March 23, 2000 (36th Parliament, 2nd Session)


Christiane Gagnon

Bloc Québécois

Mrs. Christiane Gagnon (Québec, BQ)

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to Bill C-13. This bill will benefit the whole community in terms of our quality of life.
What we are talking about this morning is the establishment of health research institutes so that research is better coordinated and better organized and that health research can benefit from increased funding.
The purpose of these institutes of health research is to replace the Medical Research Council and to provide additional funding for health research to the tune of $500 million over three years.
The bill before us responds to recommendations made by a temporary committee made up of 34 members from the scientific and academic community.
I would like to remind hon. members of what the health research institutes will be. They will replace the Medical Research Council. They will have the very broad mandate of carrying out research in order to make health research a cutting edge sector, as was done with the communications sector in 1990.
What the Medical Research Council wanted, and what it called for, was for medical research to be given a lead role so that research could be carried out in response to the new market realities.
We are very much in favour of the creation of the Institutes of Health Research, let there be no ambiguity about that. The Bloc Quebecois accepts the legitimate right of these institutes to be created. Various points have been raised by various people, leading to the bill we have before us today.
It is said that these research institutes will not be centralized bricks-and-mortar facilities. They are virtual institutes. This will make it possible for researchers, academics, hospitals and various research centres in Canada to exchange information.
The Bloc Quebecois agrees with and supports the establishment of these virtual research centres. We know that no decision has yet been reached on the type of institutes to be created; the task force has listed a number of themes, however. They are 150 in all, and I will mention just a few of them: ageing, genome, technology and clinical assessment, heart disease, stroke, musculo-skeletal development. All of these sectors are of daily concern to the public, for instance cancer and new diseases.
The stakes are very high. We also know that people live longer. Consequently, we will have to be able to deal with these problems and to ensure this system is well implemented, allowing researchers to respond to the demand. They will also be able to know what is being done in the field of research elsewhere, in Canada and in other countries.
I do not want that there be any ambiguity in the willingness of the Bloc Quebecois to support the different high technology sectors in the research and development field.
We are in favour of this multidisciplinary approach. We know very well how it could promote science. All researchers want these virtual institutes to be implemented. The objective is to create between 10 and 15 research institutes, and their funding will be doubled over the next three years. There is a great demand for funds.
I have attended the meetings of the Standing Committee on Health. We know that researchers are all looking for funding so that more advanced research can be done. Operations are supposed to start on April 1, 2000. This is a deadline to which researchers and the federal government are hanging on.
We in the Bloc Quebecois are very vigilant. We wish April 1, 2000 will be the deadline so that things can get under way. However, we are very touchy about the wording of this bill, which clearly infringes on provincial health jurisdictions.
With regard to the support of the budget increase, we commend the effort the bill reflects. As for the communication of health information, this is where there is a great difference in the wording of Bill C-13. What bothers us is the words that are used.
We submitted several amendments to ensure that the institutes would only communicate information on health and would not get involved into the management side of the health sector, because this would be going beyond the communication of information, which is what Bill C-13 is all about.
In its current form, the bill squarely infringes on the jurisdiction of the provinces in the health sector. The bill goes beyond promoting research. It contains several references to health related issues that come exclusively under the jurisdiction of the provinces. The bill does not recognize responsibilities of the provinces. It makes mere actors of them and the organizations and people who are involved in health.
It gives national mandates to the institutes, without the provinces' involvement. This is dangerous because it is the provinces that have responsibility over health and its management.
The Bloc Quebecois cannot support such a measure. I am aware of the pressure to make the Bloc Quebecois look like a spoilsport, like a troublemaker, but we must look at the long term implications of such a bill. In its current wording, it would support the federal government's intention to set national standards, to apply a certain type of management and to prioritize certain processes in health.
We are well aware that research and development fall into the federal government's residual powers. The Bloc Quebecois agrees with that. It is the federal government's role to help the provinces with research and development so that they can thrive.
However, we cannot accept that, through some tricks, the federal government would use this legislation to centralize all the decisions made in the health sector. Indeed, the bill provides many opportunities for direct infringement on the provinces' jurisdiction in health, this without any consultation.
That is why the Bloc Quebecois is proposing amendments. If the federal government really wants to discuss seriously with the provinces, if it agrees to respect the autonomy of the provinces, then it will accept these amendments by the Bloc Quebecois so that we can come to an understanding and move ahead when the April 1 deadline arrives. Our constituents are lobbying to have this bill adopted.
However, we also have to be careful because we know what the government has done with the Canada social transfer, deep cuts to transfers to the provinces. It had announced $48 billion worth of cuts and $30 billion have been cut since 1993. Each time the government hands out a paltry $2.4 billion, it tells us that it is investing in health. It is not investing in health at all. The only thing it is doing is reducing the cuts that were announced.
It is very important to look at this bill. The government should be working with the Bloc Quebecois and all the other opposition parties to give full jurisdiction to the provinces in matters of health and confine itself to the flow of information and the networking of virtual health and research institutes.
I know that this is a truly important social issue. The Bloc Quebecois has said so on many occasions and I say so again this morning. I hope that the government will act in good faith because we are. We would not want our communities, our researchers and our universities to be penalized. We would not want to be considered as not wanting funds to go to health and research. This is not at all what we want to achieve by our amendments. We only want to further define the role of the Canadian government in health.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Canadian Institutes Of Health Research Act
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