Lauren Vogel | CMAJ | Mar. 28, 2017
Criticisms of the budget, allegations against a federal marijuana task force, and growing demand for palliative care were heard in recent House of Commons’ debates.
The Liberal government released its 2017 budget, which Health Minister Dr. Jane Philpott touted as the “best news on health that we have seen in a decade.” The budget pledges more than $4 billion over five years for health initiatives, over and above the $200 billion in provincial health transfers.
Conservative Opposition Leader Rona Ambrose panned the plan for “targeting small business owners,” including doctors and dentists, by closing tax loopholes. New Democrat members echoed the Canadian Medical Association’s criticism that the budget fails seniors by not providing for a national seniors’ strategy.
Minister of Veterans Affairs Kent Hehr introduced Bill C-42 which would allow veterans with disabilities to choose who receives a new federal caregiver benefit, whether or not they are family members.
Minister of Finance Ralph Goodale moved that the government supply up to $125 million to support a pan-Canadian artificial intelligence strategy. The Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology is studying the role of robotics and artificial intelligence in health care.
The House passed a Liberal private member’s motion to develop a federal strategy to promote cooperative businesses. Cooperatives, also known as coops, are organizations formed and democratically directed by the people who use their services, with notable examples including the Desjardins Group, the leading cooperative financial group in Canada.
The health and social assistance sector accounts for nearly one in 10 Canadian cooperatives, noted Paul Lefebvre, Liberal member for Sudbury. Health coops provide a wide range of services based on the priorities of their member-owners, from home care to extended health insurance. “They all share the same common principles, including voluntary and open membership, democratic member control, economic and democratic participation by coop members, autonomy and independence, education, co-operation among cooperatives, and sustainable community development,” said Lefebvre.
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
The House neutered a private member’s motion that initially called on the government to increase funding for research into amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and develop a comprehensive strategy to eradicate the disease. The original motion had support across party lines, but the government succeeded in removing commitments to increase funding or develop a national strategy. The amended motion calls on government to “play a leadership role in supporting ALS research, and to support national efforts to find a cure for ALS at the earliest opportunity.”
“Canada already has ways to fight ALS and other devastating illnesses through its [rare disease] programs and initiatives,” explained Joël Lightbound, parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Health. “Our amendment seeks to intensify current efforts instead of developing a new strategy.”
Marijuana task force
Jacques Gourdes, Conservative member for Lévis—Lotbinière, Quebec, called for a formal investigation into the federal task force on cannabis legalization. “Last November, the media widely reported some troubling facts suggesting that the work of the task force on cannabis legalization was leaked before it tabled its report,” Gourdes alleged. “Coincidentally, this was a boon to the Liberal Party’s CFO [chief financial officer], the co-founder of a company that produces marijuana, who saw the value of his shares double in one week even though, as I said, the final report had not yet been released.”
Bill Blair, parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, called the allegations unfounded. “The report was made available to all Canadians on December 13, 2016, not a single day sooner, and any suggestion to the contrary is based on conjecture and baseless suspicion.”
Hepatitis C strategy
Michael McLeod, Liberal member for the Northwest Territories, urged the development of a hepatitis C strategy that includes voluntary testing for everyone born between 1945 and 1965, the demographic that comprises the majority of cases in Canada. Many of the 250 000 Canadians infected with the virus do not experience any symptoms “until their liver becomes so damaged that they develop cirrhosis, liver cancer, or liver failure,” McLeod said. “Like many diseases, if caught early, there are much better outcomes for patients.”
Five petitions related to palliative care were brought forward by Liberal, Conservative and NDP members. Three specifically called for coverage of hospice palliative care under the Canada Health Act.