An Act to amend the Hazardous Materials Information Review Act

This bill was last introduced in the 39th Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in October 2007.

Status

This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the Hazardous Materials Information Review Act to

(a) allow a claimant to make a declaration that information in respect of which an exemption is claimed is confidential business information and that information substantiating the claim is available and will be provided on request;

(b) allow a claimant to give an undertaking to the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission to bring a material safety data sheet or a label into compliance with the provisions of the Hazardous Products Act or of the Canada Labour Code; and

(c) allow the limited participation of the Commission before an appeal board.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

May 28th, 2007 / 3:45 p.m.
See context

Sharon Watts Vice-President, Corporate Services and Adjudication Branch, Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission

Thank you.

I would like to thank the committee for the opportunity to speak to regulatory changes being contemplated by the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission. In fact, the commission has recently finalized draft amendments, two regulations that are consequential to what is now known as chapter 7 of the Statutes of Canada, 2007, formally known and presented to this committee in January as Bill S-2.

As vice-president of corporate services and adjudication of the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission, I have the responsibility for the development of both regulatory and legislative policy.

I would like to provide you with a brief overview of the Commission and the proposed regulatory amendments, after which we will be happy to take your questions.

I will give a brief overview of the role of the commission--you may recall I spoke of this earlier. It is to manage the trade secret component of the workplace hazardous materials information system, commonly known as WHMIS, or SIMDUT. WHMIS is a federal, provincial, and territorial hazard communication system established in the late 1980s through a consensus of industry, organized labour, and the federal, provincial, and territorial governments.

Among other things, WHMIS requires that product labels and safety documentation fully disclose the identity of hazardous ingredients within a product, the specific hazards posed by the product, the precautions to be taken in handling the product, and first aid measures to be applied in the event of exposure. The goal of WHMIS is to ensure that workers using hazardous materials have the information they need to minimize the risk of illness and injury.

HMIRC operates as a quasi-judicial independent agency with a mandate to grant exemptions from the full disclosure requirements of WHMIS while ensuring that the documentation on the safe use of the products is provided to Canadian workers and is accurate and complete.

The Commission's role is a dual one as it ensures a balance between workers' right to know what is in the products they work with and their hazards, and the industry's right to protect its trade secrets. The activities of the Commission can be broken down into three key components of our mandate.

First, we conduct an economic analysis to determine whether the claimant's information is truly a trade secret and whether disclosure will have economic consequences. Second, we conduct a scientific analysis to ensure that the health and safety information being supplied to employers and workers about the product is accurate and complete. The third part of our mandate is the administration of an appeals process. When a claimant or any affected party, such as a worker representative, challenges a decision of our commission, an independent appeal board is appointed to hear that challenge.

The governance of our commission is unique in the sense that the oversight of this three-part mandate is provided by a council of governors. On this 18-member council there are two representatives of workers, one representative of employers, another representative of the suppliers who supply the materials into the workplaces, and every province and territory has a member on this council, including a representative of the federal minister responsible for occupational health and safety.

Under our act the council has the statutory mandate to make recommendations to the minister on procedures for reviewing claims, appeal procedures, changes in fees and other related matters, and regulatory changes. The regulatory amendments we are currently proposing were developed under the aegis of this council as the means to deliver on commitments made to stakeholders as provided for in chapter 7. As did Bill S-2, the regulatory proposals have the unanimous support of our stakeholders as represented on our council of governors.

I would now like to turn to the issue that brings us here today, the proposed regulatory amendments consequential to Chapter 7 of the Statutes of Canada 2007.

The last time I had the pleasure of addressing this committee was regarding the legislative amendments to the Hazardous Materials Information Review Act set out in Bill S-2. The Bill received the unanimous support of this Committee and was reported back to the House of Commons for Third Reading where it received the unanimous support of all parties and received Royal Assent on March 29, 2007. At this point, the Bill became law as Chapter 7 of the Statutes of Canada 2007.

I would like to briefly review the legislative amendments, because there is a strong link between the legislative amendments and the regulatory amendments: one, allow a claimant to make a declaration that the information for which protection from disclosure is sought is a trade secret and that substantiating information is available upon request; two, allow a claimant to enter into an undertaking with the commission to voluntarily correct the health and safety information without a formal order; and three, allow the commission to provide factual information to appeal boards upon request.

These amendments, you may recall, were designed to reduce the administrative burden both on the claimants that come to the commission and on the commission staff itself, to speed up the correction of information that is required to get to workers concerning the health and safety information, and to expedite the appeals process.

However, in order for these changes to be fully implemented certain regulatory amendments are also required. The proposed regulatory amendments touch each of the Commission's three area of activity.

In terms of the first regulatory amendment regarding the information required to substantiate a claim—we're talking about the economic analysis side of our commission—under the declaration approach introduced by chapter 7, claimants declare that the information for which they are seeking exemption, the trade secret, is in fact a trade secret, and they provide a summary of the supporting documentation. However, the commission will require full documentation in support of a claim in the following instances: one, when an affected party challenges or makes a submission to the commission; two, when the claimant's declaration has been selected as part of a verification scheme; or three, when the screening officer within the commission has reason to believe the information may not be accurate.

The regulatory amendment outlines the basic information that will be required in a claim for exemption using this declaration approach, in addition to the detailed information that some claimants will be required to provide when their claim is selected for verification.

So the regulations spell out, one, that there's a basic new claim for exemption using a declaration approach, and two, that there's a second claim for exemption approach that requires full documentation.

Under this verification process, Screening Officers will be able to verify that the information provided by claimants with their declaration is accurate, and ensure there are no frivolous or false claims.

I will not outline the amendments related to the Commission's review of health and safety information provided by claimants.

You will recall that the second amendment to the Act allowed for the voluntary correction of safety documentation by claimants. Allowing corrections to be made voluntarily will expedite the process of getting complete and accurate information into the hands of workers, because the corrected information will be available immediately upon correction, rather than having to wait until after the publication of orders and subsequent appeal period expires at which point the correction orders become binding.

To ensure the transparency and openness of this process, we're proposing two regulatory amendments. The first, in the interests of transparency, proposes to publish the content of these compliance undertakings in the Gazette with a link from our website. This way the workers will know exactly what information has already been corrected, and in this way it provides them access to the corrected information and allows them to verify that this corrected information is actually available in the workplace.

The second amendment allows for the appeal of these compliance undertakings by affected parties to allow for recourse if the affected parties challenge the undertaking.

It's important to note here, and it was mentioned again when we talked about Bill S-2, that a formal correction order will always be issued if the claimant chooses not to make the corrections or if the undertaking has not been made to the satisfaction of the screening officer; in other words, full compliance will be realized in any case.

Turning to the appeals process, again, chapter 7 allows for the commission to provide factual clarification of the record of the screening officer to appeal boards when it's needed to facilitate the process.

Appeals are heard by independent boards with three members drawn from industry, labour and the chair of the appeal board, representing government. Most, if not all, appeals heard to date by the Commission's appeal boards would have benefited from additional explanatory information from the Commission, but this was not permitted under previous legislation.

The proposed regulatory amendments regarding the appeals process outline the process by which a party to an appeal may make a request for such clarification from the commission. This request requires unanimous support from the appeal board, and, if supported, the commission will be required to provide the appeal board with a written response.

In addition, the proposed amendments also allow for an appearance by the commission. In this case, it would be where the commission's written response already provided requires further clarification or, due to the urgency of the matter, if an appearance by a commission official would better aid the resolution of these issues.

