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Cost of Living Relief Bill, No. 2 (Targeted Support for Households)

Third Reading--Debate

November 17, 2022

Honourable senators, please note that I am delivering this speech today on behalf of our colleague Senator Mary Jane McCallum. What follows are her words:

Honourable senators, unfortunately, I have tested positive for COVID-19 so I am unable to be in the chamber at this time. Without having the ability to participate virtually as was previously afforded to senators in this situation, it is regrettable that I cannot give these remarks myself.

I find this fact particularly perplexing, as we have seen committee witnesses exercise their privilege of appearing before committees virtually, yet this same possibility is not afforded to senators. While I do not want to spend more time than necessary on this matter, I feel it prudent to mention that I am proof that the current pandemic is still ongoing. The Senate has gone to great pains to establish the infrastructure for senators to participate virtually, should they be physically unable to attend in person. I remain disappointed that we continue to not be afforded that option.

I would like to begin with the unfair and arbitrary deadlines for having Bill C-31 come to its third reading vote in the Senate. As some of you may remember, I highlighted my concern over the climate and intent in which this bill is being passed. I have seen first-hand how critical oral health is to our overall well-being. But allowing for its swift passage will not do it justice, as it does not meaningfully address dental disease.

Countless health professionals in the dental field have long awaited such a program. Dental professionals have always been aware, however, that when the opportunity arose, we would only get one proverbial kick at this can. We have one chance to do our best to get it right. The benefit that such a program could yield is immeasurable. However, handing cheques to people who attest to their intent to seek dental services cannot reasonably be called a program.

One concern I have with this bill is with regard to an omitted dental care service provider. Within the definitions section of this bill, it explicitly names dentists, denturists and dental hygienists as being lawfully entitled to provide a suite of dental services. However, a critical group that has been left out is dental therapists, who are registered and licensed dental professionals in their own right. They are trained to perform basic clinical dental treatment, including preventive and restorative treatments, as well as general disease prevention and oral health promotion. Moreover, much of the work that they do is targeted to youth, who are explicitly the intended benefactors off Bill C-31. Neglecting to name dental therapists as dental care service providers under this bill is a serious oversight, as this means they will be unable to provide these services to specific groups of children, thereby creating a patchwork of provincial dental programs directed at these very youth.

While we explored the idea of an amendment to include dental therapists, it was deemed not feasible within the scope of the bill.

Colleagues, another concern I have with the bill is that the benefit flows directly to the applicant as opposed to the service provider. It is not infrequent that dentists end up taking a loss on many of the services they provide by not receiving direct payment and have no recourse to recovering those expenses. That is why many offices have the policy of prepayment.

When looking at lower-income families, we must not lose sight of the fact that many of them face choices that may be unimaginable to us in our collectively held positions of privilege. For many Canadians, receiving $650 is quite substantial.

Although the money may very well be claimed with the right intent and purpose, life happens. It is not unthinkable that some may be in a position where they must decide if the pot of money sitting in their account is really better served for dentistry or for food, rent or clothing. These challenging decisions are a reality for far too many in our country.

This, colleagues, is what we refer to as the social determinants of health. For too many Canadians, there will always be more pressing concerns surrounding basic necessities. It is these determinants that act as indicators of why some of our more vulnerable populations have higher morbidities and worse health outcomes than other populations across Canada. I had also considered an amendment on this matter, but it would have necessitated a thorough rewrite of the bill.

Honourable senators, another issue I would like to raise is the fundamental lack of oversight when it comes to the appropriation of such a vast amount of public monies. If you search the bill, you will note that no reporting mechanism exists in this legislation. There is no onus on the minister to report to Parliament and give parliamentarians and Canadians a sense of how the money is actually spent: if it was spent efficiently, if it was spent effectively, if there were concerning trends with invalid claims and, thus, unintentional misappropriation of taxpayer dollars.

Given the nature, spirit and intent of the program, I feel parliamentarians should be given the ability to know if the program is working as intended. And if it is not working as intended, parliamentarians deserve the right to know that, too.

As such, honourable senators, I bring forward an amendment to remedy this oversight. It is not changing the scope, substance or action of the bill; merely, it is adding a reporting requirement on the minister so that we, as parliamentarians, can be assured that the legislation we pass — which, again, appropriates a considerable amount of taxpayer dollars — is delivering on what it is intended to.

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