Government Response to H1N1 Virus in First Nations Communities

Hon. Jim Munson: Honourable senators, that answer is not good enough. Body bags are for coroners, not health officials.

Does the minister ever talk to her officials? Does she communicate with them? There is one thing here: She is the boss and, at the end of the day — at some point — responsibility begins with the minister. At some point, the minister must take responsibility. The responsible answer is an apology. The minister says she is offended by her department. She has a deputy minister, she has an ADM and all kinds of people. With something as serious as this disease, when these kinds of things are happening one would think there would be that type of discussion.

The minister must do more than say that there is an investigation. Why is it so hard to say, “We apologize”?

Senator LeBreton: Frankly, honourable senators, that question is not good enough.

Senator Comeau: As usual.

Senator LeBreton: I will check — because I am speaking from the heart here — but I believe that I said this situation is one for which we are all very sorry.

The honourable senator has suggested that Minister Aglukkaq is not working around the clock, 24/7, meeting with her officials. I take it from the question that Senator Munson thought she should have been in the shipping house helping to pack the boxes.

Senator Munson: She should talk to her deputy minister.

Senator LeBreton: She has said that she has asked the Deputy Minister to conduct an inquiry.

It is regrettable that anyone would politicize such a serious issue as H1N1. The Canadian public deserves better of us. They are looking to their leaders — no matter what their political stripe — to do everything possible to prepare the country for the potential outbreak of H1N1. Every day or every second day, I see Minister Aglukkaq and Dr. Butler-Jones on television explaining the situation in terms of the development of the vaccine, the tests that are being conducted with the vaccine, giving examples of what has happened in other parts of the world and who are the most vulnerable.

Only yesterday Minister Aglukkaq and Dr. Butler-Jones issued guidance on the H1N1 influenza vaccine, including the sequencing and the groups of people they recommend would benefit from access to the flu vaccine. Of course there is a long list. I am sure honourable senators have seen it. It was issued by Health Canada on September 16.

Dr. Butler-Jones, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, is doing a remarkable job. On this list were people with chronic medical conditions under the age of 65; pregnant women; children six months to under five years of age; people living in remote or isolated settings; health care workers involved in pandemic response; household contacts and caregivers; and so on down the line.

To quote Senator Munson’s words, to politicize such an important health issue “is just not good enough.”

Senator Munson: What is regrettable is the leader has been able to say, “I am sorry,” but the minister has not been able to say — as a government — “we are sorry.” Words matter, and words matter on reserves in this country. The minister and the Leader of the Government — if they are sorry — should go to these reserves and make the case.

Senator LeBreton: Honourable senators, in the statement I read — and as I mentioned in response to Senator Dyck’s question — the minister understands, more than you or I or anyone else in this place — other than those people who have lived in remote communities — what is at issue here. The Canadian public do not want partisan debate over who said what, when they said it, where and why. The Canadian public wants action, and that is what this government is doing on this issue.