Information from the Canadian government:
The National Lyme Disease Act unanimously passed in the Senate on December 12th, 2014.
“This victory belongs to all Canadians coping with Lyme disease and their loved ones. This bill never would have been passed into law without their advocacy and willingness to tell their stories. ” Elizabeth May
I hope this will protect others from spending years of their lives like I have. Long overdue. It is a good day for Lyme patients in Canada.
See Parliamentary transcript below.
LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY OF ONTARIO
ASSEMBLÉE LÉGISLATIVE DE L’ONTARIO
Thursday 27 November 2014 Jeudi 27 novembre 2014
Private Members’ Public Business
Mr. Michael Mantha: I move that, in the opinion of this House, the Minister of Health and Long-Term Care should develop a comprehensive and integrated Lyme disease strategy for Ontario that is consistent and integrated with the Action Plan on Lyme Disease being developed by the Public Health Agency of Canada;
That the strategy must enhance public awareness of Lyme disease in Ontario and ensure that all scientifically verified tests and treatment for acute and chronic Lyme diagnoses are available to patients and health care practitioners in Ontario;
That in developing this strategy, the minister should recognize the impact that Lyme disease has on individuals and families across Ontario and focus on addressing access to care issues faced by people at every stage of the disease;
—Consider the availability of current laboratory tests and protocols to support clinical diagnoses, and specifically the efficacy of currently available diagnostic mechanisms in Ontario compared to other jurisdictions;
—Evaluate the publicly funded services and treatments available to Ontarians, with a view to improving the availability and accessibility of effective services and treatments within the province to provide optimal patient outcomes;
That in developing this strategy, the minister should engage and consult with representatives of the health care community and patients’ groups, including the Ontario Medical Association, the Ontario College of Family Physicians, the Association of Local Public Health Agencies, the Ontario Lyme Alliance, the Canadian Lyme Disease Foundation, international scientific advisers and medical experts in the field of tick-borne diseases having diverse perspectives, workers’ organizations and veterinary associations, amongst others, and accept written submissions from Ontarians; and
Mr. Michael Mantha: I rise today to introduce a motion titled “Motion on Ontario Lyme disease strategy.” I choose to put my private member’s spot to speak on this topic and introduce this motion due to the overwhelming number of people who have come forward to express their concern on Lyme disease.
People in the riding of Algoma–Manitoulin and across this province are alarmed at the increasing infection rates of Lyme disease, people like Ona and Oliver Maki from Elliot Lake; a beautiful young girl, Kari, whose father I was introduced to, Denis Villebrun from Elliot Lake; Cherie Prieur and her wonderful son Nolan, who I was introduced to through her mother, Rachel Paterson; and my wonderful extended family that has joined me here today in the battle, in the strategy, with Lyme. Welcome to Queen’s Park. I look forward to our many, many, discussions that we’re going to have on this.
Lyme disease is a serious bacterial infection acquired by tick bite. Ticks are closely related to the spider family, and many of you may know them more commonly as deer ticks. Ticks carry bacteria which is a type of spirochete, and they feed on the blood by attaching themselves to birds, animals and humans. So when a tick bites one of us, we end up infected with Lyme disease.
Currently, there are eight known endemic areas in the province, and the risk of infection is increasing at an estimated rate of 33 to 55 kilometres per year. This is directly related to climate change. In Ontario, the highest-risk zones are along the shores of Lake Erie, Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River. The Kingston and eastern Ontario public health units have declared their regions as high-risk. However, just yesterday in Toronto, Durham and York health units issued an advisory about Lyme disease. Public health units in the municipalities have recently found evidence that black-legged ticks are in the Rouge Valley and that some of these ticks tested positive for the bacteria that causes Lyme disease.
Almost anywhere, infected ticks arrive in Ontario on birds and can be dispersed along their migratory routes. The Public Health Agency of Canada has forecast that by the end of 2020, 80% of people in eastern Canada, including Ontario, will be living in areas endemic for ticks that transmit Lyme disease.
So many of you are here thinking that you are all not at risk of infection. Do you own a dog? Do you have a cat? Do you enjoy walking? Do you enjoy golfing? Well, you are at risk. People who spend time outdoors, working, hiking, camping, playing sports and hunting, are all at risk. We all need to be aware of the dangers and how serious Lyme disease can be if undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. Lack of public awareness puts us all at risk of contracting Lyme. Outdated and incomplete information continues to circulate and dominate the discourse of Lyme. Ontario continues to rely on testing methods that Health Canada says are unreliable. If left undiagnosed and therefore untreated, Lyme can mimic other diseases, such as ALS, MS, lupus, just to name a few, and a lot more.
