Bill C-210 – 2nd Reading, 1st Hour

PARLIAMENTARY SPEECH

Bill C-210 – Organ & Tissue Donation – 2nd Reading

October 26, 2020

Mr. Len Webber (Calgary Confederation, CPC): Mr. Speaker, it is an absolute honour to finally rise again in the House and speak on my private member’s bill, Bill C-210.

I first introduced this bill exactly four years ago almost to the day back in October 2016. Back then, it was Bill C-316, which passed unanimously at every stage of the process. Unfortunately, in spite of the widespread support for the bill, it died in the Senate when the 2019 election was called. It was incredibly disappointing, of course. A lot of people worked on this bill with me; stakeholders and friends back home. It was incredibly disappointing, but what can one do? It is just the way it is, the way the cookie crumbles, as my daughter would say, and one just has to move forward.

Fast-forward to December of last year to the Private Members’ Business, or PMB, lottery date. I clearly remember watching the draw. The Deputy Speaker, the hon. member for Simcoe North, walked into the room with his robes on, and it was really quite formal. He sat in the chair, and there was this big cookie jar with all of our names inside. The Deputy Speaker stood up, picked out a name and, sure enough, it was mine. I was just elated. It was fantastic. Coming from Calgary, I yelled out a “yahoo” Calgary Stampede style. It was a good feeling, and clearly a divine intervention. I knew then that I had to reintroduce this bill, and so Bill C-316 has now been resurrected as Bill C-210. Here we are today in second reading, and we have this rare opportunity to re-pass this legislation to hopefully and certainly save some lives.

For those who may not already know, I have been a long-time advocate of organ and tissue donation here in Canada. In fact, several years ago, I passed a bill in the Alberta legislature as an MLA, which resulted in the creation of the Alberta Organ and Tissue Donation Registry. The bill also put in place some strong and robust education and awareness programs that have included adding donor hearts to our Alberta driver’s licences.

The reality is that 4,600 Canadians are still awaiting a life-saving transplant, and we need to do more to find those critical matches to save lives. This is an issue that transcends political lines and offers us, as parliamentarians, the opportunity to make a difference in every corner of this country.

It is disappointing that while over 90% of Canadians say that they support organ donation, only 20% have actually registered on their provincial or territorial registries. Every year, this country sees hundreds of people dying waiting for a donor and, sadly, Canada has one of the lowest donation rates in the world. A single donor can save the lives of up to eight people, and a single tissue donor can help up to about 75 individuals.

My Bill C-210 proposes a very simple and effective method to increase the size of the organ donor base here in Canada. It would also help update existing databases but, most importantly, it would save lives. I am proposing that we use the annual income tax form to ask Canadians if they would like to register as organ donors, and if they consent, to have this information passed to their provincial government for addition to its existing organ donor registries, and that is it. This is a very simple bill which would add the very simple question to our income tax forms. The federal government would simply collect the data and pass it on to the provinces.

We would not be encroaching on provincial jurisdiction because we are not setting up a federal registry. That was already tried once in this House, back in 2015, by the hon. member for Edmonton Manning in his PMB. He wanted to create a national organ and tissue donation registry, but it failed in this House, due to the fact that the government cited jurisdictional encroachment, so that bill did not pass.

What this bill would provide is the information to the provinces. The provinces would use that information as it sees fit. The provinces would still maintain their own lists. We would just be supplying them with that data.

The tax form, by law, is restricted to collect data for the purposes of taxation only. That is why it is required to administer legislation to allow for this common sense approach to a national problem. I modelled my bill on its successful inclusion on the income tax form of the question which asks Canadians if they want Elections Canada to be kept informed of their current information. That question is on the first page of the form, the Elections Canada question. My bill has been crafted in keeping with that successful precedent.

