Mr. Lionel Bertrand (Terrebonne):
Mr. Speaker, every time I have spoken in the house I have done so to give my views on matters of public interest and, for the past sixteen years I have tried to reflect here the opinions of my electors. If there is one matter which deeply interests them at present, and about which they send me numerous requests for information, it is that of health insurance, of hospital insurance.
Throughout my public life I have been a supporter of social security. Early in life I had to work and assume responsibilities; my family bravely faced situations which would not have existed if, in those days, there had been beneficial social legislation like that which is in force today. I have therefore considered it my duty to champion the cause of the lowly, the hard worker and the needy. The people of Canada do not want humiliating public charity, but rather legislation that would enable underprivileged citizens in this rich and prosperous country to get their share of welfare and security.
I am happy to underline here the vast accomplishments of the Liberal party to which I belong, and which was successfully led by Mr. Mackenzie King until 1948 and which has been led with no less success since by the Right Hon. Mr. St. Laurent. Even opponents have to recognize that the Liberal party, which has governed the destinies of our country without interruption since 1935, has always enjoyed the confidence of the Canadian people; it has enjoyed that confidence during the worst period of the war and it came out of it with an even greater prestige than before. Today it still enjoys that confidence. The social legislation enacted by our party has been the envy of other countries and has helped to create in Canada an atmos-
The Budget-Mr. Bertrand phere of welfare that has become indispensable.
Nobody would like to see family allowances stopped; the government that enacted that legislation made a generous gesture and the people cannot forget it. If it did not exist, we would have to enact it. That legislation has been greatly beneficial to our people; it has satisfied a human desire for protection and provided help for the family. In the last few years, several requests have been made asking that the allowances be doubled, without increasing taxes. In my opinion, such a request was improperly put forward. I have often said and I still contend that although I am in favour of increasing family allowances, I do not see how it could be done without increasing one way or another governmental expenses and, therefore, the taxes which we have to pay.
I believe, and I have often said so in my constituency and in the house, that the family allowances act should be revised. It was enacted nearly eleven years ago. By virtue of that legislation, the government has spent several million dollars, but that money has not been wasted. It has contributed to the health and the progress of the nation. Those dollars have provided better food, better care, better clothes and a better education for thousands of children. The family allowances cheque, which comes at the same time, on the same day of each month, which is paid without political partisanship and used to good purpose has contributed and still contributes to create an atmosphere of family satisfaction which honours our country. During the past eleven years, the cost of living has greatly increased. I believe that the time may have come to revise the act, to set new rates that would take into account the cost of living. The Department of National Health and Welfare would be well advised to study the matter. In adjusting the act to present conditions, it would answer the general wishes of the people.
By providing good food and a good education to our young citizens we are doing an act of liberation. Children truly represent the future. If our children are healthy, our future will be prosperous; if our children are well educated and understand their religious, civil and patriotic duties, our future will be assured. Money invested by Canada to educate our citizens of tomorrow is not lost. It is an asset which enhances the undeniable prestige of our country.
2750 HOUSE OF
The Budget-Mr. Bertrand
Mr. Speaker, I put on the order paper of the house a motion which has not been debated but which deals more particularly with the blind. I have always taken an interest in them, and I know the work done by their associations, especially the Societe amicale des aveugles, in which I am particularly interested. In my opinion, the blind should not be subjected to a means test; they should be granted the maximum pension without any restriction whatsoever. True, last year the age requirements were lowered and the maximum income permitted was increased, but that does not seem to be sufficient. Few blind people in Canada have an income sufficient to provide for themselves, and the majority are unable to cope with the monthly allowance they receive unless they do some other work to supplement their income. I recently said in a speech in this house;
The blind are not deprived of all their producing capacities, but these capacities are deadened or reduced to nothing. If you want the blind to take on some productive job, you have to make them financially secure. The psychological fear of not being able to keep up their jobs because they might lose their pension if they kept on working adds to their anguish.
I have not changed my mind. In the case of the blind, one must stimulate and not destroy their human ideal. The elimination of the means test would guarantee their financial security as, by the very nature of things, blindness entails expenses which people with normal vision are spared: higher cost of living, guide services, additional maintenance costs, more adequate medical care, poor health, etc. Blindness calls for many extra expenses. It is for that reason that quite a substantial number of blind people in the province of Quebec do not get the pension. The husband or wife is working, since the maximum income fixed by law, even with a full pension, is not always adequate for the maintenance of the home. Therefore, in many cases, the blind person lives outside the home in order to receive full pension, leaving to the spouse the responsibility of working and raising the family. To raise the family and social standard as well as the dignity of the blind, it is essential that the blind do not have to suffer an inferiority complex throughout the year. The blind person lives in darkness; in many ways, his existence is complicated; he worries and loses patience, he feels lonesome and forsaken. The elimination of the means test would open new perspectives to him; he would find a new reason to work, to adapt
himself to circumstances and thus, being less worried, be in a better position to provide for the education of his children and the maintenance of his family.
I wish to say a word about disability allowances; no one should blame me for a few remarks on this subject since I have advocated this pension many years before the legislation on this matter was put on our statute books.
The provinces have accepted the act, although reluctantly in some cases. The regulations have been approved following discussions between representatives of the federal government and of the provinces. Some 30,000 people now get the disability pension in Canada, which is much less than the 50,000 and more which had been estimated at one time. Personally I think that the act is too rigid, and a great many cases which have been called to my attention after the applications had been rejected have brought home to me that it is so. Many of these applications have been submitted anew, and they have been granted favourable consideration.
I do not think this legislation should be for the dying; it should become more flexible. We could consider as invalids a large number of people who, though they may not be forced to remain constantly in bed or in a chair are prevented, through some infirmity or other, from earning their living or are constantly refused on the labour market, even though they may have the use of their hands or feet. A number of applications which seemed worthy of consideration have apparently been refused. The lack of latitude provided for in the regulations would seem to be directly responsible for this. Would it not be well to call for a study of these applications which have been turned down in order to see whether or not the present regulations could be changed so as to make the legislation really efficient and to achieve the desired purpose?
Mr. Speaker, I would like to say to the government that the constituency of Terrebonne, which I represent in this house, supports a national health insurance plan and that my constituents are anxious for it to be quickly implemented. The comments which I have heard and the views which I have had the opportunity of ascertaining are quite indicative of the opinion of the people on this subject. If my constituents entertain such definite views on this matter, I doubt whether things are at all different in other constituen-
cies. It must be recognized that, for our working people, insecurity is the worst worry of all. There is nothing like idleness to wipe out in a few weeks savings which have been acquired after long and arduous effort, and to turn a prosperous home into one beset with financial difficulties or even with real want. These views of my constituents are all the more welcome to me because ever since I have been in public life I have never ceased to demand legislation which would ensure our working people the help of the nation in case of illness or confinement to a hospital.
I do feel also that most people in Canada favour a national health insurance plan and that the decision of the government to go ahead in this matter has been highly appreciated. I would even go further. The people of this country would not forgive the government if it were to stop halfway now, no more than it would forgive delay in completing the present program of social security by this beneficent legislation. And I would add that this question is so close to the heart of the people and appears so essential to them now that provincial governments refusing to co-operate may be judged severely by their constituents.
It is becoming impossible for the low income group to face the excessive costs of hospitalization. I realize that a hospital, like a hotel, must ask rates which often appear prohibitive, in order to meet their costs of management, but it is none the less undeniable that medical and hospital costs are excessively high. Dr. Jean Gregoire, deputy minister of health in the province of Quebec, did not hesitate to say a few months ago that 80 per cent of the people of Quebec-and I presume that such is the case elsewhere-cannot meet hospitalization expenses when they are sick. No doubt, there are many Canadians who are protected at this time against medical and hospital costs, either by subscribing to a private hospitalization plan or because their employers have adopted a group insurance plan which protects them, together with their dependents. There remains, however, a great number of Canadians-possibly more than 50 per cent of them-especially in the working and low income classes, who have no protection at all. It may be because their trade does not permit it, or because their employers are opposed to it or never thought of it, or because their salary does not allow them to join a private insurance plan. If their income is not sufficient to
The Budget-Mr. Bertrand permit them to seek preventive medicine, all the more reason for their being unable to face hospitalization costs. These people, I should point out, even when sick, will wait to the last minute before seeing the doctor, because of the very inadequacy of their income. They will conceal their ailment and suffer in silence, seeking relief from sedatives and old wives' remedies.
When the time comes for them to be hospitalized, they will not only be unable to regain their health but they will have to bear the handicap of impaired health. That point of view should be kept in mind by those organizations which, in their annual briefs or in their periodical suggestions to governments, will not come out clearly for or against the health insurance scheme but which say that we must be careful and proceed slowly, under the barely concealed pretext that taxes might go up.
