Green leader pushes bill to deal with Lyme disease

Published on February 26, 2014
Brenda Sterling-Goodwin said she is thrilled that she was the inspiration for the private member’s bill that Green Party Leader Elizabeth May is proposing to address Lyme disease in Canada. ADAM MACINNIS – THE NEWS

On Monday Bill C-442, which first received first reading in June 2012, will finally appear for second reading in Parliament.

If it passes, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May believes it could improve how Lyme disease is dealt with throughout Canada.

If it does, Canadians will have New Glasgow’s Brenda Sterling-Goodwin to thank.

May, who ran against Peter MacKay in the 2008 election while living in New Glasgow, said she had never heard about Lyme disease or the devastating effects it can have on people’s lives until she met Sterling-Goodwin.

“I certainly got an education on Lyme disease from being friends with Brenda,” she said. “The entire bill is because of Brenda teaching me about the issue.”

May was so touched by Sterling-Goodwin’s story of problems getting diagnosed and treated that it stuck with her. Since then she’s run into many others who are fighting the same battles including some in her current riding in B.C.  She said she’s met with people of all ages including those in their teens who are suffering from chronic Lyme disease.

The bill promotes a sharing of strategies. May said she believes part of the problem with diagnoses and treatment of the disease is that many doctors just don’t know enough about it.

“A lot of our medical professionals were trained in a time when they didn’t have to deal with Lyme.”

Now some seem open to find out out more. The College of Family Physicians of Canada has written to express their support of the bill.

“The CFPC supports further studying the economic and health impacts of Lyme disease to ensure that Canadian physicians have the necessary tools and knowledge at their disposal. Guidelines produced as part of the strategy should include the input of family physicians and be available to all primary health care providers,” Eric J. Mang, director, Health Policy and Government Relations of the College of Family Physicians of Canada, wrote to May last November.

The result is often misdiagnosis and a treatment regime that doesn’t do any good.

There are some doctors who are doing a good job and if the provinces were working together, she believes a lot could be done to help address the issues surrounding Lyme.

May said she knows it’s hard for private member bills to be passed, but says she’s tried to keep partisanship out of this bill and is open to amendments if that’s what it takes to get it passed.

“The important thing is not who gets the credit but to get the bill passed,” she said.

She said she’s been told the NDP members will support it and has also received some indication of support among the Liberal party members.

“A lot of individual Conservatives have told me they plan to vote in favour,” she said.

Even if it doesn’t pass, she hopes the debate will at least raise the profile of Lyme disease in Canada.

Sterling-Goodwin is hopeful that it will and was delighted to hear that she was May’s inspiration for the bill.

“I’d be pretty excited if this bill went through,” she said. “I told Elizabeth when the bill is signed, Steve (her husband) and I will be in Ottawa. It’s a big leap to think it would go through and be signed, but we can hope. Without hope there’s very little in this life.”

Lyme disease is transmitted by a blacklegged tick, after it has attached itself to the skin for 24 hours. Caused by a form of spirochete bacteria, it can be treated with antibiotics if caught early.

Sterling-Goodwin was working as a vet technician and cat groomer in New Glasgow about 15 years ago, when she believes she must have contracted the disease. But for years she was misdiagnosed. She was told she had multiple sclerosis by one doctor. It wasn’t until she started going to the United States to see doctors that she finally got treatment for Lyme. But after years of the wrong treatment, she has been left with lasting side effects. She now has to use a wheelchair to get around.

She’s made helping others with Lyme disease a mission of hers and has fought to see greater awareness in the medical community.

To her it only make sense when there have been plenty of confirmed cases of Lyme-carrying ticks and infected animals that people could also be getting the disease.

She’s hoping politicians of all stripes will rally behind this bill.

“We’re all hoping and praying they will see the light and help Canadians because there is no help in Canada.”

On Twitter: NGNewsAdam


Bill C-442 Summary

This enactment requires the Minister of Health to convene a conference with the provincial and territorial ministers responsible for health and with representatives of the medical community and patients’ groups for the purpose of developing a national strategy to address the challenges of the recognition and timely diagnosis and treatment of Lyme disease. It also authorizes the Minister of Finance to establish guidelines in respect of the allocation of funding to provincial and territorial governments that have enacted legislation to implement that strategy.