The staff had the information. They were asking me if I had been exposed. They are doing their jobs. All of us are becoming much more aware of the impact of our actions and the need to protect ourselves and our neighbours.

We have been able, at the federal level, to supply masks to Toronto, to make sure that they were accessible through the emergency stockpile system. It is great to know that we have put it together and invested in the systems and that this is how we are able to respond.

I think that this again is a great opportunity for us to congratulate those making the efforts, to encourage the people who are dealing with it on the front lines to keep up the good fight and to make sure that in other issues we will be faced with in this increasingly globalized world we have the systems in place for the future. We have had an amazing test run here. We have the systems in place for the future and they will make a difference for all of us. It is not a time for cheap political points. It is a time to say, “Way to go. Keep up the good fight and let us know what other support is needed”, so that we will get it in place as people realize there are further needs, to make sure that all Canadians and citizens of the world are protected. We want to make sure Canada is doing the right thing and setting the example for other countries as they deal with the SARS outbreak.

Topic:   Emergency Debate
Subtopic:   Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome
Permalink
LIB

John Maloney

Liberal

Mr. John Maloney (Erie—Lincoln, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, I would like to talk tonight about a topic that has not really been canvassed this evening, and that is screening at airports. The government recognized early on that SARS is a global disease and that swift, proactive measures were required to limit its spread. As soon as the first cases of SARS were recognized, Canada undertook immediate efforts to address the threat of transmission of SARS, both domestically and internationally. We did this in an organized and thorough manner, addressing both inbound and outbound flights and then implementing inflight measures.

We are convinced that we have an effective series of measures in place and we will continue to improve our approaches as necessary to help contain the spread of SARS. Quarantine officers from Health Canada are on site at our main international airports in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. These health professionals monitor incoming passengers for signs of illness. In addition, any airline passengers who are discovered to be ill en route to Canada are assessed immediately by a quarantine officer and, if necessary, are referred at once to a medical facility for diagnosis and care.

Health Canada nurses are available at Toronto's Pearson airport to answer questions about SARS. The Health Canada SARS team of professionals will provide information to airline and airport staff. In very limited circumstances, they will assist individual travellers and, if necessary, arrange for the transportation of individuals to local medical facilities.

Health Canada has instituted a series of health alert notices intended to reach both incoming and outgoing passengers. The yellow health posters and cards alert passengers to the symptoms of SARS and inform them of what to do if they begin to exhibit the symptoms. These posters and cards are available at all major airports across Canada. In addition, airlines flying to Canada from SARS-affected areas are also passing out the cards inflight to make sure that all passengers are reached. A system to collect contact information from passengers coming into Canada from affected areas has also been instituted to ensure that there can be swift follow-up should a case of SARS be detected after a flight has landed in Canada.

The government also takes seriously its responsibilities to ensure that cases of SARS are not unwittingly exported from Canada. Bright, cherry-coloured posters and cards, referred to as health alert notices, inform passengers departing from Pearson about the symptoms of SARS and direct people not to travel if they are exhibiting these symptoms. Some airlines are asking passengers if they have read the cards as they check in for their flights. Airlines also have a responsibility not to board the seriously ill.

The government is in regular communication with airport authorities and airlines and understands the importance of measures to contain the spread of this disease. Information booths, distribution of cards, informed ticket agents and health resources in airports as necessary are ensuring that travellers can make informed and appropriate decisions. We all have a responsibility, Mr. Speaker: you, I, all members of the House, and all members of the Canadian public.

We believe our airport screening measures are effective. We are committed to reviewing those measures and strengthening them if necessary. To ensure that every possible measure has been taken, Health Canada officials are currently exploring options for introducing other measures such as temperature monitors at airports. We are also investigating the use of infrared technology, among other things, and may have a pilot project this week.

The government's efforts have not gone unnoticed. I would like to refer members to a comment made on April 3 by Dr. David Heymann, executive director of the WHO communicable diseases unit. He said:

Canada is doing an exemplary activity and much of what has been going on in Canada, including the system [of] notifying airline passengers and screening airline passengers, has been shared with other countries as an example of best practices.

Those are excellent words complimenting our country for its initiatives.

I would also like to refer to SARS precautions that have been implemented all across the country, as well as in the Niagara region area where I come from. The Niagara health system has acted quickly to monitor entries into Niagara regional hospitals and has set up a special SARS unit at one of the facilities, Welland General Hospital. If SARS, and fortunately this has not happened, comes to the Niagara region, they are well equipped to deal with those people exhibiting symptoms. As I said, fortunately this has not happened, and I think that is testimony that in fact the battle has been won and SARS is on the decline. This is positive news for Canada, for the Canadian economy and for the Canadian tourist industry.

Topic:   Emergency Debate
Subtopic:   Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome
Permalink
CA

Cheryl Gallant

Canadian Alliance

Mrs. Cheryl Gallant (Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, Canadian Alliance)

Mr. Speaker, at the outset I would like to extend our thanks for the dedication and the hard work of the first line responders who came to the call when this crisis emerged and to the families of these first line workers who have gone without them and supported them through these long hours.

As a member of Parliament from the province of Ontario, my participation in this emergency debate on severe acute respiratory syndrome, SARS, is an important independent voice compared to what people will hear from the government benches. It was clear from the outset when SARS was first identified that the leadership was evident here on the benches of the official opposition. My party, the Canadian Alliance, was very careful in its approach, allowing the federal government latitude on how it dealt with SARS. Our questions were constructed to provide information to the public. It would have served no purpose to unduly alarm the Canadian public or the international community. In that regard, the Canadian Alliance was very responsible in our approach to this crisis.