On the other hand, many welfare and labour organizations are asking for that social security measure, and if the price comes high -which nobody will deny-they say that if we can, and rightly so, spend huge amounts of money to protect ourselves against outside dangers, against war and even to prevent war, it is up to the government to build a large social security system in order to suppress as much as possible social evils, to do away with distress which comes from ill-health, and to give Canadians, in these times of anxiety, the benefit of security and the priceless advantages of good health. The English writer and statesman Benjamin Disraeli said on that score:
The health of the people is really the foundation upon which all their happiness and all their powers as a state depend.
Our country is not backward in the public health field. Under the constitution, public health comes under provincial jurisdiction; but, eight years ago, the federal government embarked upon a national health program for the sole reason that the provinces alone could scarcely establish a uniform system and that it seemed necessary therefore, without depriving them of their autonomy, to co-operate with them on a national level so as to give greater efficiency to all freely taken joint decisions. Thousands of beds have been put at the hospitals' disposal; from year to year, medical research has gained in importance, public courses have been initiated, groups have been formed with the help of the various governments, and great progress has been
The Budget-Mr. Bertrand made in the fight against tuberculosis, cancer, mental illness and other ills that plague humanity. And-I am stressing this without fear of contradiction-never has the country had a better minister to carry out all these plans in the field of social security, i.e. family allowances, old age pensions, pensions for the blind, and for the disabled, than the present Minister of National Health and Welfare (Mr. Martin). I am therefore happy to pay a deserved tribute, not only to his personal talent, but also to his devotion for his cherished cause of public health, to his remarkable and well known industry, and to his very clear comprehension of all problems under his departmental jurisdiction.
I am among those who hope that he will be able to carry out the health insurance scheme. This is a vast project indeed, but his devotion measures up to it. I know he understands the importance of this scheme, and that he wants to help all Canadians, and more particularly the small wage earner.
The small wage earner is the man who, in order to live and support his wife and children, has to count on each day's work, who cannot afford to be ill for, whenever he is, hardship immediately befalls his home. The small wage earner is the one who never achieves wealth and who, at the end of his days, after toiling for forty years, has painstakingly put aside only a few hundred dollars to cope with unforeseen expenses of sickness and old age. The small wage earner who, during his lifetime, has been able to escape, with his wife and family, surgical and hospital bills which are always heavy will be, among his kind, a very lucky man indeed. Many of these people come to my office and show me unpaid hospital bills. They are people who, over and above their daily cares, always feel tortured by the same bills which will keep on piling up. Hospitals want to be paid; they cannot carry on unless they are. Are patients always able to pay? That is the question. Health insurance will be beneficial both to our citizens, who have to cope with sickness and to the hospitals whose progress will thus be ensured.
The small wage earner is the one who, week after week, sees his tax deducted from his pay cheque, and, though sometimes grudgingly, is nevertheless willing to do his share in the administration of the country. And when he makes out his annual income tax return, what is he allowed to deduct? A few dollars as charitable donations, a portion, always insignificant, of his medical expenses. On the other hand, the industrialist, the merchant, the businessman, owing precisely to their business, have an expense account where they can enter so many indirect expenses, the legal
facility of providing themselves with leisure and amenities, and to bestow on their families benefits squarely denied the low income class. Thus, health insurance would create a new balance through which the well to do would lose nothing of their benefits, while the poor and the humble would get their share of security. The happiness of the lower class is made of peace of mind and heart. You cannot have one without the other. Let us not forget that the heaviest damage to health is not caused by work, because sixty year old workers, who have worked very hard all their lives, still go to work early every morning. The things that are harmful to health, that undermine and destroy it, are moral and financial worries. Just go down to the miserable classes of society, and you will see what it is all about. The low income worker will understand that, even though he has to contribute his share to the establishment of a health insurance plan, he no longer will have, when misfortune strikes him, the awful shame of having to tell his doctor or the hospital officials that he is unable to pay, of having to be endlessly hurt in his feelings, and of having thereafter, because of accumulated debts, to live in discouragement, and sometimes on the brink of despair. We, the lucky ones, must keep aware of the fact that, close to our home there are slums, and people who, through lack of money, have never paid a visit to their native province or country and who will never go to Florida, and we must convince ourselves, when we criticize a poor home with a television set, that the poor ones too must have their moments of enjoyment. In these times of easy life, when sports are draining so much money, when the attraction for travel increases from year to year, when luxurious restaurants are crowded with customers who do not care for the amount of the bill, when in grills and bars we pay as much as one dollar for a glass of scotch or rye, I will never tolerate that those with an easy life should be the first to criticize or to refuse to pay a few additional dollars in taxes in order to maintain and develop our social security plan.
Topic: REQUEST FOR ASSURANCE OF SUPPLY OF GARRY 27
Subtopic: THE BUDGET