The federal government’s glacial financial support for thalidomide survivors has left Victoria MP Murray Rankin fuming.
Last week Rankin voiced his concern during question period in Parliament and then went on CBC’s Power and Politics and hotly debated Conservative MP and parliamentary secretary to the prime minister, Paul Calandra.
“Thalidomide victims came to me yesterday (April 28) and they were in tears saying things were not going well and the government was not giving straight answers,” Rankin said.
“I took the minister [Rona Ambrose] at her word that things were going well.”
Federal MPs from the ruling Conservatives and opposition parties voted unanimously on Dec. 1 to extend “full support” to Canada’s victims on an NDP motion put forward by Rankin and Vancouver MP Libby Davies
The federal government sent lump-sum cheques to thalidomide survivors last month for $125,000 – half of what the Thalidomide Victims Association had asked for – but has provided few answers about what the group considers the far more crucial long-term support.
The Harper government has pledged “up to $168 million” in medical assistance paid out as annual compensation.
The group wants the money invested in a trust, based on a British model, then paid out in annual sums of $75,000 to $150,000 depending on the victims’ degree of disability.
“They will get what’s promised to them,” Calandra said.
“By the new year we want to be in a position to offer very specialized benefits to each individual. You can’t really do one system fits all on this particular topic because each victim has different medical needs.”
But the matter is pressing for the association and Rankin: five months ago there were 97 thalidomide survivors living in Canada, today just 94 remain.
Victims of thalidomide are struggling with growing physical pain as their disabled bodies age, forcing many of them to abandon jobs and fight to maintain their independence.
The victims, whose mothers were prescribed the federally approved drug for insomnia and morning sickness, were born with partial or missing limbs, blindness, deafness and internal organ damage.
“I’m trying to do my very best for these people because I find their situation so poignant, so heart-wrenching,” Rankin said.
Rankin fears the Harper government won’t move forward on compensation until after this fall’s federal election, and he doesn’t consider that an option. He wants a solution before Parliament takes summer leave.
“I’m not going to rest. They need action now,” he said.