House of Commons Hansard #44 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was plan.

Topics

Division No. 59
Government Orders

5:55 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Division No. 59
Government Orders

5:55 p.m.

The Speaker

I declare Motion No. 8 lost. Therefore Motion No. 16 is defeated.

Division No. 59
Government Orders

5:55 p.m.

Don Valley East
Ontario

Liberal

David Collenette Minister of Transport

moved that the bill be concurred in.

Division No. 59
Government Orders

5:55 p.m.

Liberal

Bob Kilger Stormont—Dundas, ON

Mr. Speaker, if the House would agree I would propose that you seek unanimous consent that members who voted on the previous motion be recorded as having voted on the motion now before the House, with Liberal members voting yes.

Division No. 59
Government Orders

5:55 p.m.

The Speaker

Is there unanimous consent?

Division No. 59
Government Orders

5:55 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Division No. 59
Government Orders

5:55 p.m.

Reform

Chuck Strahl Fraser Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, Reform Party members present will support this motion.

Division No. 59
Government Orders

5:55 p.m.

Bloc

Stéphane Bergeron Verchères, QC

Mr. Speaker, Bloc Quebecois members will vote no on this motion.

Division No. 59
Government Orders

5:55 p.m.

NDP

John Solomon Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, NDP members present vote no on this motion.

Division No. 59
Government Orders

5:55 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Norman E. Doyle St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, Conservative members will be voting yes.

(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Division No. 60
Government Orders

December 4th, 1997 / 5:55 p.m.

The Speaker

I declare the motion carried.

Division No. 60
Government Orders

6 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Order. It being 6 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of Private Members' Business as listed on today's Order Paper.

Toy Labelling
Private Members' Business

6 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

moved:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should enact legislation mandating toy manufacturers to label toys containing phthalates in order to allow parents to make an informed decision when buying products for their children.

Mr. Speaker, I would like to rise today on an issue that is of great importance at this time of the year, children's toys. While we are discussing this issue, thousands of parents are in shopping centres buying toys for their children, but some of these toys can be dangerous.

The motion I am moving today proposes that all toys containing phthalates be labelled so that parents can make an informed decision when buying products for their children. Phthalates are chemical agents that soften plastics. They are used in many items, including plastic covers for containers, cellophane tissue and children's toys.

With this motion, I ask the government to take action in the case of plastic toys, because studies have shown that this material can cause cancer, damage the liver, and cause infertility. These studies also show that children are more vulnerable to these toxic effects, especially during the growing years.

What is of even greater concern to me is the fact that these phthalates can be found in pacifiers, in teething rings and in a variety of other toys. Imagine, our children are biting into toys that release chemical agents that can cause cancer. Soft plastic toys containing phthalates are like a sponge. When a child bites into a teething ring, these phthalates are released into his digestive system, in the same way that water is released when a sponge is squeezed. Once in the system, these phthalates apparently alter the normal development of the reproductive organs, for example, and they could cause health problems like cancer, infertility and damage to the liver.

So here are these parents in shopping centres probably buying without knowing it toys that can harm their children. That is why labelling is required to allow parents to make informed decisions.

It was Greenpeace that brought the issue of phthalates to the attention of Canadians. Greenpeace did research on toys bought here in Canada to determine the percentage of toys containing phthalates. This research revealed that phthalates made up a rather important part of the product, and often accounted for 10 to 40% of the weight of a toy.

After Greenpeace released its findings, Health Canada conducted its own study, which confirmed Greenpeace's findings.

If our children put in their mouths toys with a 40% toxic content, it is imperative that we take immediate action to protect them. In September, Health Canada started studying the effects of ingesting phthalates contained in toys. This study is still at the preliminary stages but, so far, no action has been taken by the government to increase the visibility of this very serious concern. The department's attitude seems to be: let us wait for the results of our study; too bad if children get sick in the meantime.

You may recall the time we learned about the serious health hazard posed by the mini-blinds that everyone had in their windows. Only after several cases of poisoning were reported in the United States did the government act. Putting the lives of our children at risk because science cannot answer all our questions quickly enough is unacceptable.

In Denmark, tests conducted on rats showed that phthalates cause cancer, liver damage and infertility. These new findings prompted some store chains in Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden, Argentina, Spain, Belgium and Italy to take a large number of phthalate containing toys off the market.

