Mr. Chairman, we were interested to hear the statement of the minister on this important subject. I think the first question asked about this matter was on March 7 last. At that time I suggested to the minister that if it was his intention to curtail health services to our native Canadians, as had been indicated from many sources, he was placing the wrong stress on priorities. We also urged that the minister should make a statement immediately so the confusion that had been referred to by the hon. member for Northwest Territories and the confusion that was reflected across the country might have been dissipated immediately. Unhappily the minister has chosen to wait until the eve of the implementation of the cut-backs before making a statement that will help to clarify the issue.
[DOT] (3:20 p.m.)
My question arose because of a debate that had taken place in the council of the Northwest Territories during the latter part of February, when members of council as well as the director of northern health services, Dr. Butler, indicated that substantial cut-backs in health services were contemplated. This course was being pursued in the face of the drastic health problems confronting our Eskimo and Indian population and was bound to bring serious protests such as those we have witnessed during the past few weeks.
The minister's statement today was brief. I only hope it has removed some of the specific that were outlined in the directives that were sent from the Department of National Health and Welfare across the country. I want to read excerpts from some of these directives, and I want to get the minister's assurance that the policy has been changed; because I think if we are going to deal with the protests that have been aroused, not only in this house
Supply-Health and Welfare but amongst the Indians and groups of citizens in every walk of life, we have to have assurance that the recommendations that went out from the offices of the health and welfare department have been rescinded.
I should like to refer to a directive that went from the Department of National Health and Welfare Edmonton office on March 4, which reads in part:
The basic policy of our department is that there is no statutory federal responsibilty for our department to provide funds for personal health care service for Indian people.
Is this still the attitude of the minister? As the right hon. member for Prince Albert pointed out yesterday, while there might not be a statutory provision there is certainly provision in the treaties, particularly treaty No. 6, the so-called medicine chest provision, which has operated until this directive was issued a few weeks ago.
Then the memorandum went further and stated:
This year our resources to assist Indian people toward payment of medical care costs, hospitalization, transportation to and from medical centres, pharmacist accounts is being reduced and our department will assist only in those instances where the Indian people can demonstrate that they do not have private resources, cannot obtain assistance from their band or from a provincial welfare or health agency.
I trust that the statement the minister made today has reversed that decision, which is quite contrary to the principles of justice and morality in so far as the treatment of our first citizens is concerned. In this memorandum there was even a note with regard to tuberculosis, one of the great killers of our native population. I read this from page 2:
With respect to control of tuberculosis, our instructions read as follows:
From April 1, 1968, it will be necessary to share increasingly with provinces the control of tuberculosis.
The memorandum even applied to mental
illness, and reads:
It will be necessary from April 1, 1968, to cease active case finding among Indians.
Then on page 3 of the memorandum I read this:
Budgetary controls will be imposed on physicians providing services to Indians. It is to be hoped Indian people resident on reserves would not continue to be excluded from the Alberta health plan, as I understand they are at the present time.
The implication there, of course, was that the burden is to be thrown to the provincial governments. In addition I received a directive that went out to each of the chiefs of the
DEBATES March 26, 1968
band councils across the country. These directives contained the same specific instructions that health services were to be curtailed. The one that went out from the district national health and welfare office in Manitoba on March 6 reads as follows:
Due to the financial crises faced by the government of Canada, it has been necessary for parliament to curtail the funds allowed to the Department of National Health and Welfare.
I hope that impression has been corrected as well, because it was not parliament but the government of Canada that was curtailing the funds. As the hon. member for St. Hyacinthe-Bagot reminds me, it was the Liberal government. These are the specific instructions that were received by the Indian chiefs and councillors across the country which resulted in the unhappy protests we have heard all across the nation during the last few days.
The latest meeting took place in Winnipeg last night. I had intended to be present at that meeting, where an overflow crowd of more than 200 citizens met to protest the government's action. As I say, I had intended to be there but unfortunately the N.D.P. filibuster in Ottawa kept me away from that meeting. We were not able to get first hand information of what took place, but radio reports indicated the people were protesting as strongly as the various Indian groups across the country over the inequity and injustice of this change in health program.
What happened, of course, resulted from the typical lack of communication between the various departments of this government, as well as the complete failure to consult with the provincial authorities upon whom the minister and the Department of National Health and Welfare were trying to unload the burden of health care for Indians. This is one of the great areas of neglect in dealing with our native Canadians at the present time, the lack of communication and the lack of consultation.
I asked the minister of Indian affairs if he had been aware of the directives, but he knew nothing about them. He is the minister responsible for protecting the interests of our Indian and Eskimo population. It is little wonder, Mr. Chairman, that the Indians persist in their view that a credibility gap exists and that the white man speaks with a forked tongue. I hope we might open consultations and negotiations with the provinces so that if there is a desire on the part of Ottawa to shed this traditional obligation, it will not be done in an arbitrary way but will be the
March 26, 1968 COMMONS
result of what the Prime Minister used to call co-operative federalism. Consultation has been repeatedly requested by the premiers of Alberta and Manitoba. I hope that to avoid further fiascos of this kind, meetings between Ottawa and the provincial governments on Indian affairs will proceed at the earliest possible opportunity.
[DOT] (3:30 p.m.)
I urge too that the committee on Indian affairs be reconstituted so that it can come to grips with some of the problems that have been brought into the limelight as a result of this piece of government foolishness during recent weeks. The parliamentary committee on Indian affairs has not met for over a year. It was supposed to be reconstituted, and the promise was made that it would be reconstituted at an early date in the session now under way. I have a Canadian Press dispatch before me dated March 18, 1967 which reads as follows:
The Commons Indian affairs committee agreed Friday to call officials of the St. Lawrence Seaway Authority before it to answer Indian complaints that the seaway did not live up to agreements under which it acquired reserve land nearly 10 years ago.
Chairman Milton Klein (Lib.) Montreal-Cartier, said that if complaints the committee heard last month were true, and he thought they were, "this situation is scandalous.*'
The article went on:
Most of Friday's session was spent discussing the need for visits to Indian reserves across the country.
As I say, Mr. Chairman, this article was written over a year ago. Yet we wonder why the Indian population is disenchanted.