None of this will interfere with the statutory independence of these independent appeal boards, as this is absolutely essential for the acceptance of appeal board decisions.

There are other housekeeping amendments.

There are additional proposed amendments to the regulations that are not related to Chapter 7. Among these amendments are wording updates, including those required to comply with the Bill to Modernize the Statutes of Canada, provisions to permit the electronic filing of claims, and minor amendments to streamline the appeal process.

In conclusion, I'd like to re-emphasize that the commission's regulatory changes have been developed in the same manner as Bill S-2, through extensive consultation with our stakeholders, consultations that commenced several years ago at the time the legislative amendments were being developed. Unanimous support for these regulatory amendments was most recently received from the commission's council of governors, literally last Friday at our annual council of governors meeting. Again, council of governors represent all of our stakeholders--labour, industry, employers, and each province and territory, as well as the federal government. At that meeting, our stakeholders' message was quite clear: these regulatory amendments are an extension of Bill S-2, which received unanimous support from our stakeholders and unanimous support from this committee and from all parties.

These amendments do not compromise worker health and safety. They will reduce the time to review economic information in support of claims; they will allow efficiency gains to be reinvested into the health and safety side of our business; and, when implemented, they will speed up the correction of health and safety information that needs to get into the hands of workers.

We feel these changes are a positive step forward for workplace health and safety in Canada. Thank you very much.

Hazardous Materials Information Review Act
Government Orders

March 29th, 2007 / 3:40 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Marcel Lussier Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, this afternoon I will speak about Bill S-2, An Act to amend the Hazardous Materials Information Review Act. This bill originated in the Senate and had already been tabled. It was formerly called Bill S-40. It has been renumbered and is now S-2.

This bill aims to improve the current process of the Hazardous Materials Information Review Act, and it has three main objectives.

The first objective is to allow companies that want to be exempted from the general rules concerning the listing of hazardous ingredients to make a declaration that information in respect of which an exemption is claimed is confidential business information, and that information substantiating the claim will be provided on request, rather than de facto providing all information.

The second objective is to allow companies to voluntarily give an undertaking to the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission to modify and to bring a material safety data sheet or a label of products containing hazardous ingredients into compliance with the provisions of the Hazardous Products Act or of the Canada Labour Code.

The third objective is to allow the limited participation of the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission before an appeal board.

The Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System, or WHMIS, combines an assortment of legislation, regulations and procedures whose objective is to protect workers by preventing illness and injury that could result from the use of certain hazardous chemicals in the workplace.

Quebec, the provinces and the federal government are all part of WHMIS.

Under WHMIS, manufacturers and distributors of controlled (hazardous) products must provide information on the health and safety risks associated with their products, together with instructions for safe handling, storage, transportation, disposal and first-aid treatment. This information is conveyed by the product’s mandatory Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) and label—

Each product's MSDS must include a number of elements. It must list all hazardous ingredients in the product, its toxicological properties, and the precautions one must take when using the product. The MSDS must also indicate the necessary first aid measures for anyone exposed to a product.

When the indications that must appear on the MSDS involve trade secrets—and this is where the problems begin—and disclosure of these secrets could have serious consequences, a mechanism is in place to, on one hand, assess the pertinence of not disclosing all the information and, on the other hand, ensure that workers' rights are protected. Therein lies the conflict between trade secrets and workers' rights. The mechanism in question is the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission.

This commission was formed in 1987 and consists of quite a few people. That is the beauty of the commission, which has about 18 people on it. There are automatically two representatives of worker interests, one representative of suppliers, one employer representative, one representative of the federal government, and various representatives of the provincial and territorial governments for a total of about 18 people, who form a review committee.

Simply put, the commission’s mandate is to “help safeguard both workers and trade secrets in Canada’s chemical industry”. So when a company wants an exemption from its general obligations in order to safeguard confidential business information—this could be the identity or concentration of a hazardous ingredient in one of its products—it must apply to the commission for an exemption. The claim is registered and it is up to the commission to decide whether an exemption is called for.

The commission’s mandate may also cover evaluating whether certain data sheets and hazardous product labels are in conformance.

There are certain problems with the current legislation. It mandates the council to make recommendations to the health minister on the methods for reviewing claims, the appeal procedures, and the fees to make a claim.

In November 2002, the council officially and unanimously recommended the amendments in the current Bill S-2 to the health minister at the time.

There are three kinds of problems: the complexity of the economic information, the lack of a voluntary process for correcting the data sheets, and finally the lack of flexibility in the exchange of information between the commission and the independent boards in the appeal process.

That is why the bill proposes three amendments. The first amendment in clauses 1, 2 and 8 proposes a change to the obligations in section 11(4) of the Hazardous Materials Information Review Act in order to specify that when companies claim an exemption, they do not need to provide all the documentation previously required. This is intended to reduce the complexity of the claims, especially when the information does not really help the commission very much in judging the economic aspects of the claims.

Under the current process, companies claiming an exemption must submit detailed information on what they have done to safeguard the confidentiality of the ingredients used to manufacture their product and on the financial impact of the possible disclosure of this information.

In her testimony given to the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology in 2006, Sharon Watts, vice-president of the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission, specified in which cases the commission would require full documentation.

The commission will require full documentation to support a claim for exemption from disclosure when an affected party challenges a claim or when a claim is selected through a verification scheme that we will set up to discourage false or frivolous claims

The second change is proposed at clauses 3 and 4 of the bill which amend sections 16 and 17 of the Hazardous Materials Information Review Act in order to establish a new mechanism for the voluntary revision of material safety data sheets by the companies. With this new mechanism, when a company files a claim for exemption, a screening officer may “send an undertaking to the claimant setting out the measures that are required to be taken for the purpose of ensuring compliance” with those provisions governing dangerous goods contained in the Hazardous Products Act and the Canada Labour Code.

The purpose of this second change is twofold: to ensure that changes to material safety data sheets and labels are made more quickly and that companies acting in good faith will not be issued an order by the HMIRC, as this could be misleading about their willingness to comply.

In comparison, current legislation requires the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission to issue a formal order for compliance, even if the company seeking an exemption is prepared to comply and to make the necessary corrections after having been notified.

The legislation also provides for a rather strict and time-consuming process. Thus, where non-compliance is found, an order is issued to the company seeking an exemption. This order is then published in the Canada Gazette and it does not become binding until 75 days after its publication. Other time limits are specified in the event that the company decides to appeal the order, or to allow the company to comply with the order and submit a new data sheet.

Finally, the existing rules would still allow orders to be issued to uncooperative companies in case of non-compliance with the rules and in the absence of a voluntary undertaking.

The third amendment proposed in Bill S-2 is contained in clause 7 of the bill, which amends the former section 23 of the Hazardous Materials Information Review Act, to enable the commission to provide clarification in respect of an appeal that has been submitted to an appeal board. Clause 8 amends section 48 of the Hazardous Materials Information Review Act to permit the making of regulations “respecting the participation of the Commission in an appeal heard before an appeal board”.

According to representatives of the commission, the third amendment seeks “to improve our appeals process by allowing the commission, at the request of an appeal board, to provide factual clarification of the record to appeal boards, when needed to facilitate the process. Appeals are heard by independent boards with three members drawn from labour, industry and government. The government member acts as chair of the board. Most appeals heard to date would have benefited from additional explanatory information from the commission, but this is not permitted under our legislation”.

