Mr. Paul Yewchuk (Athabasca):
Mr. Speaker, you may recall that late last fall, around Christmas time and early in January, there was an outcry from the Indian people because the Minister of National Health and Welfare (Miss Begin) had decided to withdraw certain health services from those people. The guidelines which she imposed at that time were based on a broad accusation that Indian people were abusing certain of the health services, particularly ambulance services, dental services, optometric services, and the use of prescription drugs. She made this broad accusation but to this date I have not heard from her one specific example of such abuse.
March 12, 1979
It seems to me that the minister, who poses or attempts to pose before the public as a humane lady, chose on this occasion to attack the poor and the weak-as we all know, the Indians in this country are, by and large, poor and certainly economically speaking, weak. As to their physical state, when we examine the statistics we see that the mortality rate for Indian children is much higher than the rate for the rest of the population; the life expectancy generally is much lower, and in many aspects of life the Indians are falling behind the rest of society. Thus it seems to me that it was a callous decision on the part of the minister to impose these guidelines which make it more difficult, if not impossible, for sick Indian people to get ambulance drives to hospital or to obtain the drugs they require, sometimes on an emergency basis. But she acted on the basis of a broad accusation that people were abusing the system.
As a result of representations from members of my party, the National Indian Brotherhood and other Indian organizations, she did, however, agree to suspend these guidelines for a six-month period. She explained she was doing so in order to have more time in which to consult with Indian people. Mr. Speaker, the fact is that so far she refuses even to talk with them. She has refused to set in motion any mechanism for the consultation process in which she told us she wanted to engage.
In support of this statement, I should like to read a telex which was sent to the minister by the National Indian Brotherhood. I may say I had a conversation with the president of the National Indian Brotherhood and the president of the Alberta Indian Association just this afternoon, so the information I have is very current. The telex reads:
It is unfortunate that you feel it is not applicable at this time to discuss the issue of health services and in particular the consultation mechanism established on January 24. You have my letter of January 28 outlining our concerns with the consultation mechanism. We have had no reply. My staff has been in contact with your office no less than eight times since January 24 attempting to set up a meeting with you to clarify the ongoing issue of health services to Indian people. The consultation process appears to be actually negating discussion and we have an executive council meeting and I am sorry I have to report that once again you have refused to meet to discuss and clarify the ongoing health issue.
It appears that the minister is stonewalling. It appears that her promise to negotiate was nothing more than a political ploy to take this issue out of public discussion until the election is over. It is quite clear that she has no intention whatsoever to carry out her promise to negotiate.
Another aspect concerns me very much insofar as her attitude is concerned. At the meeting of January 24 a representative of the National Indian Brotherhood presented the minister with a blanket as a token of esteem. It was a new Hudson Bay blanket. It was a very expensive and very good blanket. I am sure, Mr. Speaker, if you think back, you will realize that it was a very nice gift for the National Indian Brotherhood to offer the minister.
The minister took the blanket, but the next day she had the gall to telephone the president of the National Indian Brotherhood to inquire whether the blanket carried disease or whether there was a curse on it to harm her in any way. The response
the National Indian Brotherhood gave the minister was that it was given to her with only the best intentions and that the minister could send it to her own laboratories to determine whether it carried any disease. I am astonished by the attitude of the minister. It seems quite clear that she has either been badly advised or has committed herself with less than the best of intentions as far as negotiations are concerned. If it was her intention to get past the election with this ploy and if the universe unfolds as it should, my party will pick up the pieces, the consultation process will indeed continue when the election is over, and a humane way will be found to solve this very serious problem.
Topic: PROCEEDINGS ON ADJOURNMENT MOTION
Subtopic: HEALTH AND WELFARE-HEALTH CARE OF NATIVE PEOPLES