For all of the abovementioned reasons, it is imperative that we work together to come up with a comprehensive plan to address these shortcomings and create a strategy that prevents the spread of Lyme disease and properly diagnoses the threats to those infected.
For these reasons, I am introducing this motion for an Ontario Lyme disease strategy. As I mentioned previously, this motion will enhance public awareness of Lyme in Ontario and ensure that all scientifically verified tests and treatment for acute and chronic Lyme diagnosis are available to patients and health practitioners in Ontario.
We have heard from physicians that many are unable to diagnose and treat Lyme because of the inadequate testing available here in Ontario. There is no blood test or other laboratory test available that will reliably detect a current Lyme infection. The technology exists. Other countries and states are using it currently. Many Ontarians are travelling abroad to get these tests done. We need to ensure that people living in this province have access to the best testing and treatment out there. We need to do this immediately, so that more people do not become infected, are misdiagnosed and suffer as a result of not having the latest testing methods available to them.
Some doctors have gone as far as recommending that their patients go to the United States for a correct diagnosis and treatment plan. As you can imagine, this is a huge financial burden for many families. For others, it’s not a financial possibility or even logistically possible for them to accomplish.
The motion I have just introduced includes directions to improve the availability and accessibility of effective services and treatments in the province to provide optimal patient outcome. As I mentioned earlier, one of the largest barriers we face are the misconceptions surrounding Lyme, and we need to improve public education.
Lyme disease is not confined to one small area. It’s across this province and across our country. As an endemic area widens, we need to ensure that individuals and health care providers have the most current information available to them. We also need a comprehensive public awareness plan so that whether you are a child at school, hiking outdoors, walking your dog or on the ninth hole, you are educated about ticks and Lyme disease. We need to be working together with health care providers, the public education system, parks, provincial parks and outdoor sporting and leisure spaces to ensure that all Ontarians are properly informed about Lyme.
I have had the pleasure of meeting with individuals from the Ontario Lyme Alliance, Canadian Lyme Disease Foundation, the Ontario medical professional association, the Ontario College of Family Physicians and the Association of Local Public Health Agencies. We need to work with all the above to collect concrete data to better shape our ability to combat this debilitating disease. Many people have loved ones suffering from Lyme, and many have lost loved ones. One of the scariest things about an illness is not knowing what’s wrong.
I want to recognize Rossana Magnotta, who has joined us here today. Rossana has founded a charitable organization, the G. Magnotta Foundation for Vector-Borne Diseases. The G. Magnotta Foundation has been working closely with the Canadian Lyme Disease Foundation and executives of the Humber River Hospital to establish an extensive human tissue research program using today’s most current DNA sequencing technology. Rossana is also part of an ongoing discussion with senior executives of the Public Health Agency of Canada in regard to better diagnostics and education on Lyme disease issues in Canada. There are many individuals like Rossana who have dedicated countless hours to advance the discussion, to research and to determine the way forward in how we deal with Lyme disease. People like Rossana need to be consulted and included in the government’s next step.
We have had several guests join us today who have been personally impacted or are suffering from Lyme. Some of them have shared their stories me. I would like to tell you about Sarah Herr. Unfortunately, Sarah couldn’t join us today, but her father, Larry, is here with us. In September 2007, at the age of 18, after having been a healthy person all her life, she suddenly became very sick with severe flu-like symptoms and a variety of other unexplained symptoms. Her ongoing illness forced her to withdraw from first-year university, losing her scholarship in the process. During the next three years, she experienced 22 periods of severe undiagnosed illness. During those three years, she experienced numerous very invasive medical procedures which would have cost OHIP many thousands of dollars. Despite seeing several medical specialists in Barrie and Toronto, no doctor was able to come up with a diagnosis.
The ELISA screening test for Lyme was requisitioned—in fact, twice—but results were negative both times. The follow-up Western Blot test was requisitioned, but the test was never administered. According to available testing, she did not have Lyme. Doctors told her they didn’t know what was causing her illness, but they did tell her that it definitely was not Lyme disease.
By 2010, her family began to suspect that she had Lyme disease, although doctor after doctor told her that she did not—since the disease is so rare in Canada that Lyme was not even a possibility. Sarah decided to send a sample of her blood to IGeneX, a tick-specialty lab in California. Bingo. The result came back as a positive test for Lyme. Sarah had her diagnosis.
She searched for and finally found a doctor in North York who was willing to treat her. After several treatments, this doctor suddenly announced, without explanation, that he could no longer treat her and that she would have to look elsewhere for her treatment. She soon discovered that there were no doctors anywhere in Canada who were willing to treat her illness. Even worse, she learned that some Canadian doctors who were successfully treating their Lyme patients were being harassed and disciplined by the College of Physicians and Surgeons. Some had even lost their licence to practise medicine because they were treating Lyme patients.
She learned that doctors in some American states were following different Lyme protocols and were having success treating their patients. Although treatment in the States was an expensive option, her family supported her and convinced her to proceed despite the cost.
By the time her American Lyme doctor treated Sarah, she had been sick for more than three years. The doctor told her that it could be several years before her health was even partially restored. The disease was so firmly established in her body that she would probably never eradicate it. Her illness had become chronic. It was treatable, but not curable.
As you can imagine, Sarah and many others like her share similar stories of having their lives turned upside down and of serious and chronic suffering. It is clear by meeting with the health care professional organizations working online and the many people whose lives have been impacted that there is a need for an accurate testing, diagnosis and treatment protocol for Lyme in Ontario. A failure to do so would result in a clear dismissal of the thousands of lives that are impacted by Lyme.
Ms. Soo Wong: I’m pleased to rise this afternoon to speak in support of the motion presented by the member from Algoma–Manitoulin. I want to first commend him for his commitment to this particular illness, because at the end of the day that’s why the people of our ridings bring us to this chamber: to make sure that we are championing various causes and issues.
Our government is committed to protecting Ontarians from Lyme disease. Our Lyme disease strategy includes public education, human and tick surveillance, and tick control. I know the member opposite just said earlier that there was a report identifying some positive ticks in the Rouge Valley in the eastern part of the city of Toronto, and I certainly know that this is a concern in our community.
Public education is the first piece in raising awareness of this particular disease, helping Ontarians to avoid the disease and focusing on prevention, early treatment, early diagnosis etc. I know that our government is committed to the public awareness campaign launched in 2010 to educate the public on how to recognize ticks, tick bites and symptoms of Lyme disease, and ways to protect themselves.
I wanted to share that with everybody in the House, as well as those who are watching today. As a former member of the Toronto Board of Health, I can speak with some kind of expertise on this. On the Toronto Board of Health website—they have a huge website there—under Lyme disease, there are eight folders: clinical signs and symptoms, transmission, surveillance, diagnosis and testing prevention, tick removal and submission, prophylaxis and treatment, and references. That’s just the city of Toronto’s website about Lyme disease.
Also, in preparation for today’s discussion on this particular motion—we know that this is not just an Ontario strategy we’re talking about. We need to be looking at a national strategy, so I know my colleague has probably done his homework as well. Public Health Ontario also has a very expansive website about Lyme disease. It talks about the whole issue of vector-borne disease, the 2012 summary, the definition of Lyme disease and the whole issue of different vector-borne diseases. I want to make sure that the audience here in the House and those who are watching today are aware that both provincially and locally in the city of Toronto there is some public education campaign. Obviously, there’s more that needs to be done.
The public education campaign cannot be exclusively focused on the health sector. We just heard earlier from the member from Algoma–Manitoulin that outdoor education—I come from the school board sector. Many of our kids, every day, are going out for outdoor experiential learning. We’ve got to make sure that this particular motion brings in other ministries: the Ministry of Education; of course, the Ministry of Health; looking at the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities—we have post-secondary students outside doing experiential learning out in the community; and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. We don’t want to see this particular disease as just health-centric. That’s one thing I want to mention to the member opposite.
I know that our government has been working very closely with Public Health Ontario in terms of diagnostic guidelines and providing scientific advice and continuing medical education. I think the member opposite did mention the professional responsibility with respect to this particular disease, Lyme disease, as well as making sure, navigating through Public Health Ontario, to undertake the laboratory testing and do the early diagnosis so a treatment can be provided.
We are also working with Public Health Ontario and Lyme advocates, the community—and I think the member opposite earlier recognized some of the members who are here today from the Lyme community—to ensure the public and health care providers have the resources to have up-to-date information in terms of testing, treatments and diagnosis.