These stores were responding to a request from the government of their country for the voluntary withdrawal of phthalate containing toys. These stores incurred losses as a result, but they felt that protecting the health of children was more important than making profits.

The Netherlands, Austria and Denmark have put in motion the necessary process to regulate the use of phthalates not only in toys but also in other plastic products.

Just this week, Denmark's environment minister asked the Environmental Protection Agency to develop a proposal to ban all phthalate containing toys for small children. This is what he had to say about phthalates.

When it comes to phthalates in toys for smaller children, I have already had the Environmental Protection Agency prepare proposals for a ban. Ever since the problem with phthalates has shown up, the industry has made enormous effort in trying to dismiss all problems instead of developing more health and environmental friendly material. It is time to act.

Again, that was what Danish environment minister Svend Auken said.

The Belgian minister of public health also encouraged toy distributors in his country to take some toys off the market. He had this to say to the Belgian federation of distributors: “Given the results of analyses in certain countries of the European Union, which indicate that toys and other common objects made of plastic style PVC intended for chewing by young children release significant quantities of phthalates that could represent a health hazard, I appeal to the sense of responsibility of the Belgian federation of distributors and ask you to intervene with members of your federation and have them take voluntary action against the marketing of such products”.

The Belgian minister continued: “I would also stress that you do urgently whatever is necessary to withdraw these plastic style PVC products containing phthalates from sale and thus maintain consumer confidence in the safety of these toys”.

I have just quoted the remarks of two European ministers. If they considered it necessary to act on the matter of phthalates, should Canada not do the same? If these countries, in the light of new information, thought it necessary to withdraw plastic toys from the market, we should obtain the information parents need to know what they are buying.

This is a matter of protecting our children and of consumer rights. In Canada today, parents concerned by what children put in their mouths cannot know that the toys contain phthalates.

The labels of toys containing phthalates provide the information parents need to make a considered decision.

At the moment, Canadian parents have to guess. That is not acceptable. It is also a public information issue. I talk with parents all over the country, and they are alarmed at not being able to get this information. They tell me that their priority is their children's health and that they are entitled to access to information as vital as this.

This morning I did a test with our press colleagues. I gave them a series of plastic toys and asked them which ones contained phthalates. Of course, nobody could tell me.

The problem with phthalates is that they cannot detect it. We have to test for it in the lab or have the manufacturer's list of materials that went into the toy. This is why we need labels, in order to know which toys might be dangerous.

At the present time, Health Canada is starting to do testing on certain toys, but any parent knows that there are a number of toys made out of soft plastic. Before Health Canada can test all those toys, we might well be in the next millenium. Action must be taken now to protect our children's health.

As well, Health Canada has not yet determined what concentration of phthalates is considered dangerous. Even if the toy testing is done, then, they do not have the tools to determine what is acceptable and what is not.

We all know how much time it takes to get standards approved. In this case, as well, Canada is seeking to get an international standard set, which means that once our position has been determined, we will have to get it accepted by the European countries, the United States, Australia and New Zealand, as well as by our colleagues in this undertaking.

I respect what Health Canada is doing, but I believe that, if our European counterparts have acted in a definitive manner on this, the least we can do is to label these toys. Too often in this House we hear of cases where the government has not acted fast enough to deal with a situation, out of lack of information or neglect. This week we received the Krever report, which underscores the shortcomings in government action on tainted blood.

In ten years, do we want to realize that we did not act fast enough on phthalates? I want to be very clear here, a ban on the use of phthalates is not what I want. I understand that science has its merits and must be allowed to play its role.

That is why I am only asking that toys be labelled. This way, Health Canada could take whatever steps are necessary and the public could make informed decisions. In the meantime, I ask toy manufacturers to do what the Danish environment minister asked. Many other substances can be used to make plastic soft. Why risk it? Why not just use other plasticisers?

We often overlook the financial factor in health issues. By taking preventative steps now, we will not need to use an already overburdened health system later. We are talking about diseases for which treatment is expensive. Cancer, infertility and liver damage are expensive to treat. Prevention always pays off.

And, of course, there is the human cost. How can you not act when there are small children who are growing and who, 20, 30 or 40 years from now, could develop cancer or be unable to have children of their own because they chewed on soft plastic toys when they were toddlers. Why take such a risk?

Canada is a sensible country where the well-being of its citizens dominates. When other countries take firm action on a health issue such as this one, should we not act as soon as possible to ensure that Canadians are protected? Of late this government has been more preoccupied with the bottom line than the best interests of Canadians.