The tragedy of this case is that because of the total lack of leadership from the federal government, the people of Ontario will suffer. First, there was the West Nile virus to scare away the tourists. Then we had the disgraceful decision by the Prime Minister and his party to support Saddam Hussein in the Iraqi conflict instead of our traditional allies, Great Britain, the United States and Australia. And now, because of the incredible incompetence on the part of our federal government, the World Health Organization, the WHO, has issued a travel ban against Toronto, Ontario.

Topic:   Emergency Debate
Subtopic:   Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome
Permalink
LIB

Paddy Torsney

Liberal

Ms. Paddy Torsney

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I may have actually misunderstood what the member opposite just said, but I believe she just suggested that this government, or any Canadian, supported Saddam Hussein, which is an absolute falsification of what occurred. It is absolutely irresponsible for any member of the government, including the opposition--

Topic:   Emergency Debate
Subtopic:   Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome
Permalink
?

The Deputy Speaker

I think we are getting into a debate rather than a point of order, but certainly the member for Burlington has it on the record.

Topic:   Emergency Debate
Subtopic:   Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome
Permalink
CA

Cheryl Gallant

Canadian Alliance

Mrs. Cheryl Gallant

Mr. Speaker, because of the incredible incompetence on the part of the federal government, the World Health Organization, WHO, has issued a travel ban against Toronto, Ontario. The American tourist has become an endangered species in Canada thanks to an uncaring, insensitive, corrupt federal government.

To add insult to injury, the Prime Minister has offered $10 million, probably for an ad campaign, probably to a Liberal ad agency on an untendered contract knowing that the economic losses to Ontario alone will be in the billions of dollars. There is no doubt that every member of the Liberal government shares in the blame of this fiasco. If the province of Ontario had not acted decisively and displayed the leadership necessary to control the spread of SARS, it is clear that Canadians would have been faced with a full blown epidemic.

Given the current government's penchant for secrecy, Canadians will probably never know just how serious the threat to the health of Canadians SARS posed. What is truly unfortunate is that the government has learned nothing since 9/11.

Canadians who are watching this emergency debate on SARS will be surprised to learn that Canada has a minister responsible for emergency preparedness. This minister who has a mandate to deal with national emergencies has gone missing, totally invisible during the events as they unfolded regarding SARS. Canadians will be surprised to learn that the member for Markham is the minister responsible for emergency preparedness.

On behalf of the official opposition to the large Chinese population in Markham, Toronto and the rest of Canada, please accept our apologies for the fear and uncertainty their community has been put through because of the lack of leadership on the part of the federal government. They have suffered because of the government's insensitivity and I encourage them to hold the government accountable now and in the upcoming election.

The events of 9/11 should have taught the government a few lessons. Unfortunately, the minister responsible for emergency preparedness who should have been in charge has been so consumed in his other role as an apologist defence minister for the federal government's lack of support of Iraq, the events of SARS has completely overtaken him.

On April 3, I had the opportunity to question his assistant minister, Jim Harlick, at defence committee. In responding to a question from the member for Compton—Stanstead, Mr. Harlick stated the following, “We only have one minister at the federal level really designated as the minister for emergency preparedness although all ministers under the statute have responsibilities in it”. It is too bad the assistant deputy minister did not tell the minister what his role was.

This is not the first time the Office of Critical Infrastructure Protection and Emergency Preparedness did not tell the minister what he was supposed to know. It was not until I questioned the minister in the House that I am even sure he knew that the Emergency Preparedness College in Arnprior even existed let alone the bureaucrats and the PMO that decided to shut the Arnprior college down.

What we are witnessing today is a department out of control and a minister who is out of touch.

The Office of Critical Infrastructure Protection and Emergency Preparedness, or OCIPEP, was recently described in the media as a secretive emergency agency, its public affairs officials known not for returning phone calls from journalists or politicians.

During the April 3 defence committee meeting, when I attempted to question Bill de Laat, whose title is director general of external relations and public affairs, ADM Harlick instructed him not to speak. His presence was a joke to committee members, a public affairs bureaucrat who was not allowed to speak to the public.

In the 9/11 budget, OCIPEP received $396 million to prepare for emergencies. What has the public received for these dollars? For Canadians to understand why the government has been so inept in handling SARS, they only need to look at the government's own internal analysis on how it responded to 9/11 to see that nothing has changed.

In the government's own internal assessment of how it responded to 9/11, it found the following. There were concerns with “fluctuating requests, multiple players, problems with the availability and capacity with ground transportation, with special blame directed at Health Canada and a lack of Canadian Forces aircraft”. Is it not interesting that for 9/11 Health Canada was singled out for special criticism and here we find two years later that nothing has changed? There was a lack of clear coordination within the Government of Canada, no declaration of lead department, no standard coordination mechanisms and lack of clarity around OCIPEP's role.

The internal analysis then identified the immediate steps to be taken: properly trained personnel; the need for strategic airlift; and the need to develop a permanent, high level, interdepartmental body responsible for planning, directing and coordinating federal and national operations during a crisis. It is clear that not one of those recommendations have been followed.

The most scathing criticism was reserved for the $396 million that the OCIPEP agency received. This is the same agency that has discarded all its institutional memory on how to deal with an emergency when it made the decision to close the Emergency Preparedness College in Arnprior. OCIPEP was characterized as having “inadequate internal operating procedures and a workforce with little relevant experience or specialized training” and that “these inadequacies generated confusion, slow responses and disappointed stakeholders”.