The other piece I want to share with the member opposite and the members of this House is the fact that, with regard to Lyme disease here, it’s not like the tick can just stay in a stationary piece. In the Public Health Agency of Canada, they too have a very large, comprehensive website. In their website it talks about what the causes of Lyme disease are, the risk of getting Lyme disease, how we prevent Lyme disease, and the health professional piece—and I would say not just the health professional piece; I would say the whole issue of how to bring awareness of Lyme disease across the professional sectors. As I said earlier, it’s not just about health sectors, but also educators—the symptoms, the treatments, the surveillance and the reporting. Oftentimes people may have something like a symptom but they don’t report it. How do you get the treatment if you don’t report it?
The other piece is that we have a very diverse community. I know that in my riding of Scarborough–Agincourt, for over 50% of my constituents English is a second language. How do we ensure that Lyme disease gets communicated across Ontario with a very large, diverse community?
At the end of the day, I welcome the conversation with the member from Algoma–Manitoulin about this particular disease, but more importantly, we need a comprehensive strategy working with all three levels of government, a multi-ministry strategy. I believe that there are merits to having this conversation because we know that one person having a diagnosis of Lyme disease is one too many, and if we can prevent and educate and, most importantly, have early treatment of this disease, we may reduce deaths, which is the worst tragedy of this piece.
Mr. Toby Barrett: During my years in the Ontario Legislature, there haven’t been many times that members from all sides of this House have come together to support a private member’s bill, and I do know that we in the official opposition will be supporting this legislation from Michael Mantha, the member for Algoma–Manitoulin.
The second reading of my private member’s bill also, as many would know, was debated last Thursday. It covered not only Lyme but a number of other emerging infectious diseases. It also received all-party support.
I think that’s important for this legislation and the legislation we debated last Thursday. There is no legislation, at present, directing the ministry to have a comprehensive plan or a program dealing with diseases such as this, so these proposed laws would set in place a decision-making structure and policies to better enable the province of Ontario to better serve its citizens.
Today’s motion, as we know, calls on the Minister of Health and Long-Term Care to develop a comprehensive, integrated Lyme disease strategy for the province that is consistent and integrated with the action plan on Lyme disease being developed by the Public Health Agency of Canada.
Over a number of months, I developed legislation to deal with the diseases that I discussed. If passed at second reading, it develops a provincial framework and an action plan that establishes a provincial surveillance program as well as educational materials and guidelines regarding prevention, identification, treatment and management of vector-borne and zoonotic diseases. The bill promotes research and requires collaboration among all concerned, particularly the public.
I should mention that vector-borne and zoonotic diseases are infectious diseases. Transmission involves animal hosts. In some cases, it involves vectors—in this case, the tick, and for West Nile, for example, mosquitoes.
We’re competing for scarce resources. Much of the talk today is about Ebola, of course. It’s important that the frameworks developed are based on objective science, to better enable government to set priorities to allocate those scarce resources. A surveillance program must be designed to properly track incidence rates and also associated economic costs.
There’s obviously much work to be done on the diagnosis and treatment and the management side of things with respect to Lyme. There are so many conflicting medical and scientific viewpoints. There’s the political dimension and the social dimension. Social media has been accused of communicating inaccurate medical information and pitches for treatment that is dubious at best and expensive. There are also allegations, as we hear, of shortcomings in the diagnosis and treatment of Lyme directed at mainstream medicine.
There is much work to be done as far as emergency preparedness, and much work to be done for this government to work with the province of Ontario. Most importantly, the discussion must continue, but research must continue as well.
We’re seeing a rising number of ticks here in Ontario, ticks which are carrying Lyme disease. In 2009, there were only 10 areas confirmed to have infection. Today there are 22 known areas. Since national reporting began in 2009, Ontario has had more than half of the country’s reported cases.
According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, when someone is bit by a tick and believes they have Lyme disease, the agency states they should, “See your health care provider right away if you develop symptoms of Lyme disease in the weeks after a tick bite.”
But what happens when the doctor won’t diagnose Lyme disease or when the Canadian test comes back negative? This is a huge issue. You see, this is a major problem. The symptoms of Lyme disease can look like a lot of other diseases. People are being misdiagnosed. In my office, I have spoken with people who were treated for MS, fever, brain tissue damage, all of which were misdiagnosed Lyme disease.