This proposal is so simple and could be implemented so quickly. The federal government, via the Canada Revenue Agency, already successfully shares data every day with all the provinces and territories via encrypted networks with strong and reliable privacy safeguards. In addition, the existing infrastructure at the CRA would support this change at virtually no cost. The CRA already shares dozens of data fields of information on every taxpayer with the provinces and territories and this would simply be one more data exchange. The income tax form is a way to update this information annually, via a legally-binding document. Thus, it would allow for provincial lists to remain current year after year after year.

Before I go any further, I would like to thank the 20 members of Parliament from all parties in this House, who have come forward to officially second my bill. That is a rare occurrence, indeed, and it has happened twice. It happened in my last bill as well that was not successful.

This extraordinary non-partisan approach demonstrates how a sensible idea can bring us together as a House to improve the lives of Canadians. This collaborative approach also extended to a health committee. I served on that committee in the last Parliament, along with nine other of my colleagues, one of whom is looking over here right now and giving me a big smile. They have been extremely supportive of improving the organ and tissue donation situation here in Canada.

The health committee conducted a study and tabled a report on organ donation with several recommendations. The committee specifically wanted to know what role the federal government could play in strengthening Canada’s organ donation and transplantation procurement system. One of the key recommendations in that report deals directly with a debate that we are having here right now. If this bill is passed, it will fulfill that key recommendation.

I also want to thank the government for taking the rare and possibly unprecedented step of allocating funding for this initiative before it has even passed in this House. That is a fact. We have the will, we have the funding, and now all we need is our re-approval here in this House.

This is not a political issue. It is a human issue. Any one of us could be in need of donor organs or tissues at any time. Just asking the simple question could increase the number of donors. Donor registration, in fact, jumped up 15% in British Columbia when drivers were asked directly at licencing locations across their province if they wanted to be donors. They are also doing it in Alberta from a bill that was passed there as an MLA when I was there. Imagine what we could do on a national scale with the income tax form.

As I mentioned, the Canada Revenue Agency has already been allocated the funding for this purpose, but needs the law changed so it can proceed. While some methods used by provinces and territories, such as drivers’ licences and health care cards, help register donors, none has as far a reach as the income tax form. The existing voluntary online method of registering is neither proactive nor fully effective. For example, those who move from one province to another, rarely update their information. The income tax form approach overcomes these common problems.

Stakeholders have been universally supportive of the bill and the thousands of expectant families with loved ones on waiting lists will welcome this additional help. One stakeholder, the Ontario Trillium Gift of Life Network, is the largest registry in Canada and its CEO, Ms. Ronnie Gavsie, said:

…we would support creating an opportunity for Canadians, when filing their income tax returns, to register their consent for organ and tissue donation…. The online income tax return becomes a gateway and an annual reminder to drive Canadians to organ and tissue donor registration.
We share with you the goal of substantially improving awareness of organ and tissue donation and improving health for Canadians by increasing the number of lifesaving transplants.

I thank Ms. Gavsie for sending that.

Also, the federal agency responsible for organ donation is Canadian Blood Services and its vice-president, Dr. Isra Levy, said, “Just like our colleagues, we support a transactional touchpoint that will raise awareness, especially if it leads to the conversation…. But for sure this is to be welcomed.”

Elizabeth Myles of the Kidney Foundation of Canada wrote to the Prime Minister expressing the foundation’s support for this change. Dr. Amit Garg of the Canadian Society of Nephrology, a society of physicians and scientists specializing in the care of kidney disease, and Dr. Lori West of the Canadian National Transplant Research Program in Edmonton have also expressed their strong support for the bill. The list goes on. Support for this legislation reaches far and wide across the country and into every community.

In conclusion, we have the opportunity to leverage the resources of the federal government to help our provincial and territorial partners improve their registries. I hope we seize the opportunity and run with it. I and, most importantly, the 4,600 Canadians awaiting life-saving transplants hope we can count on all MPs for their support. We have shown leadership in the past by passing this bill unanimously at all stages, so I call on the members of this House to do the same. This bill got a rare second chance and I hope we can pass it so that people in dire need of the gift of life can get a second chance as well.

Learn more about how you can support Bill C-210