The OCIPEP assessment went on to confirm that Emergency Preparedness Canada had a limited capacity to maintain extended operations that would be required in a crisis. The headquarters staff, many of whom have been with OCIPEP for less than six months, displayed, and I quote the report, “a lack of knowledge and awareness of policy and operational procedures”.

The complaint was charged to the Prime Minister's office, or central agency control, that it prevented the public and the stakeholders from receiving this information. Interdepartmentally, OCIPEP identified a lack of agreed upon and tested procedures to guide central agencies, lead departments and senior officials during emergencies and crises.

The OCIPEP assessment concluded, and I continue to quote from the federal government's own internal assessment to handle emergencies, that the Government of Canada played insufficient attention to emergency planning. OCIPEP must improve its relationship with the voluntary sector in Canada and with the international bodies.

Imagine, if that recommendation had been followed, would we have the problem today with the WHO? The government needs a new federal policy and related operational documentation and standards on emergency management, including crisis communications management, critical infrastructure protection, network security, business resumption planning and a rejuvenated vital points program.

The government contributes too little to national capacity building, for example, training of first responders at the Arnprior college exercise programs. All these came from OCIPEP's own internal assessment.

OCIPEP on its website has different patches for computer viruses. We have been unable to find a single word on how to cope or protect against SARS.

The $10 million that has been allocated to help out with the fallout from SARS does not buy the government absolution from its responsibility. This is a disease that on average claims 4% of its victims. Imagine what would have happened if we had a disease such as smallpox, which takes 30% of its victims? If that had hit instead of SARS, there would be far more deaths across Canada.

This was a disease that was unintentionally introduced at a couple of sites in Canada. Again, what would have happened if the contagion had been deliberately introduced, carefully planned so that the infected persons went to several major cities across Canada, or North America for that matter? A pandemic. There would not be enough people on this continent to battle against such a biological case of warfare.

We need a nationally coordinated plan with a clear and rehearsed protocol for all the relevant stakeholders and departments of government that would take in all the information from the WHO, heed its recommendations, take the information from the CDC, collate it and act responsibly.

Topic:   Emergency Debate
Subtopic:   Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome
Permalink
LIB

Art Eggleton

Liberal

Hon. Art Eggleton (York Centre, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, I only heard a little bit about what the previous speaker was referring to with respect to emergency preparedness. As the former minister who was in charge of that, I think she has it completely wrong. The appropriateness of the handling of this particular case lies with the Minister of Health and the Minister of Health has carried out her responsibilities appropriately.

There has been a coordinated effort from Health Canada, the provincial and local health authorities. There has been the provision of equipment and support in many other different ways. I talked with the Minister of Health this morning in Toronto as she was talking with health officials in that city. She is carrying out the appropriate function, which in terms of emergency preparedness is properly assigned to the appropriate minister, she being the appropriate minister in this case.

I rise with two perspectives on this issue. One is as the chair of the greater Toronto area caucus of some 40 MPs, all Liberals of course, and some senators who have been seized of this matter for the past few weeks and have been dialoguing with officials as well as ministers with respect to the handling of this issue. I also come at it from the perspective of being a lifelong resident of Toronto and one who spent some 22 years as a member of the local government, 11 years as the mayor of Toronto. I can frankly say that never in that period of time have I ever seen a health challenge quite the same as this one.

As it is turning out, the health challenge has been handled enormously well by the professional health care staff in Toronto, in Ontario and in Canada. We are now getting to a point where the cases of SARS are on a downward curve. It is contained. It is controlled.

Certainly the praise for the front line workers is very well deserved. Doctors, nurses and many other health care workers have gone above and beyond in terms of the performance of their duties. I know the people of Toronto are very grateful, as indeed we should be right across the country for what they have been able to do.

We are coming into a period of time where much of the focus will now shift to the economic damage that has been done in the city, the province and the country, first and foremost to the tourism industry and the Chinese businesses that exist in the Toronto area.

This morning the Minister of Transport and I were at city hall in Toronto in what was called a SARS summit. It was brought together by various Chinese business associations who felt the initial impact. In fact, they said this morning that 50% to 80% of their business had been lost in this period of time, that people were not shopping and were not going to restaurants. We do know that a number of members of Parliament, our Prime Minister and others have gone into Chinese restaurants as a demonstration of just how safe it is.

Indeed I spent the last little while during most of the recess in Toronto. Life is going on in the city and has been going on in the city. There are not people walking around with masks. Rarely would people see that. The containment is within the various health facilities that have been dealing with the SARS outbreak. I say outbreak but we all know that more people die of flu and there are more people who are stricken with other kinds of diseases than this. It has been very well contained.

The mystery of it has added to the anxiety, quite naturally, not knowing exactly where it has come from or exactly how to treat it. I hope we can continue to work on that. There has been some suggestion of a vaccine. That certainly is worth exploring.

The Minister of Health said today that we need to study the lessons to be learned in terms of this particular problem. We definitely need to do that to see if there are ways we can tighten up the things we do and the procedures we carry out to help ensure that we are prepared if this kind of thing should ever occur again. We certainly hope it will not.

With respect to the economic concerns, business associations from the Chinese community have asked for some financial aid. Many of their businesses are on the verge of bankruptcy. We certainly need to look at what can be done to help them. Last week the Prime Minister announced $10 million which would match the provincial $10 million and the city of Toronto's $5 million. This would help to provide a recovery program for Toronto. This would give back to Toronto the reputation and image it deserves as a world class city.