Those who contract Lyme disease get sick; they stay sick. They have constant fever. Processing thoughts becomes hard. They feel tired all of the time. In a number of cases, they come down with depression. Functioning in their day-to-day lives becomes almost impossible. They start to lose weight. Their overall health dramatically declines.
Look at the case of Amanda Wilson from Fort Erie in my riding. I know I mentioned this recently, but it’s worth mentioning again. She works for the border security services. A few weeks back, I went to a fundraiser for her. I mentioned it then, and I’ll mention it again: I was blown away by the purpose of this fundraiser.
Amanda had contracted Lyme disease. She lives in Fort Erie, yet every week she drives to New York state and pays out of pocket for her treatment. She can literally see her home across the river, yet she has to pay an American doctor for treatment.
I’m happy to say that the fundraiser was packed. Her friends from border security all came out and the community rallied around her and donated to their fellow co-worker to help her fight the disease.
Fort Erie is a great community, a community that takes care of its own, but they shouldn’t have to. Amanda is a talented and smart young woman who should have the support of this province, and so should everyone else who contracts Lyme disease in Ontario.
Mr. Speaker, I’d like to say here that the health minister did approach me on this case, and I thanked him very much for that. Amanda was thrilled to know that someone was finally—finally—interested in what is happening to her. For a long time, people had been ignoring Amanda or unable to help.
The only problem is that this doesn’t affect only Amanda. I’d like the rest of my colleagues to listen to this. Just today I spoke with another constituent who has a bill right now totalling $50,000 for treatment he has received in Florida. He pays $3,000 a week in medical bills, plus what it costs to live down there. He has to leave his family, his friends and his job just to try to get treatment so he can function in his daily life. He told my office that the last year of his life has been wasted trying to find a diagnosis for this disease. Think about that. He couldn’t get one here in Canada and Ontario. Now he flies to Florida to receive treatment for Lyme disease.
Mr. Speaker, what’s even more troubling is that when we contacted him, he already knew—when I talked to him today, he already knew—of three other people in the city of Niagara Falls who have Lyme disease and are getting treatment in New York state.
These are people who are being bankrupted by these treatments. Just think about the pain they must go through if they are willing to spend their entire life’s savings to go into debt just to get treatment. I thought we came to the conclusion a long time ago that no one in the province of Ontario should have to choose between good health and poverty.
These are employed people, too—people with good jobs. Imagine what it would be like to be on social assistance or to be unemployed with Lyme disease. You would never be able to go and get treatment. I have no doubt in my mind that if the people I’ve spoken with so far are coming to my office, there are people living below the poverty line with the disease who can’t afford to get treatment.
When you have the symptoms of Lyme disease, you can expect to spend weeks, if not months, in and out of the hospital, trying to figure out what is wrong with you. Our medical testing is falling behind. It’s frustrating already sick people. The only reason people keep coming back to the doctor instead of giving up is because of how hard it is to live with the disease. These are people living in Ontario who need medical help.
Hon. Glen R. Murray: I want to commend the member for Algoma–Manitoulin for this. I think it’s a really thoughtful and important bill. I enthusiastically support it and commend him for his leadership and his work.
There are really no other times to do this, but I also really enjoy working with him. I think we’ve both worked very hard on a number of issues, particularly in his constituency. He has always brought a great deal of professionalism to this House, so I’m particularly pleased to be able to support another initiative of his, and I hope that spirit becomes more infectious.
While we’re very supportive of this, the government of Ontario sees the issue of Lyme disease as much as a strategy that is needed as being part of our climate change strategy. The member from Niagara Falls described very accurately, I think, the plight of a person who makes repeated visits to a hospital just to get a diagnosis, because the geography which these ticks occupy now is huge. Ten years ago, when I moved back to Ontario, this was a southern Ontario disease, limited to peripheral areas of the province. We are now at a point where you will find these ticks have migrated up into the constituency of the member from Algoma–Manitoulin, up to Thunder Bay. Over the next few decades, the mean temperature in Ontario will warm faster than in most other parts of the world. It will be about a five-degree Celsius mean temperature change.
Compared to the continental United States and the south, the more south you are, it’s two degrees Celsius, but as you know from looking at California—Mr. Speaker, our food prices are going to go up in all of our constituencies by 20% because of the three years of severe drought—20%. Severe drought in Brazil led to, today, Tim Hortons increasing its coffee prices by 10 cents a cup.
