On March 12, 2020, I gave a speech on Pharmacare in the House, in support of the NDP motion:
"Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for New Westminster—Burnaby.
Today we are talking about an NDP motion on something we have been advocating for a very long time. It is for the government to act on bringing a universal comprehensive single-payer pharmacare system to Canadians.
This has been a long-time dream of the NDP. In fact, 53 years ago, Tommy Douglas brought to us medicare. This is what Canadians itemize as one of the single proudest moments in our Canadian history: to ensure that Canadians can see the doctors and get the medical services they need. This is unlike south of the border, where people in the United States literally cannot access the medical attention they need, and people die from that situation. We are the envy of the universe. To complete that dream of Tommy Douglas, it has always the vision of the CCF and the NDP to bring in a comprehensive universal single-payer pharmacare program.
We know that the Liberals have said they support this idea and have said so for a very long time. In fact, to be more precise, for exactly 23 years they have said that they would support it. Now we are in a situation of a minority government, so let us hope, and I hope with all of my heart, that in this Parliament we will implement a universal single-payer comprehensive pharmacare system. That is what our motion is pushing for. That is what we want to see, and I believe that is what Canadians want to see.
In fact, out of the government's own consultative process with its own council came the Hoskins report, with 60 unequivocal recommendations laying out a concise plan for achieving this goal. The report highlights a number of things that warrant attention in this House.
Just so we know, some 7.5 million Canadians do not have adequate prescription coverage. That is to say, some 7.5 million Canadians cannot get the medication they need. Sixteen per cent of the people in Canada went without medication for heart disease, for cholesterol or for hypertension because of cost.
The amount of prescription-drug spending paid out of pocket in Canada in 2016 was $7.6 billion. That is a lot of money coming out of the pockets of everyday Canadians, money that they could otherwise use to support their family if there were a universal pharmacare program. The government talks all the time about how it wants to support middle-class Canadians; implementing universal pharmacare would support every single Canadian, including middle-class Canadians.
The people who are perhaps hardest hit because they cannot access a pharmacare program are women. Fewer women have employer health benefits compared to men. Women are more likely to report noncompliance to their prescription medication because of costs, not because they do not want to comply but because they cannot afford it.
Cost-related noncompliance is a common problem among the indigenous community as well, and people between 18 and 44 years old, people with lower health status and people with lower incomes also often cannot access the medication they need because they cannot afford it.
There is no question in my mind that it is time to act. I know some members will say that we cannot proceed with this because the provinces and territories say they do not want to. One of the issues that provinces and territories have tabled and put on the record is that they need the government to ensure that the health transfer payments are kept up. If the Liberals actually wanted to do something about this and ensure that negotiations go well with provinces and territories, they would ensure that the health transfer payments are actually provided.
Instead of adopting the Harper Conservatives' cuts to the health transfer payments, the government could say, “No, we are not going to take that path. We are not going to go down the path of the Harper Conservatives. In fact, we will fully fulfill our requirements and responsibility for health care transfer payments.” When we do that, I fully expect that the provinces and territories will come to the table and earnestly negotiate with the Canadian government to put in place a universal comprehensive single-payer pharmacare program.
I will share a story with members.
During the campaign, like everyone else in the House, I went door knocking. One constituent's story has shaken me to this day. He is a senior who just recently retired. He worked hard all his life and paid his taxes and all of those things. As he aged, he became ill. He has a number of complicated health conditions, and his medication costs him about $1,000 a month. That is a lot of money for a senior on a fixed income.
He told me that he had some savings and he could pay for this medication for a few months, but of course his savings will run out, and then what will he do? I think he told me that his savings would run out by this summer. He was very worried about what would happen when that occurred, because he would not be able to get the life-saving medication that he needs. He said to me, “You have to go and fight for a universal pharmacare program, not just for me but for my friends and other people like me.”
I took his words to heart, and here we are in this debate. I ask the government to support this motion before us and then get on with it and actually fully realize this motion and put it into reality. No more excuses. No more delays. No more “I can't do this and I can't do that.” No more saying that we support it and then decades later we are still talking about it. I do not want to come back to the House to have to debate this once again. I want to see this program in place, and Canadians want to see it as well.
This program will save lives. We know that. More importantly, or perhaps of equal importance for those people who talk about money, this program will save money as well. How often do we get to do this? We can have our cake and eat it too. This is the kind of program that we are talking about. We are in a minority government situation, and it can become reality. How about we fulfill that dream? How about we end the notion that Canada is the only country in the world that has a universal medicare program without pharmacare? How about we put that to bed once and for all, forever, by implementing universal pharmacare?
The government says that it wants to act, but I do not want to hear just words any more; I want to see this action in the budget. In the upcoming 2020 budget, I want to see the government allocate resources to get this done.
The Hoskins report, which I read page by page last night to get the full scope of its recommendations, has 60 recommendations. It outlines very clearly, step by step, how we can get this done and where the savings are, so the government cannot have the excuse of not having a blueprint. The government had this work done to counsel its work, and Dr. Hoskins and the team went out there and did this work, laying out in detail, step by step, how this could be done, so no more excuses.
The constituent I met during the campaign is in desperate need for the government to act. People in our community are in desperate need for the government to act. For members of Parliament, especially on the Liberal side, this is our moment to make that difference, to realize the legacy that Tommy Douglas has left us to fully implement universal medicare and pharmacare."