The WHO travel advisory needs to be lifted. The Ontario minister of health and representatives of the federal Minister of Health are going over there hoping to—

Topic:   Emergency Debate
Subtopic:   Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome
Permalink
PC

Greg Thompson

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Greg Thompson

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I hate to interfere with the member's speech, but I was hoping that he would specifically address the lead story in tonight's news and that is the issue of the minister of heritage taking exception to the Minister of Health and her mishandling of that file. I want some answers on that one.

Topic:   Emergency Debate
Subtopic:   Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome
Permalink
?

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bagnell)

I appreciate that intervention but it is not a point of order.

Topic:   Emergency Debate
Subtopic:   Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome
Permalink
LIB

Art Eggleton

Liberal

Hon. Art Eggleton

Mr. Speaker, the member can ask me a question afterward if he wants to have me say something other than what I am saying. I would be happy to answer that further.

There will be an attempt to get the travel advisory lifted. It was over the top and an overreaction by the World Health Organization. Some evidence of that is the fact that officials from the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta went to Toronto to study the situation and quite appropriately said it was not a matter of avoiding the city. They indicated there was no reason to avoid the city. If people were going to avoid being in contact with SARS they should avoid those health care institutions where there have been patients with SARS. That was a reasonable approach.

Nevertheless the World Health Organization is concerned about the spread of it in other parts of the world. I can appreciate that if this disease got into developing countries that do not have the health care system that we have in Canada it could be catastrophic.

Hopefully the team that is going over there will be able to persuade the WHO that the travel advisory needs to be lifted. When that is done, and with the cooperation of the three levels of government, people in the international community will be told that the advisory has been lifted and that Toronto is a safe place to visit. This should restore some of the large revenues lost by the tourism and hospitality industries in Toronto.

Tomorrow the greater Toronto area caucus will meet again on this issue. It will look at several recommendations that came from the summit today from the Chinese business associations and from the unions representing those in the hospitality industry in Toronto and will make further recommendations to the government. Ministers will be attending the session tomorrow. This will give us an opportunity for a fulsome discussion.

The bottom line is that the governments at all three levels are pulling together to resolve this issue. There has been some question about leadership. I think the media has distorted and exaggerated that issue considerably. There is always room for improvement in leadership, but in this particular case people have done what was necessary for them to do.

In the early stages of this it was necessary to hear from the medical profession. They were the ones giving the daily advisories on this matter and appropriately so since it was a medical concern. Now we all need to be engaged in terms of a recovery plan. We have to get the Toronto economy and the Ontario and national economies which are all affected by this, moving again. We have to get people to come to our country, our province and our city.

Topic:   Emergency Debate
Subtopic:   Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome
Permalink
NDP

Yvon Godin

New Democratic Party

Mr. Yvon Godin (Acadie—Bathurst, NDP)

Mr. Speaker, it is with pleasure that I rise tonight to take part in this debate on the SARS problem in Canada.

I must say at the outset that I have difficulty with the position of the government that is almost saying that we do not have a problem in Canada. As my colleague from Burnaby—Douglas pointed out earlier, the Government of Canada itself has issued a travel advisory for Taiwan, even though there has not been a single victim there. Nobody died in Taiwan, and yet people were told not to travel to that country. In Canada, SARS has already claimed 21 lives in Toronto alone.

The government is being totally irresponsible when it says things like that; human lives are at stake. In Canada, the economic aspect will come first, but without any concrete measures. By concrete measures I mean ways to help our small and medium size businesses in difficulty, ways to help workers and, above all, ways to help people fight this problem that has occurred in our health care system.

Tonight I would like to congratulate the Canadian Labour Congress. I would like to read the message that it issued today, April 28, on this National Day of Mourning for workers. I think that it is important to send this message to all our governments, all Canadians and all workers.

Today, April 28, the National Day of Mourning for Workers Killed or Injured on the Job, the Canadian Labour Congress recognizes the health workers that have suffered or died of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). A statement issued today by Ken Georgetti, president of the Canadian Labour Congress, reads as follows:

“The idea of the National Day of Mourning for Workers Killed or Injured on the Job, was conceived as a challenge to dangerous workplaces, as a solemn highlight of our continuous and perpetual struggle against those bosses and authorities who still gamble with the lives, the health and the safety of workers.

“That is why on this day, we often repeat: We mourn the dead and we fight for the living. Today, with this slogan, with this sentence, our thoughts must go to the health workers who, selflessly, attend to those who have or are suspected of having contracted the SARS, the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.”

Our sentence, “We mourn the dead and we fight for the living”: somewhat summarizes some working days for many health workers.

“But this sentence also creates obligations for us all. When we say “We mourn for the dead, and we fight for the living”: today we must acknowledge and recognize these workers who put their health and their lives on the line, not just to heal others but to prevent the spread of disease to our communities, to our home.

“We must acknowledge and recognize, with gratitude, that well over one quarter of all the cases and suspected cases of SARS are health workers.

“We must acknowledge and recognize, with gratitude, the dedication and competence of these workers. For our sake, they have achieved some impressively successful outcome, despite years of cutbacks, downsizing, restructuring, privatization and other forms of dismantling of their work, their working conditions, their workplaces--in truth, the slow dismantling of our public medicare.

“We say thanks to all health care workers. We owe a great debt to the victims of the disease. We mourn their sacrifice, but we must also honour their sacrifice with a commitment to continue to fight for them, their working conditions, their working environment, our public medicare.

The press release also says:

Because of the SARS outbreak, this year, the National Day of Mourning for Workers Killed or Injured on the Job must be in defiance of all political agendas that gamble with the health of Canadians.