So when I hear people, especially in the official opposition, who would like to chide the government that there should be no market mechanism to correct this market failure, and that everything we do is a carbon tax, I want them to think about the person who is trying to get help in Niagara Falls. Four out of five times, the reason that person got Lyme disease—they would likely have never gotten it, because that tick and the vector for this disease would not have existed in their community if the climate wasn’t changed.
This is only one of a number of very terrible diseases that are going to be visited upon our citizens as a result of this rapidly warming climate, and it doesn’t mean balmy days. We will have more severe winters that are ridiculously cold. We will see a lot more experiences as we saw in Buffalo, where 12 people have now died because we had a severe snowstorm, followed by flooding 24 hours later; or in Burlington, where people are having trouble getting insurance because the modern stormwater sewage system is under capacity.
But it’s probably in the area of health care that the costs and the difficulties and the impacts on people’s lives are going to be most severe. We know SARS, we know AIDS; we know where epidemics can come out of the blue.
We’re now into a rich, changing, warming climate where viruses and bacteria borne on different species and insects are going to become more pervasive. The cost of Lyme disease over the coming decades is going to be in the billions of dollars. It is estimated that with 28,000 cases in the United States last year alone, up 25% from the year before—you’re now seeing a very serious, debilitating illness that is increasing right now at 25% per year. That will probably accelerate: 30% per year, 40% per year. We will probably soon see rates that are five times what today’s infection rates are, simply because, the way the ecosystems are working with these changing climates, when you have ticks which have thermal capacity, in other words, thermal sensors, they move—because they don’t think—they just move and migrate to these different climates.
How did we pay for this, Mr. Speaker? How are we going to pay for this? An aging population: How are we going to pay for this? We have exploding autism because of all kinds of reasons we don’t understand. We have type 2 diabetes. We have onset dementia. How do we take care of our citizens when we’re also going to be dealing with more ice storms and more flash floods? We have to have a more serious conversation about the costs of climate change on our infrastructure, on our lives, and we are not having a serious conversation.
I have little patience for members of the Flat Earth Society, some of whom are in this House, who think that climate change isn’t happening and we should still be debating the science. I have about as little tolerance for those who don’t understand that the cost of everything we do just to keep our citizens healthy is going to cost us billions of dollars a year—to have a transit system, to keep roads in good repair. We are going to have to retrofit about 90% of our buildings that are already built to actually get down to the insulation levels to reduce our GHGs to avoid this continuing disaster.
But this is a bright light today. I thank the member for Algoma–Manitoulin. I hope, in return, the NDP will support building a health strategy into our climate change strategy for these kinds of diseases because I think we’re going to need to work together on this. This should not be a partisan issue.
Mr. Steve Clark: It’s a pleasure to speak in support of the motion from the member for Algoma–Manitoulin. In my riding, the areas along the St. Lawrence are a real hotbed for Lyme disease, so this is a very important—and also personal—debate for myself and members in my riding.
I’ve been talking about the need for the government to get serious about Lyme disease since I first rose in the Legislature on November 23, 2011, with a petition. In the three years since, I and many of my colleagues have tabled numerous petitions representing our constituents right across the province. The call for a comprehensive Lyme disease strategy isn’t new for us. But what’s frustrating for members and their constituents whose lives have been devastated by the disease is that those calls have fallen on deaf ears. The current and former Ministers of Health and Long-Term Care basically gave me a pat on the head with their petition responses and told me that everything was okay.
If they had listened to the constituents who have written to them, they’d realize everything isn’t okay. The reality when it comes to Lyme is that things are getting worse, not better; and Ontario must start treating it like a serious disease by developing the comprehensive approach that the member is talking about in this motion: for testing, diagnosing, treating and preventing Lyme disease. I applaud him for putting this motion on the floor today.
In Minster Hoskins’s response to the petition I tabled on July 7, he notes that the number of Lyme disease cases in Ontario is fairly stable. The reason for this is evident if he actually read the petition. The testing protocol in Ontario doesn’t work. The result is that people who have the disease—because we lack the adequate test—don’t show up in the statistics. What’s worse, they can’t get the treatment.
In a member’s statement I made earlier this year, I spoke about one of my constituents, Karen Brown, whose horrible experience having been bitten by a tick near her Mallorytown home in 2013 really sums up, to me, everything that is wrong with our present system. She had two tests for the disease and they both came back negative, because OHIP won’t cover the most accurate test. So instead of starting treatment, Karen was told to go get another test. Meanwhile, Lyme disease takes a stronger hold on her body and her prospects for recovery, if she ever starts treatment, lessen. It’s a vicious circle that too many Ontarians watching the debate today can relate to.
