IN THE HOUSE ~ on the NDP motion to implement universal pharmacare

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Date: 
Thursday, October 5, 2017

42nd Parliament, 1st Session

Mr. Speaker, I will share my time with the elegant and extraordinary member for Vancouver East.

This is an issue that has a lot of importance in my riding of New Westminster—Burnaby. It is something I hear about regularly. There are seniors who do not have access to medication because they cannot afford to pay for it, and families that, because they do not have access to private pharmacare plans, have to effectively pay out of their pockets, if they can afford to. This is not an issue that is just sterile debate in the House of Commons. This really touches the heart and soul of Canadians' quality of life.

Today we have heard a lot of arguments from Liberal members of Parliament. They have consistently said that we should just wait. Their arguments would have a little more validity if it was not for the history of the Liberal Party on this issue.

In 1964, the Royal Commission on Health Services recommended that we have national pharmacare. The Liberals said that it was not ready yet, so we should wait. Fast forward to 1997, when we had the National Forum on Health. In 2002, there was the Royal Commission on the Future of Health Care in Canada, and in 2004, the premiers' consensus on pharmacare. In each of those periods, we had Liberal governments that said that they supported the principle of pharmacare but needed to wait. It was just not the right time to do it, for whatever reason.

Today the Liberal arguments are similar to what they were years and decades ago. Yet again we have Liberal MPs standing in the House of Commons saying that this is not important and we should wait. Unbelievably, now their excuse is that we have to wait for a committee report. Somehow Canadians should put aside that priority of putting in place a pharmacare plan that the vast majority of Canadians support, because Liberals on a committee want to wait to produce a report.

There would be credibility in that argument if for decades and decades Liberal MPs had not been standing in this same House saying exactly the same thing. In principle, they support pharmacare, but they have to wait for a royal commission or another royal commission. They have to wait for a committee or another committee or a budget. For decades Canadians have been forced to wait.

It would be almost humorous if it did not have such a profound impact on Canadians. If anyone here doubts how important this issue is to Canadian families and Canadians, they should step out of this House, go right across the lawn down to Wellington Street, turn left, and go down over the bridge toward the Château Laurier in this same city. Not every day, but most days, they will find on the bridge between Parliament, the East Block, and the Château Laurier a man named Jim. Jim sits in his wheelchair and has to beg for money to pay for the drugs that will keep him healthy in life. I have spoken to Jim many times, and I have dropped some money in his cup. He has agreed that I could share his story. I know that many of my colleagues, other New Democrats, have stopped and spoken to Jim as well.

Jim looks like a robust guy, and he was. He worked hard all his life, then injuries and sickness meant that he had to purchase drugs to keep him alive. He had to go to the pharmacy and get those drugs, but those drugs are pretty expensive, about $400 a month in the absence of a national pharmacare plan, which we are debating today and could make a reality if Liberals supported the NDP motion. We could start to make that a reality within a year. That is not going to help Jim over the next 12 months. He is still going to have to beg. He is still going to talk to passersby. However, what a difference it would make in his life to know that in a year, the federal government would actually be sitting down with the provinces and starting to put in place and negotiate a national pharmacare plan.

That is what we are called upon to do today. We are not called upon to have a sterile debate. We are not called upon to say let us wait for a particular committee report, and then we will talk some more, and then we will rag the puck, as they say in hockey, and then in five or 10 years, we will come back and have the same debate we had after the premiers consensus of 2004, the Royal Commission on the Future of Health Care in 2002, the National Forum on Health in 1997, and even the Royal Commission on Health Services in 1964. Canadians have been waiting long enough. It is time to have pharmacare. There is no doubt.

If Jim could come here, or the Tracys, the Ramdeeps, the Lemays, or the hundreds of thousands of other Canadians who do not have access to pharmacare right now, if they came to the galleries and we gave them a microphone to tell us about what life is like without a pharmacare plan, they would tell us some pretty sad stories. They would tell us about having to make tough choices between eating and buying the drugs that will keep them healthy. They would tell us stories about what they have had to give up. Some of them would tell us stories about not being able to continue to pay their rent. If they are someone like Jim, they would tell us about what they have to do every day, rain or shine, whether the sun is beating down in Ottawa or it is pouring rain. I have even seen him in the snow. He has to come here to beg to get enough money to get through the month. What is wrong with that picture?
This cannot be a sterile debate. It cannot simply be Liberals saying let us get a committee report together and wait a few more months or years or decades. It has to happen now.

I believe that all members come to the House with the intent to do good. I believe that every member of the House is elected to serve and believes profoundly in making Canada better. We know the horror stories that are out there. We know how much people are suffering now, and we have the ability to change it.

The good news is that, as the parliamentary budget officer has told us, it is even cost-effective. We end up saving $4 billion a year by voting yes to the NDP proposal to start negotiations. We actually will save money for Canadians. Cost is not an issue. The motion clearly talks about sitting down with the provinces, so negotiations are not the issue.

We know that it would still take a year or two to put this together, but I would wager that we would all be proud to come forward in 2019 with a new national pharmacare plan.

Tommy Douglas, the father of Canadian medicare and the premier of Saskatchewan, someone who was voted the greatest Canadian in our history just a few years ago, always believed that moving to medicare was the first step in moving to pharmacare. He believed that we could not have comprehensive health coverage unless we could ensure that medication was actually part of it too and that nobody, no senior, no child, and no family, should have to put aside medication because a person could not afford to pay for it. That is a simple Canadian principle.

This is a very Canadian motion. It is something that every member of the House of Commons should vote on and vote for. If members doubt for just a moment whether they should vote for it, I ask them to go out of the House of Commons for a few minutes, go down outside the Château Laurier, and talk to Jim. Jim will tell them to vote yes for this motion.

Response to question: Mr. Speaker, I am so saddened by the question from that member. I like the member, but I am just so saddened by his asking something that is essentially irrelevant to the Jims, the Traceys, the Randeeps, and the Lemays across this country who do not have access to essential medication today.

It is irrelevant. Sure, the committee can keep working. The committee can do all the work it wants. However, what we are setting out today is the possibility of starting that discussion, within a year, and to complete it, hopefully, in just over a year, so that we can actually bring pharmacare in for Canadians.
The idea that we sit in this House and talk about when a committee report should be published and when that paper should be produced, and I think committees do great work, is irrelevant to the issue at hand. The issue at hand is whether or not we are going to bring in pharmacare for Canadians. They need it. Some families are desperate. Many seniors are desperate.

Let us just get it done. Let us vote “yes” on the motion to bring pharmacare into Canada.

Response to question: Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the good work of the member for Vancouver East. She comes from a proud tradition of very strong representation in Vancouver East. She is an exceptional member of Parliament in this House of Commons. I admire her work enormously.

She is, of course, asking a rhetorical question. There is nothing in this motion that is partisan. Everything in this motion is conceived for members of Parliament to listen to their constituents and to adopt this plan to bring in national pharmacare. It is very simple.

I have been listening carefully to the debate. There are very eloquent members of Parliament here. However, the ones who are saying to wait another five, 10, 15, or 20 years are not following the wishes of their constituents and of Canadians. Ninety percent of Canadians want to see pharmacare. Let us get it done. Let us vote yes on this motion.