The Canadian Labour Congress, the national voice of the labour movement, represents 2.5 million Canadian workers. The CLC brings together the majority of Canada's national and international unions along with the provincial and territorial federations of labour and 137 district labour councils.

I took the time to read this press release by the Canadian Labour Congress because today is the National Day of Mourning, a day to commemorate the dead and to fight for the living. I think that this message is very appropriate in our country today, especially with this disease that has come to Canada from China.

Forty days have gone by, and I still have difficulty with that. Frankly, I have difficulty with the fact that the Prime Minister thinks that everything is all right, and that going to a Chinese restaurant in Toronto to drink tea or taking the whole Liberal cabinet to Toronto will solve the problem. This is not the kind of leadership that we expect from the government.

What we want our government to do is to begin to find solutions, to begin to prepare itself. What will happen if it spreads to another city? What will happen if it spreads to another province? How are we preparing those who work in health care? Preparedness is at zero now. Yes, it is true, Toronto's economy is taking a heavy beating. But if we do not solve the problem across Canada, the whole country will suffer.

We must give attention in coming days to how things can be administered. We see that today WHO lifted the travel restriction on Vietnam. People can now travel to Vietnam. I think we should take our hats off to the government of that country and acknowledge that they did what was necessary right away, rather than trying to say there was no problem.

The hon. member from Toronto, the former mayor of that city, told us just now that it was no worse than the flu, which people die from. That is not the point. With the flu, at least, we know we can treat it; we have experience. Our health experts already know something about flu, but SARS is an unknown. We cannot just say we will wait, that there is no problem. That is not how things happen.

It is disappointing to hear representatives of the government speak. We heard the Minister of Heritage say today that the government and the Minister of Health did not do their job. They are now trying to develop a policy. There is dissension within the Liberal Party. Not only dissension within the Liberal Party but also within Parliament about how the government handled its responsibilities in terms of this disease in Canada. This is totally unacceptable and should not be tolerated.

We need a program and a vision from the government as soon as possible. The government needs to sit down with health care experts throughout Canada and set up a team to work on an action plan. It is not just Toronto that needs an action plan; a national action plan is needed for each province, for everywhere there is a hospital, so that people know what to do if this happens.

We must not wait for SARS to arrive in a place and all of a sudden say that it has come to Bathurst or Chatham or Hamilton or Vancouver or elsewhere, like Thunder Bay or Cornwall in Ontario. We must not wait for this to happen. The government must be able to set up an action plan, not just hold a cabinet meeting in Toronto. That is not what we need. We need to know how the government will talk to experts.

I was pleased when the government announced that people with SARS would not have to wait two weeks to get employment insurance. I was happy to hear that.

But more needs to be done. We must remember that because of the cuts made by the government in 1996, there are people who do not even qualify for EI. How many people lost their jobs today, in tourism, for example, because of SARS in Toronto, employees in small and medium size businesses, that were forced to lay off people who do not even qualify for EI?

How many self-employed workers are there who do not qualify for EI, who do not pay EI premiums? There needs to be an emergency plan, not only for people who have contracted SARS, but also for workers affected by job loss.

The government has the responsibility to deal with this, too. It must not just sit and wait. It will be too late.

It is strange that the government thinks that the situation is not serious here in Canada. It warns against travel to Taiwan, where not one person has died of SARS, whereas 21 people here have died of it, and it says that it is not that serious, that it is no worse than the flu.

I will say it again: the government must show leadership.

It is totally unacceptable that the government turns around and says that it is not that bad, that the flu is worse, that more people have lost their lives because of the flu. In our country 21 people have lost their lives. The government has issued a travel advisory saying that Canadians should not travel to Taiwan. Taiwan did not even have one death but it is dangerous to go to Taiwan, but not to Canada. It is not that I do not want people to go to Toronto, but I do not want us to take it lightly, thinking that we do not have a problem in our country. We do have a problem.

The Liberal government has to show leadership. It has to put a plan together. It has to speak with the health experts and come up with a plan not just for what is happening in Toronto but for what could happen all across our country. We need to have a national plan on health care.

With all the cuts the government has made to health care since 1994, this is where we are at today. We have a health care system that is sick itself. People have to wait in the hallways and cannot even get served. Imagine what could happen, in Quebec, in New Brunswick and all across the country, because of all the cuts the government has made. If SARS spreads across the country, imagine what will happen.

That is why I say it is important for the government not to just say “It is not that bad, we are doing a good job”. As I said, they are fighting among themselves now. The Minister of Canadian Heritage said today, and I think it will be the news headline tomorrow, that the health care minister did not do the job.

It is not by bringing the cabinet to Toronto that the problem will be resolved. It is not by the Prime Minister going to Toronto and drinking a cup of tea at a Chinese restaurant that the problem will be resolved. What will resolve the problem is putting a plan together for Canadians, doing what Vietnam did. The World Health Organization has removed the travel advisory to Vietnam. People can go there now.

Canada could be more proactive. We are supposed to be the best country in the world. A Liberal member tonight was talking about having the best health care in the world. The best health care in the world and we cannot handle the problem that we have in the country now. The government has a responsibility, when there is a surplus of $42 billion in the employment insurance fund, to look at the workers who are losing their jobs over this. Now is the time to take the money and instead of paying down the debt and balancing the budget with it, give it to the workers who are in need.

In Toronto the people are in need. The business people are in need. The small and medium businesses are in need. The people running restaurants are in need. The workers are in need. The workers need the help of our government.

We need a plan like we had with the ice storm when the government came in and helped the people. When we had the problem with the flood in Saguenay, the government came in and helped the people. When we had the flood in Manitoba, the government came in and helped.

The government is not saying anything about this. It is being quiet, hoping it will go away and it does not have to spend a cent on the working people or on the people who got sick. That is a shame. Canadians do not agree with the position of the government. It might brag that it is doing a good job, but that is not a good job.

The health care community wants to meet with government and come up with a plan that will look after Canadians not only Toronto, but a plan for all across our country and to be prepared. We need a national plan so that if it hits Bathurst, New Brunswick, the people and the hospitals are prepared for it; that if it hits Caraquet, they are prepared for it; if it hits Tracadie, they are prepared for it; if it hits Cornwall, Ontario, they are prepared for it; if it hits Thunder Bay, they are prepared for it; if it hits Yukon, they are prepared for it. We cannot wait until it happens there and we lose brothers or sisters, uncles or aunts, or our children. That is not what we want from our government.

We want to be prepared. We do not want to see someone having a cup of tea in Toronto. That is not what we want our government to do. We want our government to meet with the experts, to make a plan together, to make sure the plan will work to save lives, to be the top in the world to show how we handled the problem. We do not want to just sit and wait for the problem to get worse. That is not what needs to be done. It is leadership that we need.

We need leadership from the government. The government has the responsibility to do it. Do Canadians have confidence in them, in democracy? It has to act now and not wait. It is not the time to wait. It is not a joke when people lose their lives. It is not a joke when people lose their jobs. It is not a joke when businesses close because of this. That is where leadership has to come in. There has to be a plan of action.

The government has over $43 billion in surplus which it took away from the working people of our country. Just last year the government had a $14.8 billion surplus. Today it is sitting there saying it will put a couple of million here and a couple of million there. That is not what needs to be done. A real plan of action is needed.

Jack Layton, the leader of our party, has shown leadership by saying that a plan needs to be put together and not just let it go by. The plan needs to be something that Canadians can look at and say that the government or Parliament has done something.

I am pleased that Parliament agreed to have this emergency debate because it is an emergency when Canadians are losing their lives.

This is an emergency. You can call it what you want. You can use nice words and say this infection is not creating a health care crisis in our country. It is all very nice, but Canadians are not crazy. They know full well there is a problem and they want the government to show some leadership. The kind of leadership that would result in an action plan under the direction of the health community and health professionals.

We must work with them and, at the same time, listen to the workers. We need a plan for them so that they do not lose their houses and are able to make their payments; they must be able to go through all that as Canadians and in full solidarity.

Topic:   Emergency Debate
Subtopic:   Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome
Permalink
LIB

Paul Szabo

Liberal

Mr. Paul Szabo (Mississauga South, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, I share the views of most of the speakers who have addressed the House tonight. I had an opportunity to watch much of the debate. There is no question that the issue of SARS has seized Canada, that it has international implications and that it should be dealt with in a very serious manner.

It has been well laid out by hon. members the important steps the Government of Canada has taken to ensure that the support is given, as appropriate, but also to be responsible and not to be too alarmist about the situation. In these delicate matters we have to rely very heavily on the expertise of the health care providers in Canada and those who are trained and knowledgeable about disease and disease control to provide the assurances and the information that Canadians would like to have with regard to this situation.

I spent some time last week in Toronto. I was at a large function at the Air Canada Centre, a skating exhibition. I spent some time walking the streets. I did not see anyone wearing a mask in the area of Toronto in which I happened to be. Canadians should be aware that this is not an alarmist situation with regard to the people who live, work and recreate in the Toronto area, that there is a great deal of confidence in the health care providers, in the excellent work that they have done and that they are confident the steps that have been taken carefully and jointly with other levels of government are in a manner in which to the greatest extent possible protects the health and well-being of Canadians and all residents in the areas affected now.

I also had the opportunity to travel to Michigan on Sunday to visit my son who lives there and also to meet with his father in law and mother in law. We had lunch together. I asked them about the impression they had with regard to SARS. I had told them that when I crossed at the Sarnia border, the U.S. customs and immigration gave us a multilingual flyer which laid out the SARS situation in the Toronto area, that there was an incubation period of some 10 days and that people should monitor their health over the next 10 days just to be absolutely certain. Therefore there is some concern across the border.

However when I spoke with my son's in laws, quite frankly they said that SARS was not a major story. In fact they said that the people who lived in the Canadian border area, such as the state of Michigan, knew Ontario very well. Many of them have business relationships and many of them have travelled there. They understand that Canada is a country which is at the top of the game in terms of caring for its citizens, its health care system and is well able to deal with the situation that is challenging us right now, particularly in the Toronto area.

Interesting enough, as an aside, they raised the fact that SARS had come up in some of the conversations by state authorities who were concerned about the trucking of garbage from Toronto to Michigan. I think they are playing politics with SARS and it is a good segue to suggest that this is not a subject matter with which one should play politics.

This is a very sensitive matter for those who would suggest alarmist activity or somehow make some cheap political points at the expense of alarming the citizens with rhetoric that is unsubstantiated by the facts, not only from the health care system in Canada but verified by international authorities such as the Atlanta Center for Disease Control.

It is an important time for us to rely very heavily on the system that we have put in place. This is not a time when we can ask politicians to simply come up with simple solutions to complex problems. There is support for people who have to be under quarantine. The waiting period for employment insurance benefits, for instance, has been waived. The federal government has contributed money to the Toronto area to match with moneys from other levels of government to deal with the issue of the economic impacts for those who have some concerns and who have been impacted maybe not so much by the knowledge of what is here but the fear of what might be here. It is that sensitive an argument.