In short, the Bloc Québécois supports Bill S-2. The Bloc believes that when it comes to hazardous materials, it is vital to keep in mind worker safety and to base all decisions on that imperative.

The Bloc Québécois recognizes that the amendments to the Hazardous Materials Information Review Act contained in Bill S-2 were unanimously approved by the members of the HMIRC council of governors.

The Bloc, therefore, supports Bill S-2 so that the amendments called for by the principal stakeholders in this kind of workplace can be adopted.

In all its actions, the Bloc seeks to protect the interests of workers. That is why we tabled Bill C-257, which, unfortunately, died on the Order Paper; a bill dealing with preventive withdrawal would have enabled pregnant Quebec workers in companies operating under federal jurisdiction to receive the same benefits as Quebec workers—another bill that died on the Order Paper; and Bill C-269 to improve the employment insurance system.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill S-2, An Act to amend the Hazardous Materials Information Review Act be read the third time and passed.

Hazardous Materials Information Review Act
Government Orders

March 29th, 2007 / 1:50 p.m.
See context

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I know my colleague is concerned with these issues and I have heard her speak very passionately on the issue of public health as a former minister herself, so I know her concern is genuine.

I did introduce my remarks by saying that WHMIS is one of the greatest achievements in industrial occupational health and safety in this country, and we are proud of it. However, I also point out that in a survey done by the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission, roughly 95% of all the material safety data sheets reviewed by the commission had been found to be non-compliant with the legislation.

There are two great concerns that I have with the actual practical aspects of WHMIS. I am not sure workers are being trained, first of all. In the industry that I come from, very few non-union workplaces bother with the mandatory eight hour WHMIS information class. It is a cost factor. In the unionized shops we mandate it. We negotiate it. We make sure it happens.

The other thing I am not comfortable with is this. If the workers do know where to find material safety data sheets, will they in fact be adequate and will they list all of the materials that the employee should be aware of?

One of the positive elements in Bill S-2 will allow a claimant to give an undertaking to the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission to bring a safety data sheet or a label into compliance with the provisions of the Hazardous Products Act. I would only ask, who is going to do that? How many rank and file blue collar workers on a job site are going to undertake to followthrough and ensure that some non-compliant data sheet goes through that detailed process?

Hazardous Materials Information Review Act
Government Orders

March 29th, 2007 / 1:50 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett St. Paul's, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member seems very knowledgeable, particularly about the issue of asbestos. In the bill before the House, Bill S-2, one of the amendments would speed up the process of getting health and safety information into the hands of workers to use the products.

I would like to ask the member, particularly in the area of asbestos or any others, whether or not he feels that this health and safety information is getting to the workers? Is he comfortable with how that health and safety information is determined, whether it is science-based, and whether there is anything that he feels should be improved in terms of the quality of the health and safety information getting to the workers in Canada?

Hazardous Materials Information Review Act
Government Orders

March 29th, 2007 / 1:30 p.m.
See context

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is a great pleasure for me, on behalf of the NDP caucus, to enter into the debate on Bill S-2, An Act to amend the Hazardous Materials Information Review Act.

As always when a bill is introduced by the Senate, I feel obligated to point out that we object to bills that are introduced into this elected House of Commons from the other place, the unelected, undemocratic Senate. We believe that legislation dealing on behalf of the people of Canada should be put forward by the elected representatives of the people of Canada. However, having said that, we find the bill on our table today and we will do our due diligence and debate it as per the rules.

I am very interested in the subject of Bill S-2 and WHMIS, the workplace hazardous materials information system. I notice that my colleague from Surrey North, as a former minister of health for the province of British Columbia, is nodding her head. As well, my colleague from Vancouver Island North, coming from the labour movement, would appreciate the struggle that it was to introduce WHMIS legislation into the Canadian industrial workplace.

It was a long battle, the argument being quite simple: that workers have a right to know what they are being exposed to and they have the right to refuse unsafe work if they find, based on the information given to them, that they are not willing to put their personal health at risk in handling some of these products.

That is the fundamental premise and it was the groundwork that led to WHMIS as we know it. It was many more years before it became mandatory, before it became the law of the land that all workers have to be trained in the workplace hazardous materials information system and that all workplaces must have material safety data sheets listing as clearly as humanly possible in plain language exactly what chemicals or what combinations of chemicals the workplace may expose a worker to.

It was a hard-won battle. It ranks up there as one of the victories of the Canadian labour movement in Canadian industrial history. It is an issue dear to my heart. It is an issue that I am proud of. I am proud that the labour movement and the NDP played a role in putting it into effect in this country.

However, it is also something about which I have great concerns and some hesitation. In the context of doing research for this particular speech, I was shocked to learn that roughly 95% of all the material safety data sheets reviewed by the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission had been found to be non-compliant with the legislation. It was a random survey, but a scientific random survey.

The fact that 95% were non-compliant should cause us great concern in this era of greater awareness about chemical exposure and the accumulation of otherwise moderate amounts of chemicals in our systems. Chemical a may not in and of itself do us harm and chemical b may not in and of itself do us harm, but when those two chemicals are mixed together within our bodily organs, where they remain for many years, they can form chemical c, which may itself be a carcinogen or do us great grievous harm.

These shortcomings in the data sheets were not minor in terms of misspelling the names of a chemical or something. They were gross violations. They were missing either elements or products absolutely. As for the shortcomings in the data sheet system as we know it, and that very confidence we are trying to achieve that the best interests of workers are being addressed by WHMIS, perhaps we are not quite as excited about it today.

In my mind, one of the most obvious oversights in this country in terms of exposing workers to hazards comes from the toxic substances list, which was updated as of December 27, 2006. I do not think the substances are in any priority of hazards, but perhaps they are. Number six on that list is asbestos.

Asbestos is the greatest industrial killer the world has ever known. We believe that Canada should hang its head in shame with its treatment of the asbestos industry and the way it fails to protect Canadians to the hazards of exposure to asbestos. Even greater is the way we are exposing third world countries and underdeveloped nations to this hazard. It is absolutely indefensible in many ways.

Not only has Canada not banned asbestos and not only are we allowed to use it in the most alarming ways, but Canada is still the second largest producer and exporter of asbestos in the world. We export 220,000 tonnes into underdeveloped nations, often third world countries, because none of the developed nations will buy it.

Developed nations are banning asbestos in all its forms. We cannot sell asbestos to the European Union, Japan and Australia any more because they will not have the stuff in their countries. Yet Canada keeps pushing it and dumping it into developing nations. It is spending millions of tax dollars subsidizing the industry and trying to prevent other countries from banning asbestos.

When France tried to ban it, Canada sent teams of lawyers to the WTO to file complaints that we would lose our opportunity to sell the product in France and it would be an unfair trade issue if France did the right thing to protect its citizens from this hazardous carcinogen, number six on our list of toxic carcinogens in the country. Fortunately for the people of France, Canada lost its appeal. France did ban asbestos, yet we continue to produce it and sell it.

When Bill S-2 was going through the various stages of debate beginning in the Senate, clearing the Senate and coming to the House of Commons, at that very same time of confluence, a real irony, the Government of Canada was passing new regulations under the same act, the hazardous materials act, which cited places it recommended asbestos may be used. This is the real irony. It was almost as if the left hand did not know what the right hand was doing.

On the one hand, we have both Houses of Parliament engaged in writing legislation to protect workers from hazardous materials, such as number six on this list. On the other hand, they are passing new regulations not banning asbestos, number six on the list, but citing places where it is okay to be used. Guess what some of these places are? This was shocking to me, as a journeyman carpenter, as a tradesman.

