February 12, 1934 (17th Parliament, 5th Session)


Henry Elvins Spencer

United Farmers of Alberta


I cannot see why the
minister objects, but I am not going to press my point. Surely any government should have a definite policy with regard to these matters; I had hoped that the minister had a definite policy, in cooperation with the provinces. If he has not such a policy ^ I hope he will soon get one; if he has a definite policy then I think it is up to the minister to declare it to this house. The minister mentioned in detail certain definite work done by the federal department. I should say that probably the federal department would not give up some of that work, that there are some angles of public health in which they claim a prior right, such as quarantine, immigration, and all that sort of thing. That indicates the difficult position in which we are placed with regard to this particular subject.
I was interested in the remarks of the hon. member for Souris (Mr. Willis), who criticized the overlapping as between the dominion and the provinces, but I think the hon. gentleman was wrong with regard to the question of health. I believe it might be much easier to put some of these other matters under the definite jurisdiction of either the federal government or the provinces, but the question of health is entirely different. There are certain matters which I am sure the federal government would not allow to get into the hands of the provinces at all. I would have no objection if the federal government wanted to take over the whole question, but they would not do that either. Therefore the provinces are forced to set up their health
departments, and that being so it is imperative that cooperation should be pushed for all it is worth as between the federal and provincial government.
That is why, Mr. Speaker, this resolution was introduced; I had hoped to get a definite expression of opinion from the house which would strengthen the hands of the minister in bringing forward some plan which would let us know where we were going. We do know where we are going with regard to education, a matter which was brought up this evening. We have a definite plan in respect to the question of education, but we have only to go through the country to see the extraordinary situation existing in these times of crisis so far as sickness is concerned. We learn that the doctors in Winnipeg have gone on strike because they cannot earn a living. I am sure they do not strike because they do not want to give people necessary medical attention, but simply because the people are poor and cannot afford to pay their fees. Something has to be done. I believe on two or three occasions one of the hon. members from Winnipeg has brought this very important matter to the attention of the house. What are the doctors in Winnipeg going to do? They say they will not accept a case, unless it be one of emergency. When does an emergency occur? Hon. members may be familiar with the old story about the man who said he could feed his horse on nothing. He did very well until he got down to one straw a day, and then the horse died. That is the position we are likely to be in. When we hear the doctors say they will not attend except in a case of emergency. When that emergency arises many of the patients will have reached a point where help will be of no use.
As the hon. member for East Hamilton (Mr. Mitchell) said, we are facing a problem which could be compared with the educational problem of a generation ago. I believe it is about time the public realized that it is much better to pay a small insurance fee, through taxation, so that in the case of sickness a demand for proper services could be made. When people are well they can afford to pay a small amount of money for such a purpose, but when they are sick they may not be able to pay heavy fees for medical attention.
I must say I was quite disappointed that the minister did not bring forward a more definite plan. Of those who volunteered for war services we must remember the large number who were found to be unfit for military service. Undoubtedly those men thought they were fit, but upon examination found it was
Federal Health-Mr. Spencer

discovered that they had something the matter with them. From the national point of view alone it seems to me that this matter of health is one which we cannot afford to overlook. I know there has been an effort to cut down grants for health measures, such as those relating to venereal disease and so on. I believe that by such action we are simply making ourselves poorer. The time has come when we should put first things first; when all is said and done the human being should be our first consideration. We should definitely state whether or not we are going to try to make this nation healthy, and whether we want to Put it into category A, B, C or D. Then, having made our plans, we should find some way of financing them. Surely we have not yet tapped all the sources. The hon. member for East Hamilton has said that in Great Britain a tremendous amount has been done with regard to the care of health, certain social legislation has worked wonders in improving the health of the people.
It seems to me that too many people are saying: "Oh, matters relating to money, or the ways of collecting it, are far more important than the care of the health of our people." I believe the time has come when we should change that attitude, decide first of all that we are going to have a happy, contented and healthy people, and then set about to put them in that condition. There may be a good deal in the argument of the hon. member for Souris as to the overlapping of federal and provincial departments. No civil servant wants to give up his particular end of the work. At the same time I believe he was quite wrong in his criticism of the overlapping of health measures. We must realize that we cannot give the whole work to the provinces, because in so doing we should be interfering with the care of immigrants in quarantine, and like matters. At the same time the federal government will not take over the whole responsibility for the health of the people, and it may be that they should not. As some of the work has to be done at one point, such as at the coast, .and other work elsewhere, it becomes a matter of cooperation.
I repeat, I regret very much that the Minister of National Health did not take a more constructive attitude. We were handicapped during the regime of the last government with an attitude similar to that taken by the present minister. Had I not seen the minister speaking this evening, I would have said it was the one who held office five years ago.

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