The government also has to work very carefully with other levels of government because the delivery points are not the direct responsibilities of the federal government. They are indeed the responsibilities of the provincial governments. We have worked very carefully with them.

We are very hopeful that the resolution of the facts becomes very clear and that the situation with regard to the WHO travel advisory will be resolved very quickly. Then we can take some comfort that the system is working in terms of the reduction in the number of cases and that there are no new cases outside of the net which has been put around it.

I am a realist as well with regard to SARS. This evening I was advised by my wife, who is a secretary in a grade school, that a child in that school was sent home with a fever. It turns out that child's mother is a nurse in a hospital which is taking care of a large number of SARS patients. There are procedures they have to follow. It is not a matter of anything but the protocol is they must advise the parents. We now have a whole school of children whose parents have now been advised that a child has been sent home and there is possibly a link to the SARS situation.

This made me think that this child has been in contact with other children, certainly with my wife and myself. We travelled and we met many people last week. When we were in Michigan, we met many people closely. People have to understand that if we have a disease which is readily transmittable and has an incubation period, then there are possibilities, however slight they might be.

We have to be sensitive to the fact that many Canadians will look at even the slightest possibility as being more than a remote possibility. We all have to do a better job of giving them the assurances about the net which has been established to deal with this situation. We have to assure them that the precautions have been taken. As members know, our caregivers have escalated the protection they have in the hospitals from what they previously had as a necessary precaution simply because, as they have learned more and more about the patterns of SARS, this is responsible action for them to take.

My message to Canadians is to listen very carefully to the advisories and to the information being given by the health care system in Canada. Canadians should make themselves aware of the resources and contacts available to them should they have any questions so we can help them have a comfort level that there is someone they can talk to if they have questions or concerns.

Through the media and other forms of communication, Canadians have had a wealth of information and knowledge available to them. We have to be very sensitive to the fact that there are some sensitivities. We should continue to take every opportunity to communicate with Canadians in the vehicles available to us as parliamentarians about the safeguards, about the information they need to know. We must keep them informed on a current basis so that we address those sensitivities. It is extremely important. We should take nothing for granted, particularly as it relates to the more vulnerable in our society who may not be as easily informed as others. I would encourage people with family members who may not be aware for one reason or another of the current information or some of the safeguards that should be taken, that they take their family members under their wings and inform them and give them the comfort and the confidence of the information that is readily available.

I raise that simply as a call to Canadians to rely on our health care system and our health care providers. All Canadians who are concerned about this should be especially vigilant for members of their own family and to take necessary precautions until this matter is resolved, which we hope will be very soon.

Topic:   Emergency Debate
Subtopic:   Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome
Permalink
LIB

Larry Bagnell

Liberal

Mr. Larry Bagnell (Yukon, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, every time a great emergency comes up, whether it is September 11, the Iraq war or SARS, it does not mean that there are not a lot of other Canadians in need in various ways. I do not want those Canadians to think that we have forgotten them, even though Parliament, the media and all of us are concentrating our efforts on the SARS emergency, which we should do. We still recognize that there are many other Canadians in need. For instance, we can see by this ribbon that it is cancer month. As a former cancer canvasser, I am very appreciative of the people who worked so hard this month to help those other people in need. My thoughts and prayers are with some of my close friends: Keith, Jim, Barb, Al, Claudia and Sandy.

However, tonight we are here to talk about SARS, severe acute respiratory syndrome. Obviously in some parts of the world, although not in great numbers yet, this is a human tragedy. Taiwan just had its first fatality yesterday. It is a tragedy especially for those people in the health care system, the heroes who have gone out to help people and have themselves become afflicted or died. We think of the people going through such intense tragedy and of their families and friends.

Under those circumstances this is obviously not something to play politics with. I have not been able to listen to most of the debate and I hope that my colleagues here have not tried to play politics with this but have tried to offer positive suggestions to help us deal with this crisis.

Of course these evening debates, which I think are excellent, will work only if the people in the ministers' offices, the offices of the Minister of Health, for instance, and of the minister responsible for emergency preparedness, those bureaucrats who have these responsibilities, are listening, sift through these debates, take all of the positive suggestions, evaluate them and put them into play so that these debates will be productive and useful.

As usual I am here again as always to speak of the north, and in particular my riding of Yukon, and to outline some of the unique differences that we have in such a situation. Of course, there always seem to be unique differences that have to be pointed out so that those situations are covered and dealt with appropriately. In particular, we have one major hospital in Yukon. It is the same in the other territories. Yellowknife, Iqaluit and Whitehorse each have one major full service hospital. That puts us in a situation that is entirely different from that of other parts of the nation.

When we go to Toronto we see hospital beside hospital beside hospital. In Yukon and in each of the three northern territories, each of which are larger than any country in Europe, there is one hospital to go to and that is it. The next one could be 1,000 miles away. This adds a very important dimension to planning and precautions. When these situations happen in our society, health care is concentrated in hospitals, and this particular affliction has had a severe effect in hospitals. If that were to happen in the territories in the north there would be far more of a crisis than in a city setting where people just go to the next hospital, because there is not a next hospital.

Fortunately we have taken excellent precautions in the north. I have been through our hospital because I was visiting patients there. Even to get into the hospital one must go through a screening and receive a card. One will not be allowed in if one is a risk to that hospital. I commend the people who have made the plans for our hospital. There is a special outside ventilated room if we were ever to get someone with SARS. There is no one in the northern half of Canada yet afflicted, but if there were to be there is an isolation ward with the particular ventilators that would be needed.