What I am asking is not much, a label on toys to ensure that Canadian parents can make an informed decision. Why would we be afraid of an informed public? The human cost of ingesting phthalates is enormous. We are talking about kids with vulnerable bodies who are shaping themselves.

As parents, we all know how quickly they grow, how last month's shirt or pants are too small. Imagine that while their little organs are developing our children are taking a chemical which will alter the normal development process. This means that their little hearts and their little brains do not develop normally. That is the bottom line. That is what we are talking about.

Put in those terms, putting a label on the toys does not seem like much, does it?

I stressed the risks associated with phtalates. I listed the immediate steps various countries took to take toys off the shelves in stores. I am not asking that we reinvent the wheel. I just want Canadians to have all the information they need to make the right decision. Everyone benefits from toy labelling. Let us act now to protect our children's health. I am asking my hon. colleagues to make this their Christmas present to all Canadian children.

Toy Labelling
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Liberal

Joe Volpe Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Mr. Speaker, the House is being asked today to support a motion requiring toy manufacturers to label toys containing phthalates. It is claimed that such a measure would enable parents to make an informed decision when they buy toys for their children.

While the motion clearly seeks to protect children against potentially dangerous phthalates, it is not the best solution to the problem. Why? Because merely indicating on a label that a toy contains phthalates does not tell parents anything about the potential risk and is therefore of little help in making an informed decision.

The label can only be of some use if it specifies the type of phthalate, its concentration in the toy, and the concentrations which could potentially be harmful to a child. Moreover, if a particular toy was found to contain potentially dangerous phthalates, even in high enough concentrations to be harmful to children, it would not be necessary to issue a warning on the label, since that toy would simply not be sold. Indeed, the government would already have taken steps to have such a product taken off the market.

The second problem concerning the motion is the legislation. Should the motion be adopted, the Hazardous Products (Toys) Regulations under the Hazardous Products Act would have to be amended to make it compulsory to indicate the presence of phthalates in toys made with PVC plastic.

Again, this would be an unnecessary measure. As it now stands, the Hazardous Products Act already gives the government effective and powerful instruments to deal with potential threats to children's health. The act formally prohibits certain toxic solvents and substances. If it was found that some toys contain unacceptable levels of potentially harmful substances, the government would take appropriate measures to have these toys taken off the market.

I would like, if I may, to draw attention to an apparent oversight in this motion. The mere presence of phthalates in a given product does not necessarily constitute a health hazard. Health Canada officials are now looking at studies in order to determine whether the phthalates in question are in fact hazardous.

Finally, I would like to draw attention to the third problem with this motion, which is that the labelling it proposes for the products in question would not constitute a reliable or effective method in the event of an actual hazard. Labelling cannot take the place of energetic and decisive action, should such action ever be necessary.

In closing, I wish to stress that the Hazardous Products Act, together with Health Canada's ongoing monitoring, analysis and evaluation activities, provides the government with all the tools it needs to deal with any potential health hazard caused by the presence of phthalates in plastic PVC products.

In the motion, the hon. member asserts that the government should enact legislation mandating toy manufacturers to label toys containing phthalates in order to allow parents to make an informed decision when buying products for their children. The motion is well intentioned, but the fact is that there is no conclusive evidence linking all, and I stress the word all, phthalates in toys to health risks for children. In fact there has never been a reported case of a child experiencing ill effects from phthalates in this country or anywhere else. For this reason, it is difficult for us to support the motion at this time.

This does not mean however that the government is taking the matter lightly. Quite the contrary. As I indicated a moment ago, officials within the department are currently investigating the potential health risks of phthalates in polyvinyl chloride or PVC plastic toys. In other words, we are being proactive rather than reactive.

My minister, the minister responsible for the health and well-being of Canadian children, has already assured this House, and I repeat that assurance, that if at any time clear evidence of health risks from phthalates are established, appropriate action will be taken to protect the health of children and I dare say with alacrity.

Health Canada's investigation of potential health risks from phthalates includes ongoing information exchange with the department's counterparts in the United States and in Europe, with industry, advocacy groups and health associations, as well as a comprehensive literature assessment on the potential toxicity of phthalates.

As part of this investigation, Health Canada officials are undertaking a scientific risk assessment on phthalates in various PVC plastic products. This risk assessment involves two key elements: an evaluation to determine the presence of potentially toxic substances, and testing to see if these substances can in fact be absorbed by children.

I am confident that Health Canada's sound research combined with ongoing dialogue and consultation with government, industry and NGOs, stakeholders and players will result in a clear assessment of this issue, an assessment I am confident that will form a solid, well-informed basis for any possible future action on this matter by the Government of Canada. This approach focuses on solid evidence-based risk assessment as a means of understanding and acting on complex health issues, particularly as they relate to children.

Permit me to suggest that the thorough and comprehensive nature of our response to this potential health threat is also a reflection of the government's ongoing commitment to ensuring the health and safety of all of Canada's children.

Under the circumstances while it is well intentioned, the motion goes beyond what is already in place. In fact it becomes unnecessary. We have all the mechanisms already in place. They are already being utilized and they are being employed in a proactive and aggressive fashion.

Toy Labelling
Private Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Reform

Reed Elley Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak on Motion No. M-85 which has been brought forward by the hon. member Acadie—Bathurst. I must say to the hon. member I support the motion before us. In doing so I must add that I have a number of questions and some concerns which we will investigate.

What is truly unfortunate in the way in which we do things in the House of Commons is that my concerns and questions will not be answered because the format for debate of a private member's motion does not allow for a question and answer session. In view of this I am hopeful that the sponsor of the motion might address in his closing remarks some of the questions that I raise.

For instance, I am curious as to whether or not any regulatory impact studies will be done in order to give manufacturers an idea of how they will be expected to comply. It is clear the effort to label toys with phthalates will rest with the manufacturers. In this regard it would also be nice if they could have some idea of the costs that would be associated with doing this. This is not to say that the labelling costs should in any way shape or form be placed ahead of consumer safety, especially where the safety of children is concerned, far from it. However in fairness to an industry which will be expected to comply with any new regulations some idea of costs must be given.

The other consideration has to do with the study performed by Greenpeace. I wonder if there have been any other studies done. Have toy manufacturers in Europe responded only to this study? Have they directly responded at all?

I am not calling into question Greenpeace's objectivity or scientific analysis, but its disdain for corporations of all kinds is no secret. Indeed we only have to look at the way in which in Europe it has misrepresented the British Columbia forestry practices to understand what I am saying.

In any event I and my Reform colleagues are in favour of what the member is proposing regardless of whether the issue is one of safety, particularly that of children, or manufacturing compliance.

In this regard I am particularly impressed that the motion places the responsibility of whether or not to purchase a toy containing phthalates with the consumer. This is a good thing as we should not underestimate the ability of consumers to decide what is in their or in this case their children's interests.

All too often in this House we see members put forward legislation which seeks to ban or to remove or otherwise restrict a product based on tentative findings. This applies to members on both sides of the House so I hope that my friends in the government will not feel like I am singling them out.

None of these questions or concerns imply that phthalates are not toxic. We know that they are. But even Greenpeace will concede that the leaching of phthalates from a toy into a child is not an absolute certainty. However, in cases like this I think we must always err on the side of caution especially because it involves the safety of our children.

In this regard I agree with the principal intent of this motion which is to inform consumers of a potential hazard. I note that the effort in Europe has gone beyond alerting consumers to the presence of phthalates in toys to one of actually removing them from shelves. With this in mind, perhaps the hon. member from the NDP could comment on whether this extra step was indeed warranted or whether it was an over-reaction to a situation.

If it was not an over-reaction by European governments, then I commend the hon. member for not blindly following their lead in this matter. If removal was necessary, then are we not placing Canadian consumers at some form of risk? Again, the comments of the hon. member for the NDP would be useful.

Lastly, I would like to know if Canadian manufacturers are aware of the problems that are associated with phthalates. If they are, what is their position on the matter?

This is important because they should be given a chance to voluntarily sort this thing out for themselves. This is a more effective route, instead of being ambushed by regulations which they would be forced to comply with on short notice.

I want to again commend the hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst for his foresight in this matter. Indeed, given the time of the year which we are now celebrating, highlighting this concern for parents who will be buying toys of all kinds is a very worthwhile endeavour.

In closing, I appreciate having had this opportunity to speak on this matter to the House today. I look forward to seeing the motion passed by the House and I trust that the hon. member sponsoring the motion will consider some of what I have said here today.