One of the places asbestos can be used, and it is cited clearly in the new regulations, put into effect in November 11, 2006, is in drywall mud, drywall joint compound that every tradesman slathers on the wall between sheets of drywall. That mud has to be sanded. The sanding process makes the asbestos airborne. The workers in the field, even in commercial unionized jobs, wear no more than a paper mask, which does not stop the asbestos fibre. Because they are so microscopic, they take eight hours to drop from the ceiling to the floor.

This is stupidity. Every tradesman in the country knows we do not put asbestos in drywall mud. Why then does the Government of Canada pass new regulations that say it is okay to put asbestos in drywall mud? I think the Conservatives are trying to make a point. They are trying to say that asbestos is benign, not bad for us, yet on their list of toxic substances, it is number six.

Another place listed in the new regulations, where asbestos could be used, shocked me and motivated the NDP to take action. Recently, my colleague from Vancouver Island North and I had a press conference to illustrate how insane this was. It is okay to put asbestos in children's toys. Now that is smart. What kind of brainwave, bright light came up with that idea to put number six on the toxic carcinogens list of our toxic materials hazardous information system in children's toys?

I am almost speechless. A person would not have to be stupid to put asbestos in children's toys. A person would have to be fundamentally evil to put asbestos in children's toys. I cannot imagine anyone being that ignorant. However, the Conservatives are trying to be provocative. They are trying to stand up against the anti-asbestos lobby, the international global ban on asbestos, which has now succeeded in 40 developed nations. They are trying to say that asbestos is safe as long as people do not breathe it, eat it or be exposed to it.

We fought like crazy to get asbestos out of Crayola crayons. It took us 10 years. Finally, we managed to do that. It took us years to get the asbestos out of plasticine modelling clay. Finally, reason prevailed and we succeeded.

Now the Government of Canada, as of November 11, 2006, says that it is okay to put it in children's toys and learning products. I do not know what that means, school supplies maybe. There is this irrational, bizarre affinity that Canada has to asbestos.

We spend millions of dollars as globe-trotting propagandists for the asbestos industry. We hosted 140 conferences and seminars in 60 different countries, paid for by the federal government and our embassies, to invite other countries to buy more asbestos, to push more asbestos around the world.

I point this out to illustrate what a bizarre contradiction it seems to be for us to be debating today WHMIS, Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System, for the protection of workers. We are dumping asbestos all over the world, creating a legacy of health problems. It is like exporting a thousand Bhopals every year when this terribly legacy goes on.

Tomorrow I am going to the Drexel College of Medicine in Philadelphia to address a ban asbestos conference. Leading workplace safety and health doctors from around the world will be there. It is their third annual conference. Last year I went to the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City to address a similar conference. The world wants to ban asbestos and Canada is playing an active role to block it.

Bill S-2 is talking about the Canadian legislation, WHMIS, the workplace hazardous information list. The international WHMIS list is called the Rotterdam convention.

Only a few months ago Canada sent another team of Department of Justice lawyers to Geneva, where COPS was meeting for the Rotterdam convention, the Conference of the Parties to the Rotterdam Convention. Once again, they were going to oppose that asbestos be listed on that Rotterdam convention list of hazardous materials. It only meets every two years, so every two years Canada trots out its Department of Justice lawyers who rush to the COPS Rotterdam convention meeting to ensure that asbestos is not on the list of hazardous materials.

I do not know what goes on behind the scenes, but this time the chairman of the committee cited Canada for being rude in not only blocking the motion to list asbestos. The chair had not even finished introducing the subject. He was just about to ask for arguments why asbestos should be on the Rotterdam convention list, when the Canadian delegation interrupted him at the microphones on a point of order and said that it was unnecessary, that it could save time, that it vetoed it because it did not want asbestos on the list. All countries have a right to veto in this consensus exercise.

I wonder if Canadians realize that we are paying these industry propagandists, the Department of Justice lawyers, to act as apologists for the asbestos industry. The asbestos industry is the tobacco industry's evil twin. For 100 hears it has been relying on tainted research, lies and cover-up. This is the most reprehensible form of questionable wacky science to keep asbestos in the marketplace. The Government of Canada is playing an active role in this.

I used to work in the asbestos mines as a young man. I am particularly sensitive to this. They were lying to us about the health effects of asbestos then, just as they are lying to us about it today.

In the context of Bill S-2, in case you are concerned about me wondering off topic, Mr. Speaker, I think it is entirely relevant to speak about one of the greatest hazards, the greatest industrial killer the world has ever known.

A lot of people do not realize that more people die from asbestos than all other industrial causes combined, and we have not reached the peak of the bell curve. The peak production and use of asbestos was in the 1970s and 1980s. The incubation period is 20 to 40 years. We have not seen the peak. It is not just the leading industrial occupation death. It is that all the other causes combined do not add up to the number of asbestos related deaths.

The people of Quebec say that somehow Quebec asbestos is benign. The National Institute of Public Health in Quebec, not the Canadian government Institute of Public Health, just published a study. They are finally facing reality.

Let me put it this way. Quebec men have the fourth highest rate of mesothelioma in the world. Quebec women have the highest rate of mesothelioma in the world. The only type of asbestos they mine in Quebec is chrysotile. Chrysotile asbestos causes mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is only caused by asbestos.

Finally, we can put to rest this myth that Quebec asbestos is okay, it is all that other bad asbestos that is hurting people. Quebec asbestos kills, just like the asbestos at the mine I worked at or the mines in Newfoundland and Labrador.

All those mines closed because of natural market forces. We cannot give this stuff away any more because it kills people. We keep supporting the Chrysotile Institute with government funding. We spend millions, not only supporting the industry, not only pushing it into third world countries, but undermining other countries' efforts to protect themselves, such as at the Rotterdam Convention.

When South Korea wanted to put warning labels on Canadian asbestos, Canada intervened and stopped it. It would not let it do so, again, as a trade issue. Canada said that Korea could not put a warning label on bags of asbestos because it could not prove that it was bad for people. It is not even on the Rotterdam convention lists of prior informed consent. Rotterdam does not even say ban asbestos. All Rotterdam does is say that there has to be prior informed consent of the end user. In other words, we have to inform the end users that what we are selling them could kill them. They have to take precautions. They have to use some measures of protection.

I get very frustrated. When I go to Philadelphia tomorrow, I do not know what I will tell the people there because we have made no progress. When I spoke to the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, I was hanging my head in shame for what the Government of Canada was doing. Since then, it has passed these new regulations which contemplate putting asbestos in children's toys. We are actually going backward.

I know why. There is a rat in the woodpile, I do not mind saying that. The current Minister of Natural Resources hired as his assistant deputy minister a man named Gary Nash. Guess where Gary Nash came from? He was the founder and first CEO of the Asbestos Institute. He is an apologist for the asbestos industry. He is filling the minister's head with a bunch of pro-asbestos propaganda that completely flies in the face of all the empirical evidence and scientific research which says asbestos kills.

This is the problem we have. Reason and logic are not driving this. Science is not driving this. What is driving this is some fear of offending what is left of this dying industry in the region of Quebec, which has the highest rate of mesothelioma in the world for women. This is the kind of thing that is driving this.