The point I want to make is crucial. If we do get an infection in one of our hospitals in the territories everyone in the territory is at risk, because everyone who would be going to the hospital for an emergency or for any other disease or any other accident would not have any place to go to if a hospital had to be closed, as has occurred in some locations.

The second point that is unique to the northern half of our great nation, which is probably about the size of all of Europe, is that for very serious surgery and other ailments all the people have to be medevaced out in small or other planes. It is a very important fact when planning for emergencies and health. Our hospital, although it does some surgery, does not do major surgery and there are certain very severe conditions it cannot cover.

Therefore, each and every citizen in the northern half of this great nation, if they are in a severe situation, has to be taken out by specially equipped and usually small airplanes. This is a very important factor to consider for emergency preparedness and health care planners, as they conceivably could have to medevac huge quantities of people in a few small planes. Of course the planes themselves are a very confined environment if one happens to be in a situation where the affliction is communicable. We are very lucky in our situation that our medevac plane is a King Air plane. All the air circulation vents to the outside. There is no internal circulation in that plane, so in that respect it would be quite safe if we ever had to use it.

Another unique quality of our particular area of Yukon, I think, is that we travel more than most. There is a lot of travel done by our few citizens compared to citizens across Canada. In fact, this week there are probably at least two dozen Yukoners in the nation's capital. There is a student I met with tonight for a forum. There will be another student here Wednesday for the Encounters with Canada group. Gary Lee is here from the Yukon Chamber of Mines. The president of the Yukon placer miners, Tara Christie, is here with another official. The Yukon Chamber of Commerce's Rob McIntyre is here. Grand Chief Ed Schultz is in town. Delegates from the Kaska and Kwanlin Dun first nations are in town, as are delegates from the association of municipalities. They are all here for valuable input to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act, which is going before the Senate tomorrow. We also have people here for forestry and I am sure for a number of other reasons. We have three of the 737 type of jets going in and out of Yukon every day to places all over the world, so it is critical for us that these precautions continue and are researched and that people are handled appropriately.

The president of the Association of Yukon Communities, the mayor of Dawson City, is also in the nation's capital and he has pledged any assistance that Yukon and the federal government need, because his organization covers all the municipalities in Yukon. I also want to express my appreciation to Dr. Bryce Larke, the Yukon medical health officer, and Dr. Wayne MacNicol, the president of the Yukon Medical Association, for the information and cooperation they have provided to me and for the tremendous work they are doing in protecting our citizens.

Something else that is unique to Yukon, my area, is that the biggest private sector employer at the moment is tourism. It may be the only province or territory where that is the case. Of course a crisis like this one, which affects tourism, has a huge effect on us. I was at the Tourism Industry Association of the Yukon conference on the weekend and I want to commend the management, staff and the delegates of the association for being so positive and creative and trying to work through these tremendous challenges they have.

The president wanted to remind us of the size of this great nation when we are dealing internationally, to remind us that if something happens to one part of this nation to make sure that in the future it does not affect the entire nation of Canada. Most of my colleagues here know that I go home every weekend. It usually takes me two days to get home, so something that is happening around this part of the nation is not necessarily going to have a negative effect on our part of the nation. Hopefully in any tourism marketing people will realize how isolated, protected and beautiful the northern part of this nation is.

As I am sure others have done today, I would like to commend health care workers around the world. These are the real heroes, putting their own lives at risk to help and comfort those who have been afflicted with this new disease.

I would like to commend the northern pilots who have agreed, if it were to occur, that they would once again be prepared to be in a confined environment in order to Medevac these people to hospitals in the south which could save their lives or at least give them comfort in their last days.

In closing, I would like to make a plea to those people in the world who have been asked to stay home to quarantine themselves because they may be at risk. I would ask them to follow those demands. I know it is not easy. If someone is a rebel like I am, we do not like to be told what to do, and we do not like to be confined or ordered around. But every law, every regulation, and every quarantine in our society is a constraint on our personal freedoms. Hopefully people can see that in this situation when these laws and regulations for quarantine are put into effect, it is indeed for the common good and the good of those people we care about and love.

I know that if we were to walk into a store and then find out later that a person who had been asked to stay home with some affliction had inflicted us with something that would end our life or a family member's life, that we would not appreciate that. It is a terrible inconvenience, but it really is a great duty to society that we protect our fellow citizens if there is a chance that we could pass that disease on.

I ask for everyone's cooperation and help, and continued care for those in need. I want to express, on behalf of Parliament, our tremendous appreciation and thanks to everyone for what they have done and will do until this is conquered, and for putting in the extra effort such as those health care workers on 12 hour shifts in heavy, hot uniforms which are almost unbearable. Because of these efforts we will surely win.

Topic:   Emergency Debate
Subtopic:   Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome
Permalink
?

The Deputy Speaker

I believe the debate is over. I declare the motion carried.

It being 10:47 p.m., the House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m. pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

Topic:   Emergency Debate
Subtopic:   Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome
Permalink
?

The Deputy Speaker

Is it agree?

Topic:   Emergency Debate
Subtopic:   Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome
Permalink
?

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Topic:   Emergency Debate
Subtopic:   Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome
Permalink
?

Some hon. members

No.

(The House adjourned at 10:47 p.m.).

Topic:   Emergency Debate
Subtopic:   Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome
Permalink

April 28, 2003