Look, I don’t want to stand here today and slam the government. I want to make sure that the Minister of Health and Long-Term Care Actually admits that there is a problem, and to do something about it. It’s not always an admission of failure to say our system can do better, but it becomes one when you ignore the reality all around you and allow the disease to continue to ruin people’s lives. It should be unacceptable to our Minister of Health, who is a doctor, to see Ontario falling behind other provinces and the federal government on Lyme. We can do better, and it’s past time that we did.
Mr. Percy Hatfield: It’s always an honour and a privilege to rise in the House to speak on behalf of the residents of my riding of Windsor–Tecumseh and to add my comments to the debate of the day. Today I’m especially honoured to rise and speak about my support for the motion brought forward by the hard-working member from Algoma–Manitoulin.
In my short time in the House—well, it’s been more than a year now, so I guess I shouldn’t call it a short time, but I’ve been so impressed in the time that I’ve been here by the member from Algoma–Manitoulin. He always brings his A game to the floor of this House. He always speaks from the heart, with great passion, about the men and the women in Algoma–Manitoulin, the great people who live there. He speaks to the issues that concern his residents; indeed, that’s what they want us to do when they send us here: to be their voice and to raise their concerns.
This issue is of great concern to the people who call Algoma–Manitoulin their home. As we’ve heard earlier today, Lyme disease is not an issue just to the northern part of the province, but it’s a problem for those of us who live in southern and southwestern Ontario, as well—as well as the eastern regions of the province, as we just heard.
Mr. Mantha, the member from Algoma–Manitoulin, brings forward a very timely motion, one that calls on the government to develop a strategy on Lyme disease. This isn’t just any type of strategy, but rather one that would be comprehensive, integrated and aligned with the Action Plan on Lyme Disease being developed by the federal Public Health Agency of Canada.
I know the spotlight on Lyme disease has garnered greater intensity over the past number of years, and I know this, Speaker, as do you, because of Point Pelee National Park. It’s just a 45-minute drive from my riding of Windsor–Tecumseh. It’s in your riding, as you well know, just outside of Leamington, and it has a tip of land that runs out into Lake Erie. That tip of sand is recognized as the most southern tip of land mass in Canada. That’s not to downgrade the folks who live on Pelee Island, or further south out on Lake Erie, but Point Pelee National Park is as far as you can drive in Canada without taking a ferry, boat or canoe and still be within Canada.
The point of this geography lesson, Speaker, is to inform you that the park is now listed as one of the eight endemic areas in Ontario by the federal Public Health Agency of Canada. That’s right; we know about Lyme disease in our part of the province. It’s an issue that affects us all, no matter where we live in Ontario.
It’s a known fact that the black-legged tick has become established at Point Pelee National Park. Obviously this is a cause for concern, not only for the visitors who visit this treasured national park—the smallest national park—but for the residents of our entire region. Point Pelee National Park has always been one of the most popular with visitors, partly because monarch butterflies cover the park from late August to early October—visitors come in droves to see that—and birdwatchers flock to the park in great numbers during the first three weeks of May for the Festival of Birds.
When I first moved to southwestern Ontario, way back in 1974, I moved to Leamington from Pembroke, right in the heart of the riding now held by Mr. Yakabuski, the member from Renfrew–Nipissing–Pembroke. I’ve reminded that member many times that I used to interview his father when I was a reporter up in Pembroke and his father was the Conservative member from that area. But I left CHOV television in Pembroke and was lured away to be news director of CHYR Radio in the tomato capital of Canada, Leamington—obviously before I moved into Windsor and became the member from Windsor–Tecumseh. But I digress, Speaker; I know.
Anyway, this is why all parties need to get ahead of the game here. We all should be supporting this motion. According to the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit, there have been four cases of Lyme disease reported in my area of Windsor and Essex county since 2010. In 2013, two ticks were tested and found to be carriers out of the 96 that were submitted by the public and local physicians.
Look, we need to take action. We need to take action now. We need to ensure that all scientifically verified tests and treatments are available to patients and their health care practitioners. We need to recognize the impact that Lyme disease has on individuals and families across this province, and we need to focus on addressing access-to-care issues faced by people at every stage of this disease.
I came across some interesting facts that I thought I should share. Lyme disease was actually named after the town of Old Lyme, Connecticut, where a cluster of people were diagnosed with the disease around 1975. By 1977, the first 51 cases of Lyme arthritis were described. In 1982, the bacterium that causes Lyme disease was discovered. In 1987, Lyme disease became a reportable disease and all physicians were required to report it. By 1988, the news of Lyme disease spread to national media attention.
Mr. Speaker, I’m almost out of time. Let me just say that I heard the petitions on Lyme disease and the motion that’s being brought forward by the member of Algoma–Manitoulin. I have one on my website. Anyone can download it. I have petitions in my constituency office in Windsor–Tecumseh. I invite anyone to come in who wants to take part in the campaign launched today by the member from Algoma–Manitoulin.
We’ve spoken about this issue for some time, and I am so pleased that, together, the member from Algoma–Manitoulin and the member from Haldimand–Norfolk have shone a very, very important light on this disease that affects so many.
I represent the riding of Huron–Bruce. I have folks with whom I have been meeting since 2011 who suffer with this disease. I spoke to the private member’s initiative last week. While I was doing some errands in town over the weekend, I ran into one of the people I spoke of. She had tears in her eyes. It’s an incredible thing, learning to live with this disease and learning to live with the fact that people don’t always necessarily understand what it is you’re going through.
Deborah, just for the benefit of the people who are here today, has Lyme disease, and she passed it along to her three sons. Her eldest son, Caleb, has been most affected. Before they really understood what the problem was, he was in a behavioural class. She had to send him 45 minutes away from home to a different school so he could get proper support in an educational environment, and then they sought out treatment. I thank the member from Niagara for recognizing the costs that are associated with treating this disease. They put everything towards their kids, until they couldn’t afford it any longer.
Sadly, her eldest child, Caleb, is now back in behavioural classes and he’s going to a psychiatrist when what he really needs is a government in Ontario that, first, agrees that this is an issue. Lyme disease is an issue that should be a priority and therefore have the proper action plan. That’s why I congratulate the member from Algoma–Manitoulin, along with my colleague, for standing up and doing right by all the people in Ontario who have been affected.
Another lady from my riding was first affected by Lyme disease going back to 2008. She’s watching, she cares and she wants action. Just earlier this week, she sent me an email—from Doris—with some suggestions. I’d like to read them into the record so that it’s something to consider when this bill gets into committee. Doris suggests that we need:
“(2) Physician and health care workers’ education: Lyme symptoms and treatment can mimic other conditions.” She feels very strongly that our local physicians here in Ontario, as well as health care workers, need to be more in tune with this particular disease.
Her third suggestion was—and we’ve heard about it; I read about it with our petitions—that we need “better Lyme testing methods” to be available right here in Ontario. It’s ridiculous that people in Ontario have to send their tests to California to get proper testing as opposed to false negatives that happen all the time.
Mr. Michael Mantha: I want to thank the members from Scarborough–Agincourt, Haldimand–Norfolk, Niagara Falls, the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, Leeds–Grenville, Windsor–Tecumseh and Huron–Bruce.
Lyme disease is called the great imitator. It often mimics many other conditions and diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, ALS, fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue, dementia, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. Our physicians need to recognize Lyme as a possible diagnosis and educate themselves about the disease.
Lyme disease is also a significant and growing health concern in our province. The numerous people already infected and those who will be infected by Lyme unless action is taken come from all walks of life. This is a health care issue that is and needs to be non-partisan. People from all political parties are recognizing that they have to join together to effect changes needed to protect everyone in Ontario.
The fundamental difference between this motion and the bill I supported from my colleague last week is that this motion requires the development of a comprehensive and integrated Ontario strategy which will specifically address Lyme disease. In developing such a strategy, it will be necessary to examine a broad range of factors and include an examination of diverse perspectives, some of which have been and continue to be controversial, in order to arrive at solutions to improve the availability and accessibility of effective services and treatment in order to provide optimal patient outcomes.
The development of a well-crafted strategy for Lyme disease is fundamentally needed to provide the foundation for action planning. A strategy is an overall plan which can also include a formal mechanism by which current and future studies and discoveries can be evaluated and incorporated as they become available to allow both the strategy and any action plans and framework to evolve and adapt to changing circumstances.
That is why this motion needs to proceed independently. It would be very appropriate for Ontario to be the first Canadian province to establish a provincial strategy on Lyme disease. I thank you, Mr. Speaker. And I thank you all for joining us here today. Let’s hope this is a step towards getting that strategy done.