I take this opportunity to serve notice that we will not let this issue go. We intend to continue our fight. We have a motion on the books to ban asbestos in all its forms, calling on the government to increase its diagnostics and treatment abilities. As the world's leading exporter and producer of asbestos, surely we have an obligation to provide some of the remedies and some of the solutions as well. As everyone who has been exposed to or is dealing with mesothelioma in the country knows, they have to leave Canada to get treated effective for it. They all wind up in Michigan or California for advanced treatments.

Hazardous Materials Information Review Act
Government Orders

March 29th, 2007 / 1:25 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Bonnie Brown Oakville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I compliment my colleague for his remarks on Bill S-2 and assure him that we agree with him on several of his points, one of which was about the primary nature of the safety of every worker in Canada, and I believe that most if not all members of the House agree.

We also believe in the dignity of all work, which leads to his idea, stated rather well, that the efforts of all workers, no matter how high or low their station, pool together in a richness that improves the quality of life for all.

I will disagree with his interpretation of the history of Bill C-257, though. He knows very well that most members in the House were in favour of the principle of the bill, but testimony at committee suggested that it was unworkable in the form it was in. In order to support the principle of the bill and get around the unworkability, the Liberal critic at committee presented a series of amendments. Unfortunately, those amendments were ruled out of order as being beyond the scope of the bill and therefore Liberal members had to vote against the bill when it came back to the House.

However, as proof of our commitment to the principle of Bill C-257, the Liberal member for Davenport tabled another bill the next day with the same principle, but with a more solid underpinning of detail that would make the bill workable, and therefore we would achieve the principle desired.

The member also said that on EI reform it makes no difference whether the government is Liberal or Conservative. I am not sure where he was last night, but just last evening we voted on a private member's bill put forward by the member for Acadie—Bathurst, an NDP member, and he could have seen the split in the House on that. The Liberals all voted in favour and the Conservatives voted against, so his rolling together of the two parties in his description was proven untrue only last night.

In his questions earlier in this debate, the member raised the possibility of amendments at report stage, and he asked me whether my party would consider them, but I did not hear any suggestions in his speech. At this time I would like to ask him if he is planning to present amendments at report stage. If so, would he like to describe one or two of them?

Hazardous Materials Information Review Act
Government Orders

March 29th, 2007 / 1:05 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Luc Malo Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

Mr. Speaker, without a doubt, our societies' greatest strength, the driving force behind our economies and the factor that sets them apart, is the human capital we can rely on. This driving force is varied, dynamic and rich. We have a wealth of people whose abilities are maximized by the favourable environment we can foster and even shape thanks to the concerted contributions of individuals. When I think of the human capital we have here, I see business leaders who are tuned into small shifts and global trends and who adapt their strategies and develop the kind of clear vision that enables them to seize opportunities and use those opportunities to advance all of our communities. I think of researchers who apply their advanced knowledge to their ongoing search for better and newer ideas, thus enabling all of our fellow humans to live a better life and to dream of always living a better life. I remember whose who, every morning, leave their homes to do a job that we ask them to dedicate themselves to, and make the most of their skills to do better. These people, who do their very best every day, are the ones who enable us, as a community, to aspire to a better life.

That is why I am so pleased to rise in this House to address the Senate's Bill S-2, an Act to amend the Hazardous Materials Information Review Act. Needless to say, my party supports the principle underlying this bill because its reason for being is quality of life. Indeed, the Bloc Québécois believes that when it comes to hazardous materials, it is vital to keep in mind worker safety and to base all decisions on that imperative.

Mr. Speaker, you are probably not surprised to hear me say that. The members of the Bloc Québécois feel a profound desire to respect, listen to and protect workers, and we have intervened on many occasions in this House, as well as in the various ridings in Quebec and across Canada, to ensure that the rights of workers are respected.

Thus, for the benefit of my colleagues and our viewers, I would like to remind the House about a number of bills we have brought forward and defended in recent years, always driven by this desire to serve our fellow citizens and defend their interests.

First of all, I would like to mention Bill C-257, to ban the use of replacement workers in businesses under federal jurisdiction. Had it not been for the mysterious flip-flop by the current leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, this bill would have passed the report stage by now.

Members may recall that, when the Liberal Party leadership race was in full swing, my colleagues, the hon. member for Gatineau and the hon. member for Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, had obtained the consent of a majority of the members of this House, thus allowing the bill to pass second reading and be referred to committee. As demonstrated by this favourable vote at second reading, a majority of my colleagues are in favour of the underlying principle of this bill. Therefore, I am thoroughly convinced that we will see the fruits of this important contribution from Bloc Québécois in the very near future. Perseverance and hard work are our trademark, as you know.

Additionally, looking at the Order Paper, we see a bill concerning preventive withdrawal, the purpose of which is to provide pregnant women in Quebec who work in companies under federal jurisdiction with the same benefits of preventive withdrawal as other working women in Quebec. This is a matter of fairness.

The purpose of this bill is to allow these workers to make better choices for their families by having the same options similar workers already have.

There is also Bill C-269 to improve the employment insurance system. It is disgusting that the Government of Canada—whether Liberal or Conservative, it makes no difference—is as stingy as it is when it comes to this insurance program. The government does not inject anything into this program, not a dollar, not one red cent, but it collects surpluses from the contributions paid by the employers, who earn profits on their investment, and by the employees, who earn salaries from their hard work.

I would also quickly like to talk about how the Bloc Québécois has been fighting on behalf of workers aged 55, 60, or 63, who are victims of the mass layoffs that have been plaguing Quebec for the past few years, in order that these workers can reach retirement with dignity.

Including an income support program for older workers in the last throne speech, following pressure from my colleagues and me, is the start of recognizing that these workers deserve respect and, I would hope, the beginning of the end of a crazy idea held by certain Conservative ministers. According to them, it is easy for a 56-year-old worker with very little education who has worked with his hands his whole life, to go back to school to receive training in order to work in another area of activity until he is 65. Providing one-size-fits-all training is a big mistake, not to mention disrespectful of the people who have contributed to building our society.

Thus, we believe, since we always put our fellow citizens at the centre of our thoughts, our actions and our decision making, that it is essential to use the best possible framework for managing the use of hazardous materials. It seems redundant to say so, since it is so obvious that handling hazardous materials should be done following the most specific, rigorous and comprehensive parameters, both in their wording and application. Nonetheless, I think it is important to provide a few clarifications on how hazardous materials are currently managed in Canada.

The use of hazardous materials is governed by the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS). WHMIS is a combination of laws, regulations and procedures to protect workers by warning them about illnesses and injuries that could result from using hazardous chemical products in the workplace.

Quebec, the federal, provincial and territorial governments work together to implement the system.

The Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission (HMIRC) states that:

Under WHMIS, manufacturers and distributors of controlled (hazardous) products must provide information on the health and safety risks associated with their products, together with instructions for safe handling, storage, transportation, disposal and first-aid treatment. This information is conveyed by the product’s mandatory Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) and label—

Each product's material safety data sheet must contain certain elements: it must list all hazardous ingredients in the product, its toxicological properties, as well as any safety precautions to be taken when the product is used. The material safety data sheet must also indicate first-aid treatment required in case of exposure to the product.

If any information required for the material safety data sheet deals with trade secrets, and revealing them would have serious consequences, there is a mechanism in place to determine the relevance of not posting all the information, and also to protect the rights of workers.

That mechanism is the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission.

Having said that, in reference to Bill S-2, it seems clear to us that the amendments to the act have been requested by the main stakeholders and, as a result, they should be adopted. These amendments have been unanimously endorsed by the members of the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission, also known as HMIRC. The commission includes representatives of workers, suppliers, employers, and the federal, provincial and territorial governments; in other words, all the parties who are affected by this legislative measure.

Since I have started to speak about HMIRC, I will very briefly describe the commission before dealing with the substance of the bill.

The Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission was established in 1987 under the Hazardous Materials Information Review Act as part of the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System, also known as WHMIS.

HMIRC is an independent agency that is accountable to the Parliament of Canada, through the Minister of Health. Its mandate is “to help safeguard both workers and trade secrets in Canada’s chemical industry”. It evaluates request from companies to withhold publication of some substances in certain products in order to protect trade secrets.

As a result, when a company wishes to obtain an exemption from the general obligation to disclose because it wishes to safeguard a trade secret—that might be the nature or the concentration of a harmful ingredient in a product that it manufactures—it must submit a request for exemption to HMIRC. The request is recorded by HMIRC, which determines whether the request for exemption is appropriate.

The mandate of the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission is also to evaluate material safety data sheets and labels on hazardous materials to ensure compliance with the act.

As part of its mandate, in the fall of 2002, the council of governors of the commission formally and unanimously recommended to the then minister of health the amendments that are the subject of Bill S-2. These amendments are intended to correct shortcomings in three areas: the complexity of information of a commercial nature, the lack of a voluntary procedure for modification of a material safety data sheet, and finally, a lack of flexibility in the exchange of information between the commission and an independent board in an appeal process.

In seeking to improve the current process, Bill S-2 thus aims to achieve three distinct objectives.

First, it allows companies seeking an exemption from the general rules concerning the listing of hazardous ingredients to make a declaration that information in respect of which an exemption is claimed is confidential business information and that information substantiating the claim is available and will be provided on request, instead of de facto providing all the information.

Second, it allows the companies to give a voluntary undertaking to the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission to make changes to a material safety data sheet or label listing hazardous ingredients to bring it into compliance with the Hazardous Products Act or the Canada Labour Code.

Finally, it allows the limited participation of the commission before an appeal board.

To address these three shortcomings identified by the HMIRC, which are—it might be a good idea to mention them again—the complexity of economic information, the absence of a voluntary data sheet correction process, and the lack of flexibility in the exchange of information between the commission and the independent boards during the appeal process, it is proposed to make three changes to the current legislation.

First, clauses 1, 2 and 8 of the bill change the requirements under subsection 11(4) of the Hazardous Materials Information Review Act, to specify that, in their claims for exemption, companies do not have to provide all the documentation previously required. The purpose of this change is to reduce the complexity of the applications, especially when the information does not help the HMIRC make a decision on the economic considerations involved.

At present, companies seeking an exemption have to submit detailed documentation on the steps they have taken to protect confidentiality with respect to the ingredients used in their products and on the potential financial implications of disclosure.

In her testimony given to the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology on May 17, 2006, Sharon Watts, vice-president of the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission, indicated when HMIRC would require full documentation:

The commission will require full documentation to support a claim for exemption from disclosure when an affected party challenges a claim or when a claim is selected through a verification scheme that we will set up to discourage false or frivolous claims.

Clauses 3 and 4 of the bill amend articles 16 and 17 of the Hazardous Materials Information Review Act in order to establish a new mechanism for having companies voluntarily amend the material safety data sheet. With this new mechanism, when a company requests an exemption, a screening officer may “send an undertaking to the claimant setting out the measures that are required to be taken for the purpose of compliance” with those provisions governing dangerous goods contained in the Hazardous Products Act and the Canada Labour Code.

The purpose of this amendment is twofold: to ensure that changes to material safety data sheets and labels are made more quickly and to ensure that companies acting in good faith will not be issued an order by HMIRC, as this can imply that they are reluctant to fulfill their responsibilities.

In comparison, current legislation requires the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission to issue a formal order for compliance, even if the company that requests an exemption is ready to respect its obligations and to make the necessary changes after being served notice.

The process, under the present legislation, is time consuming and strict. Thus, when a breach is reported, an order is sent to the company that requested the exemption.

I see I only have one minute left, so I will conclude by saying that this order must be published in the Canada Gazette and is not enforceable until 75 days after publication. There are further delays to allow the company to appeal the order, or to comply with the order and produce a new data sheet.

According to members of the HMIRC, the new procedure introduced by Bill S-2 would speed up the amendment process considerably, but existing rules would still allow orders to be issued to uncooperative companies in cases of non-compliance with the rules and in the absence of a final undertaking.

If I may, I would like to skip over the third proposed amendment, and simply point out that, for all the reasons previously outlined, my colleagues of the Bloc Québécois and I support the principle of Bill S-2.

We urge the other members of this House to do the same, in the interest of workers and—

Hazardous Materials Information Review Act
Government Orders

March 29th, 2007 / 12:55 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Bonnie Brown Oakville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to say a few words today on Bill S-2, concerning certain aspects of the disclosure and handling of hazardous materials in the workplace.

The bill sets out how confidential business information or trade secrets are to be accommodated under the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System. This system is used nationwide to inform employers and employees about hazardous materials in the workplace.

The bill before us today proposes to change the Hazardous Materials Information Review Act in three main areas.

The information system was jointly developed by industry, labour, federal, provincial and territorial governments. It was enacted through several pieces of federal legislation and in the provinces through their occupational health and safety legislation.

This system requires the manufacturers, importers and distributors of hazardous materials to provide information on the risks associated with these problems. They must also provide those who work with controlled products with instructions on handling the products in a variety of areas, including their usage, storage, transportation and disposal.

It also provides instructions about the appropriate course of first aid treatment in the event that contamination occurs.

This information is placed on a product's mandatory material safety data sheet or label. The data sheets are used in required workplace safety training programs for the employees and the sheets must be updated every three years or when a change occurs.

As all members of the House would agree, the safety of individuals in the workplace is of prime concern. It is also important to uphold the right of manufacturers to protect the confidentiality of their proprietary chemical formulas from their competitors.

The current process, under the Hazardous Materials Information Review Act, provides a process by which manufacturers can prove their compliance with the law and make safety information available to workers while, at the same time, protecting the privacy of their business information.

Under the current system, suppliers and employers may file a claim, under the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission, to exempt the disclosure of a chemical's identity, to exempt the concentration of an ingredient of a controlled product, and to exempt the name of a study which identifies any ingredient of a controlled product. The commission then decides if the claim is valid.

Bill S-2 seeks to amend the existing legislation in three main areas. First, it would change the information that must be provided by a manufacturer or an employer to substantiate a disclosure exemption claim. Currently, claimants must provide a full economic justification for such claims based on their private business information.

This bill would change the legislation to state that an exemption claim can contain a declaration stating that the information provided is confidential business information and that it will be provided upon request. An exemption claim must also contain a summary of the information supporting that claim and it must be accompanied by a material safety data sheet.

A screening officer with the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission may ask the claimant to provide the information if an affected party makes a written representation relating to the claim or if the information must be verified.

The second amendment would add a new section to this act to deal with the authority of screening officers and what are known as undertakings. If a screening officer determines that a material safety data sheet related to an exemption claim does not comply with the Hazardous Products Act, or even with the Canada Labour Code, he or she may send an undertaking to the claimant. It would set out the measures required for compliance, within a specific period of time, without requiring that the claimant disclose its confidential business information.

The bill lays out the specific procedure to be followed if the claimant agrees to follow the measures that would enable it to comply with the law. However, if the screening officer is not satisfied that the claimant has taken the necessary measures, within the specified time period, he or she may issue an order to comply with the Hazardous Products Act or the Canada Labour Code.

The chief screening officer publishes decisions and orders relating to the exemption claims and compliance orders in the Canada Gazette.

Third, this bill would change the act to allow claimants and affected parties to appeal these decisions and appeal these compliance orders. The current legislation does not allow any participation by the commission in the appeals process. A screening officer's record of the undertaking and any clarifications made by the commission would be added to the basis upon which an appeal board will hear an appeal. An appeal board may dispose of an appeal either by dismissing it or by allowing it with an appropriate order.

The changes to the act contemplated in this bill have the support of business, labour and the regulatory authorities. It seems to be a sensible approach to streamlining the process while safeguarding the interests of workers and the producers of hazardous materials.

I believe the bill has the support of all parties in the House and I too am pleased to offer my endorsement.

Hazardous Materials Information Review Act
Government Orders

March 29th, 2007 / 12:50 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Anthony Rota Nipissing—Timiskaming, ON

Mr. Speaker, Bill S-2 originated in the last session of Parliament under the sponsorship of the Liberal leader of the Senate. It was passed by the Senate, but had only received first reading in the House when Parliament was dissolved.

The bill seeks to change the process by which the manufacturers of hazardous materials can become exempt from providing full disclosure of the composition and characteristics of their products in order to avoid economic harm that would result from the publication of trade secrets during the disclosure process.

At the centre of this process is the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission, the body that grants the exemptions to full disclosure. The amendments to the act have been requested by the commission itself, which has been restructuring over the past three years to allow it to perform its work more effectively and more efficiently.

The Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System was set up in 1987 as a collaborative effort among labour, industry, the federal, provincial and territorial governments. It was designed to facilitate the disclosure and appropriate handling of hazardous materials in the workplace. It requires product labels and safety documentation to include identification of hazardous ingredients in a chemical product, the specific hazards posed by the product, the precautions to be taken when handling the product, and the first aid measures to be applied in the event of exposure to this product.

However, full disclosure of the chemical composition of products does not have to take place if revealing such proprietary information would likely cause economic loss to the claimant or economic gain to the competitors.

As I have mentioned, the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission was created to review such claims against full disclosure. It reviews the health and safety documentation of those products, issues compliance orders, and provides appeal mechanisms under federal, provincial and territorial legislation. The operations of the commission are overseen by a council, consisting of 17 members who represent organized labour, industry, each provincial and territorial government and the federal government.

When the commission receives a claim, it must determine if the information to be concealed is indeed proprietary and whether disclosure would indeed be economically determined to be detrimental to the claimant. If the trade secrets claims is not upheld, then the ingredients must be disclosed, otherwise the product cannot be sold in Canada.

The commission also ensure that the health and safety information supplied to employers and workers accurately and completely describes the hazards of the product and its ingredients. In the event of a claimant or any affected party challenging a decision of the commission, an appeal is begun and is heard by an independent board made up of representatives from government, labour and industry.

Bill S-2 makes three amendments to the current process. The first amendment is aimed at reducing the administrative burden on claimants who currently must gather and present substantial supporting documentation, and on the commission that must review each detailed submission.

In the 17 years that the commission has been in place, no claims have ever been deemed invalid by the commission and only one in 500 claims have been found to be non-compliant.

Under this amendment, a claimant's declaration will be deemed valid and the production of supporting documentation will only be required if requested by the commission, or if a claim is challenged by an affected party. This will lighten the administration burdens of both the claimant and the commission, allowing the commission to focus its resources on the dissemination of health and safety information to workers and employees.

The second amendment in Bill S-2 shortens the time to get health and safety information out to workers and employers. Currently, when claimants are found to have inaccuracies in their safety documentation, a compliance order is issued and published in the Canada Gazette. This amendment allows claimants to undertake to correct these inaccuracies without having a compliance order issued. This will reduce the delay in dissemination of corrected information to employers and workers.

The final amendment with Bill S-2 is also aimed at increasing the efficiency of the claims process, this time with respect to appeals. With the amendment the commission will be permitted to respond to requests by appeal boards for clarification of the record. Current legislation prohibits the commission from providing input at this stage, even for the purpose of clarifying what are often scientifically complicated details. By permitting the commission to assist, when needed, the appeals process will be expedited.

All affected groups, including industry, labour groups and the regulators support the changes to the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission's process contained in this bill.

More specifically, the amendments would reduce the documentation required to apply for an exemption, would reduce the delay in disseminating accurate health and safety information to those workers who use the product, and would enable a prompt appeals process by allowing the commission to respond to requests by appeal boards for clarifications of the record.

For these reasons, I will be happy to support Bill S-2.

Hazardous Materials Information Review Act
Government Orders

March 29th, 2007 / 12:40 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Rick Dykstra St. Catharines, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to support Bill S-2, An Act to amend the Hazardous Materials Information Review Act.

The Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission which operates under the act being amended is part of a joint effort of the federal government, the provinces, the territories, industry and organized labour to protect the health and safety of those who are going to be working with hazardous materials. The primary objective of these amendments is to speed up the process of getting the information needed to handle hazardous materials safely into the hands of workers. This will of course enhance the protection of their health and their safety.

There have been extensive consultations on these amendments with all stakeholders, including organized labour, employers using hazardous materials in their operations, suppliers of hazardous materials and finally, all provincial and territorial governments. I can assure you, Mr. Speaker, that they are all in full support of the legislation.

The commission is part of the workplace hazardous materials information system, WHMIS. The system was set up in the early 1980s to establish an integrated mechanism to provide workers with the information they need when they use hazardous materials safely. It is supported by industry, by organized labour, by the federal government, and by all provincial and territorial governments.

When WHMIS was established, industry had a concern that there would be circumstances in which the full disclosure of all information on the hazardous ingredients in a product would betray a trade secret. That is a fair point because this would result in a potential loss of competitive advantage to the company holding the trade secret and either a financial loss to that company or a potential financial gain to its competitors.

In order to address this issue, the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission was established under the Hazardous Materials Information Review Act. The commission is a unique agency in several ways.

First, it is the only organization that has the authority to provide an exemption from disclosure of trade secret information related to hazardous materials used in the workplace.

The second part of its mandate is that it balances its function of protecting trade secrets with a direct responsibility to ensure that complete and accurate information is provided to employers using these products because the workers are actually going to be handling these materials.

Third, the act establishes an independent appeals process through which the decisions of the commission can be challenged.

Finally, the commission carries out its responsibilities for the protection of trade secrets and just as important, ensures that workers have the health and safety information they need, on behalf of the federal, provincial and territorial governments to do their work.

The commission's authority for carrying out these responsibilities on behalf of provincial and territorial jurisdictions derives from the fact that the Hazardous Materials Information Review Act has been incorporated by reference into the occupational health and safety legislation of all provinces and territories.

This means simply that any supplier of hazardous material who wishes to sell the product in this country and who wishes to conceal the information on the product as a trade secret, must first make application to the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission to do so.

The application discloses to the commission the information considered to be a trade secret. It is accompanied by the information specifying the measures that the claimant has taken to protect the information from public disclosure. Documentation supporting the application must clearly show the value of the information to the claimant.

The commission first reviews the economic documentation provided in support of the claim for the exemption from disclosure and then determines whether the information meets the specifications for trade secrets as set out in the regulations.

If the application meets all aspects of the regulation, the exemption is granted and the information is then protected. If the requirements are not met, the claimant must reveal the information for which the exemption was sought or stop selling the product here in Canada.

The commission's experience had been that industry has been conscientious in all its claims for trade secret protection. I am happy to report that nearly all have been found to be valid.

The second mandate of the commission is a review of the health and safety information to be provided to workers so that it ensures it is in full compliance with the relevant federal, provincial and territorial governments.

If the health and safety information is not in compliance, the commission issues an order requiring that the information be corrected within a specified period of time. So that all potentially affected parties are aware of the corrections that have been ordered, the compliance order is published in the Canada Gazette. It is at this point that the claimant has the option to make the corrections, appeal the decision, or simply withdraw the product from sale in Canada.

It is important to note that the track record of claimants with respect to providing accurate and complete health and safety information has not been as favourable as that for the economic justification of their trade secrets.

While the commission requires that all information be in compliance before it finalizes its deliberations, roughly 95% of the applications include health and safety information which must be corrected before there is full compliance. Appeals by the claimant or by any other affected party are heard by an independent appeal board made up of three individuals representing organized labour, industry and of course government.

In response to the concerns of stakeholders, the commission undertook a renewal program with the objective that would make the commission more effective, more efficient and more client oriented. It is also going to be more focused on early compliance with respect to health and safety legislation.

The renewal program was again a tripartite effort with the lead role played by the commission's council of governors. I would like to overview the council itself. It is an oversight body which provides strategic advice and guidance. Its membership includes representatives of organized labour, industry and of course all orders of government.

While the council focused on a number of changes which have already been implemented through administrative or regulatory means, the council of governors also unanimously recommended to the Minister of Health that the renewal exercise be completed by enacting the amendments which are set out in Bill S-2.

There are three amendments. The first relates to the economic justification in support of claims for the exemption from disclosure of trade secrets. The second relates to the correction of health and safety information. The third relates to the facilitation of the appeals process.

The first amendment will permit claimants to make a declaration that the information for which they are seeking an exemption from disclosure is indeed a trade secret as set out in the regulations and further, that documentation in support of that claim is fully available and that this documentation will be provided upon request.

This amendment will ease the administrative burden on claimants and the commission, thereby starting the process of ensuring accurate health and safety information are in the hands of employees and workers.

Administrative measures will be put into place so as to ensure the integrity of the process, but the track record of industry suggests that problems are highly unlikely.

It is also important to stress that this amendment deals specifically with the economic documentation in support of trade secret claims and has no impact on the evaluation of the health and safety information to be provided to workers and employees.

The second amendment will permit claimants to enter into undertakings with the commission. The purpose of these undertakings will ensure that the necessary corrections to the health and safety information will be provided to workers without the issuing of a formal compliance order.

This simply acknowledges industry's concerns that formal orders reflect negatively on its commitment to workers' health and their safety. More important, complete and accurate health and safety information will be in the hands of workers much sooner than is now the case.

The third and final amendment will allow the commission to provide appeal boards with clarification of records at the request of those boards or at the request of the parties to an appeal. This is something that the appeal boards have been seeking, but is not permitted under the act as it stands currently. This change will expedite the appeals process and again ensure early delivery of accurate health and safety information to workers.

These are the amendments to the Hazardous Materials Information Review Act set out in Bill S-2. Members can be assured that the amendments have the unanimous approval of all stakeholders: organized labour, industry, all provincial and territorial governments and the federal government.

The net result of these amendments will be earlier worker access to complete and accurate information on the safe handling of hazardous materials in the workplace. This can only be a positive step for workers' health and safety.

To that end I would like to comment on one of the commitments in the government's 2007 budget, which complements this legislation in a very real and tangible way.

Budget 2007 provides $1 million over two years to the Canadian arm of the International Association of Fire Fighters to help implement the hazardous materials training program. This program will be available to all first responders to an accident or a potential attack. This training and preparation complements this bill.

Firefighters in my riding came to Ottawa to tell me and the finance committee why this program made sense for them as first responders. It is a request that they have been making for over seven years. When it comes down to dealing with hazardous materials, the finance minister, the Minister of the Environment, the Prime Minister and this government listened and with the passage of this bill, we will continue to listen.

All around, it is clear this bill is a good one and is supported further by this government's focus on dealing with this important issue.

The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill S-2, An Act to amend the Hazardous Materials Information Review Act, as reported (without amendment) from the committee.

Business of the House
Oral Questions

March 22nd, 2007 / 3:05 p.m.
See context

York—Simcoe
Ontario

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, I believe that the opposition House leader takes a very broad view of the definition of technical. However, we hope that Bill C-16 will progress and will be approved in a form that is appropriate and reasonable to approve and that we will have it here to deal with in the House quickly. That has not happened yet, however, and therefore today we are going to continue with the Liberal opposition motion and the business of supply.

Tomorrow we will continue debate on second reading of Bill C-35, which is the bail reform bill. This is one that has been the subject of positive words from the opposition, and we hope that we will be able to move to unanimous approval.

That would allow us to get on with other issues such as Bill C-42, the Quarantine Act; Bill S-2, hazardous materials; Bill S-3, which deals with defence and justice matters; and Bill C-33, which is an Income Tax Act item.

On Monday, we will be having day three of the budget debate. On Tuesday, we will have the final day of the budget debate.

On Wednesday and Thursday we will continue with the unfinished business from this Friday, including hopefully, the addition of Bill C-10 dealing with mandatory minimum penalties, which I know the opposition House leader will want to add to his package of justice bills he wishes to enthusiastically support.

On Friday, March 30 we will begin debate on the budget implementation bill.

I would like to designate, pursuant to Standing Order 66(2), Wednesday, March 28 for the continuation of the debate on the motion to concur in the 11th report of the Standing Committee on Agriculture, and Thursday, March 29 for the continuation of the debate on the motion to concur in the second report of the Standing Committee on Health.

There is one further item that the opposition House leader raised which was the question of the labour bill. I believe he heard a very generous offer from the Minister of Labour today. I believe the ball is now in the opposition's court on this.

Health
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

February 1st, 2007 / 10:05 a.m.
See context

Conservative

Rob Merrifield Yellowhead, AB

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the sixth report of the Standing Committee on Health. The committee has studied Bill S-2, An Act to amend the Hazardous Materials Information Review Act, and has agreed to report it to the House without amendment.

January 31st, 2007 / 3:55 p.m.
See context

President and Chief Executive Officer, Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission Canada

Weldon Newton

Thank you, Sharon.

These are the amendments contained in Bill S-2. They are straightforward. They are the product of extensive consultations among industry, labour, and federal, provincial, and territorial governments, all of which support this bill.

I would like to share a little sidebar comment. At our annual meeting of my council in September, we spoke of Bill S-2. I reminded them of the importance of being able to say to this committee today, when given the opportunity, that the bill continues to enjoy unanimity of support among all stakeholders.

A process was agreed to. Each jurisdiction, represented by counsel, would take the bill, brief the jurisdiction's communities and stakeholders one more time, and confirm in writing—I received those confirmations prior to coming here today—an exchange of correspondence, again with my eighteen-member council, the unanimous authorization to restate today their absolute support for Bill S-2 as presented to this committee.

In a nutshell, the amendments will reduce the time required to review claims for exemption from disclosure of trade secrets. It will speed up the correction of information workers need to handle hazardous materials safely. Thirdly, it will expedite the appeals process. The net result will be earlier access by workers to complete and accurate information on the safe handling of hazardous materials. This can only be positive for workplace health and safety.

Those, Mr. Chair, are our opening comments.