Lorraine Michael Question Period (04.25.2013)

MS MICHAEL: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

This year’s Budget will raise another $8 million from the tobacco tax. At the same time, the government has ignored the call from key health-related organizations to make smoking cessation medicines and nicotine replacement therapies available, something which is done in every other province except one.

Mr. Speaker, I ask the Premier: Why she will not invest in smoking cessation programs to help people quit smoking?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!
MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Finance.
SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KENNEDY: Yes, thank you, Mr. Speaker.

One of the issues that we had to look at in this year’s Budget was whether or not we would raise personal income taxes. I went through last week the difficulty with that in terms of the number of people who pay the taxes in this Province. We also then, Mr. Speaker, looked at whether or not we would raise the HST. Having decided that consumption tax would affect everyone, we decided not to go there.

The tax on cigarettes, what we did is we brought it up to a level that is consistent with what is taking place in the rest of the country, Mr. Speaker. There is nothing unusual about it.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!
MR. SPEAKER: The Leader of the Third Party.

MS MICHAEL: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

No, there is nothing unusual about raising the tobacco tax, and that is not my point. What is unusual is that this government is not doing what other provinces are doing, and is using some of that tax to put in place the cessation therapies and medicines. This government has been asked by the Newfoundland and Labrador Lung Association to take $500,000 of the new $8 million and invest it in the smoking cessation products.

Now I ask the minister to be clear: Why won’t the minister consider doing this option which has been asked for and which other provinces are doing?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!
MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Finance.
SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KENNEDY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

One of the areas that we have invested most heavily in as a government is the health care system. In the year 2000, Mr. Speaker, there was a $1.2 billion investment in health care. Today, we invest $2.9 billion or, Mr. Speaker, 142 per cent increase over that period of time; 38.7 per cent of our provincial Budget goes to health care at present.

To answer the question, quite simply, we had to choose between putting money into the cancer drugs – which we did, Mr. Speaker, and you will see there are new cancer therapies that have been provided for – or putting it into smoking cessation. We chose cancer drugs, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!
MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Third Party.

MS MICHAEL: I find that hilarious, Mr. Speaker, comparing the cost of cancer drugs with smoking, which is a cause of cancer.

I ask the Premier then: Has she asked her ministers to do an analysis of how much money would be saved in future health care by spending $500,000 now to take care of getting rid of smoking?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Finance.

MR. KENNEDY: Mr. Speaker, one of the things that have to take place within our health care system and in society, in general, is the preventive aspect of health. We all have to be responsible, Mr. Speaker, for our own health.

The issue being forward by the member opposite could apply to any aspect of the health care system. What we have to do as a government is make choices. There are limited monies to go around. We have an aging population, Mr. Speaker, and the issues we face are the same as faced in the rest of this country.

Let me give you an example. In our Province, we have fifteen hospitals, twenty-two community health centres, 114 community clinics, and twenty long-term care facilities in a Province with 500,000 people. Hamilton, a city with the same population, has three hospitals.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!
MR. SPEAKER: The Leader of the Third Party.

MS MICHAEL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

We will never get through to them on the importance of preventative health measures.

Mr. Speaker, action speaks louder than words and show priorities. In the 2013 Estimates, government slashed the Mother Bay Nutrition Supplement by $100,000, a full quarter of last year’s allotment. This same Budget saw government giving $170,000 to Vale, the richest nickel mining company in the world, for two hydrometric stations for the Voisey’s Bay Project.

Mr. Speaker, I ask the Premier: How can she defend giving grants to the rich multi-national mining companies ahead of nutrition of infants in this Province?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!
MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Advanced Education and Skills.
SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS SHEA: Mr. Speaker, I would like to clarify that there has been no reduction in the amount of funds received by mothers in the Mother Baby Nutrition Supplement. Any reductions in the Budget to that program would be related to the number of people who draw down on that program. Based on the needs, the number of people who draw down on it continue to have access of that program. If the numbers decrease, the Budget decreases because of that, not because the benefits to the parents or to the mothers have been reduced.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Third Party.

MS MICHAEL: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

I hope if the numbers go up this year over and above what they are estimating that the money will be there to take care of the infants in this Province.

Mr. Speaker, last week when the Premier responded to my questions about why she is pitting the vulnerable against the ill, she made no reference to the point of my question.

I ask the Premier: If she is concerned about the high cost of cancer drugs, why did she lay off four Wellness Division consultants in the Department of Health? Government seems to be cutting off its nose to spite its face.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!
MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Finance.
MR. KENNEDY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

What took place in the Health department, Mr. Speaker, was a rigorous analysis of the delivery of services. I can assure you that no one worked harder during this Budget process than the Minister of Health and Community Services and her officials. They looked at how the department was structured. They reorganized the department and found efficiencies and effectiveness within the department.

For the member opposite to criticize the fact that we are putting money into cancer drugs, Mr. Speaker, is quite frankly, shameful.

Associated Caucus Members: 

Share this page: