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Important work put on hold by Harper

By Dr. Kirsty Duncan
Public Health critic for the Liberal Party of Canada

Stephen Harper’s decision to shut down Parliament in a secretive, undemocratic gesture on December 30th has generated a lot of discontent among Canadians. We’ve heard a lot about the consequences of this prorogation on the important work of the Parliamentary committee investigating the Afghan detainees’ scandal, but there are a number of other venues where Harper’s decision is letting the government escape tough questions regarding their responsibilities.
Case in point, the prorogation also put on hold the work of the Neurological Diseases subcommittee. Parliamentarians from all opposition parties worked hard to create this subcommittee, which was finally established recently with the aim of looking at strategies to reduce the burden of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), multiple sclerosis (MS), Alzheimer’s disease , and Parkinson’s disease – neurological diseases borne across each age group and every segment of society in Canada.
We have an ageing population, which will be sadly impacted by Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s; both diseases will place significant demands on our health system and our economy. One in three, or 10 million, Canadians will be affected by a neurological or psychiatric disease, disorder or injury at some point in their lives. Last week’s report from the Alzheimer Society of Canada highlighted that while there was one new case of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias in Canada every five minutes in 2008, there will be one new case every two minutes in 2038.
A common thread links ALS, MS, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s: namely, there are no cures, and no effective treatments that consistently slow or stop the course of these devastating neurodegenerative diseases. The prevention and treatment of these disorders represents one of the critical goals of medical research today. NeuroScience Canada estimates that about $100 million at most is invested in operating costs for neuroscience research in Canada annually. This is far from enough.
The Neurological Diseases subcommittee was to begin two days of expert testimony in February; witnesses were to include decision-makers, scientists, and stakeholders. They were very keen to have the opportunity to discuss how we can pool resources to address neurological disorders, what kind of research should be pursued, and what kind of help should be provided to families affected by these diseases.
Unfortunately, as more and more Canadians are realizing, this government is mainly driven by electoral goals, which does not go along with the responsibility to address long-term issues like dementia. With his self-interested decision to shut down Parliament, Stephen Harper not only demonstrated that he was ready to do anything to avoid accountability, but also that he was willing to waste so much of Parliament’s work over the past year. Let’s hope that the Neurological Diseases subcommittee will be reconstituted with little delay when Parliament resumes, so we can continue our work on this important issue for the benefit of all Canadians.
Dr. Kirsty Duncan, MP, will host an Alzheimer’s and Dementia Roundtable on Parliament Hill on Friday, January 29th. This roundtable will further important discussions on research into the cause, prevention, diagnosis and treatment of dementia and neurodegenerative diseases. It will also address strategies to ease the burden on the caregivers and families of patients with illnesses. For more information, please contact Dr. Duncan’s office at or call 613-995-4702.