June 11, 2015 (41st Parliament, 2nd Session)


Don Davies

New Democratic Party

Mr. Don Davies (Vancouver Kingsway, NDP)

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise in the House today and speak on Motion No. 575, which I think is one of the most important motions that has come before the House in some time. This motion would create a pan-Canadian strategy for dementia.
Alzheimer's and other dementia diseases are a major health care, social and economic issue with enormous negative consequences for seniors, the baby boom generation and younger Canadians who are either living with the disease or living with family members and perhaps working as their caregiver. Some 15% of those affected by this suite of diseases are younger people. The number of Canadians with dementia is expected to double by 2031.
To date, the government has only supported a national research strategy. As important as research is, we on this side of the House believe that there is not the same comprehensive approach in this motion that the bill introduced in the House by my hon. colleague from Nickel Belt would have obligated the government to pursue. That would have been a national strategy to broadly help patients, support caregivers, help the dementia workforce, provide a strategy for early diagnosis and prevention, and provide a continuum of care for people in their homes, the community and formal care.
We in the New Democratic Party believe that respecting provincial and territorial jurisdiction is important in health care delivery and any other matter of provincial jurisdiction. We believe that the federal government needs to lead a pan-Canadian dementia strategy than can immediately help the millions of Canadians who are affected by Alzheimer's and related dementias, including the patients, families, caregivers, the dementia workforce and so on. We believe that this will have the additional benefit of freeing up scarce acute care beds in hospitals and helping caregivers who often must give up work to care for loved ones, as well. There is a very important economic and health care resource aspect to this motion.
I will not belabour this point, but it is important for Canadians to know that the Conservatives voted down a bill that would have required the Canadian government by law to implement a national dementia strategy just weeks ago. Instead, we are tabling a private member's bill by the Conservative member that would not obligate the government, because a motion is not obligatory on the government at all. We have replaced a New Democrat proposal that would have provided a mandatory legislative framework for a national dementia strategy, which was voted down by the Conservatives, with a discretionary motion that obligates the government to do nothing, only weeks ahead.
The member for Nickel Belt's bill, Bill C-356, would have gone much further than the present motion to guarantee Canadians that the federal government would finally take action to help their loved ones who are suffering from dementia. Despite being disappointed that the Conservatives rejected that opportunity to take decisive action, as the New Democrats' bill would have done, we will support this motion because we support all efforts to move on this important issue, even if they are not all that is needed.
The statistics and the real face of dementia are sobering. According to the benchmark Rising Tide study by the Alzheimer Society of Canada, the number of Canadians living with Alzheimer's disease and other dementias now stands at 750,000 people and will double to 1.4 million by 2031. Canada's health care system is presently under-equipped to deal with that staggering number and the costs associated with it. The combined direct medical and indirect costs, including lost earnings, of dementia total some $33 billion per year. By 2040, this figure is expected to skyrocket to an almost unbelievable $293 billion per year.
Pressures on family caregivers, however, are mounting today. In 2011, family caregivers spent 444 million unpaid hours per year looking after someone with dementia, representing some $11 billion in lost income and 227,000 lost full-time equivalent employees in the workforce. By 2040, they will be devoting a staggering 1.2 billion unpaid hours per year.
Lost in these numbers, perhaps, is the human face of this disease, the moms, the dads, the brothers, the sisters, the friends, the neighbours, the work colleagues, the grandfathers and the grandmothers who are involved in this disease.
While an elderly face typifies most people dealing with dementia, as I said, 15% of those people living with Alzheimer's or related dementia diseases are under 60, so it is important to note that dementia is not an issue that only affects people in their aging years.
The Canadian Medical Association estimates that patients who should be elsewhere occupy about 15% of the acute care hospital beds across Canada, one-third of them suffering from dementia, so we can see that not dealing with this disease in an appropriate national strategic sense is extremely expensive because it is causing us to spend unnecessary health dollars when we could be dealing with it in a better way.
The NDP history on this issue is well documented. At the 2012 NDP convention, delegates from across this country passed a resolution calling for a national dementia strategy. I want to pause and say that this shows the health of our Canadian political party structure. I can speak particularly of the New Democratic Party, whose delegates come to a convention every two years and put forward ideas from their communities that then make their way into the New Democratic caucus and into this House. I want to congratulate the New Democratic delegates from across the country who played such an important and visionary role in this issue here today.
We have also found strong support, however, among labour members, among seniors, and in all aspects of civil society. Inevitably, the interest is personal. It comes from the direct knowledge or experience of someone living with the disease or burdened and often economically suffering from caring for a loved one with the disease. It comes from personal experience. I think that informs this issue in a very real and direct way.
Internationally, many countries are moving forward with their own national strategies. The Paris declaration in 2006 lists among the political priorities of the European Alzheimer movement the call for national governments to recognize Alzheimer's disease as a major public health challenge and develop national action programs.
It is interesting that this was in 2006. Here we are, nine years later. The current government was first elected in 2006, and nine years after international calls for a national dementia strategy, the government has yet to act.
We are here in the dying days of the 41st Parliament with a backbench motion coming forward that does not obligate the government to do anything. To me, that does not speak of a responsible governmental response on an extremely important medical issue facing our population at this time.
There was also a G8 summit on dementia in the United Kingdom in December of 2013. The call for a national dementia strategy was made there as well. It is clear that Canada today has no national plan and has been lagging behind our closest economic partners—the United States, the U.K., France, and Australia—all of whom have national dementia plans.
Here is what the New Democrats propose. We want Canada to develop a national dementia strategy with leadership from Ottawa. We want a national plan that can and must respect provincial and territorial health care jurisdictions. We want one plan to be developed, a plan that coordinates all of the provincial priorities and is tailored to meet the needs of each province or territory. We think that would be far better than 13 separate plans carried out in isolation from one another. We want a national dementia strategy that includes but goes beyond research to help those now living with the disease, their caregivers, and the dementia workforce.
Quoting some of the many people who work with this issue every day is the best way to close my remarks today.
The Canadian Association of Retired Persons said this about the NDP's Bill C-356:
[The NDP plan] calls for a national strategy that includes increasing funding for research into all aspects of dementia, promoting earlier diagnosis and intervention, strengthening the integration of primary, home, and community care, followed by enhancing skills and training of the dementia workforce and recognizing the needs and improving supports for caregivers, all of which CARP advocates for and supports.
The Alzheimer Society of Canada has said that “83% of Canadians reported they believe Canada needs a national dementia plan.”
The society stated:
As our population ages, Canadians will be at an increased risk of developing dementia or caring for someone with it.
“Everyone owns this disease.”
It says:
The approach we're proposing has worked for the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer and the Mental Health Commission of Canada. It can work for dementia and ensure that we get the best return on investment and available resources.
The Canadian Medical Association, every single major group across the country that works with seniors, and the medical profession support the cause of a national dementia strategy. The New Democrats support that, and when we are the government in 2015, after October, that is exactly what our government will deliver for Canadians.

Topic:   Private Members' Business
Subtopic:   Alzheimer's Disease and Other Forms of Dementia
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