House of Commons Hansard #90 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was health.

Topics

Labelling Of Toys
Private Members' Business

5:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

There are more members who wish to speak than there is time for. We have 45 minutes, which includes 5 minutes for responses, which may or may not be applied in this circumstance. Given that there are more people who wish to speak than time allows for, I remind members that they do not have to take 10 minutes just because they have 10 minutes at their disposal.

Labelling Of Toys
Private Members' Business

5:15 p.m.

Reform

Gary Lunn Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, we are talking about Motion No. 85 brought forward by the NDP member for Acadie—Bathurst. The motion concerns the labelling of toys that contain phthalates. There is apparently scientific evidence to suggest this substance causes cancer.

I have not followed the research on this topic but I am sure the member has done his research. If there are toy companies that produce toys containing phthalates, I would agree with the member wholeheartedly that there should be legislation that these toys must be labelled.

I am not an expert. I am reading only from a few reports. It is the first I have heard that phthalates cause cancer. Someone even suggested to me that these toy companies actually produce soothers containing this substance which are used by infants. I find that absolutely amazing. History has shown this is not the first time horrifying things have happened.

Providing that the science is correct, I would speak in support of this motion. I have to go further and say that we should ban something like this and not just label it. I give a qualified yes because I obviously have not done the research. I am not challenging the research done by the member. I read that tests conducted in U.K. laboratories reveal widespread presence of phthalates in soft plastic toys and other products, particularly teething rings.

A September 1997 report on the subject concludes that the primary problem is that phthalates leaking from these products are being ingested by children. Phthalates are indeed toxic and Greenpeace has been effective in lobbying European toy manufacturers and distributors to pull some of these products off the shelves.

I have two small children at home, a two-year old and a four-year old. I see some eyebrows raised. I am not that old. I am young enough to have a two-year old and a four-year old. I think there are a few grey hairs but I am trying to fight those. There are problems with toys which I have seen even in the few years we have been dealing with this.

I would support the member in this initiative. It is a qualified yes. Unless somebody can tell me differently I would be very in favour of it. I thank the member for bringing this motion before the House.

Labelling Of Toys
Private Members' Business

5:15 p.m.

Vaudreuil-Soulanges
Québec

Liberal

Nick Discepola Parliamentary Secretary to Solicitor General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak in response to the motion put forward by the hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst regarding phthalates contained in plastic toys.

The hon. member's motion states 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.

It seems to me that this no doubt well-intentioned motion is somewhat premature. The fact is that there is no conclusive evidence linking all phthalates in toys to health risks for children. In fact, my predecessor already inquired about this, and there has never been a reported case of a child experiencing ill effects from phthalates in this country or anywhere else. That is why the government is not supporting this motion at this time, which does not mean that the government is taking the matter lightly. Quite the contrary.

Health Canada officials are currently investigating the potential health risks of phthalates in polyvinyl chloride or PVC plastic toys.

If at any time clear evidence of health risks from phthalates are established, appropriate action will immediately be taken to protect the health of Canadian children.

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 have undertaken a scientific risk assessment on phthalates in various PVC plastic products. Specifically, they are trying to determine the presence of potentially toxic substances and conducting tests to see if these substances can in fact be absorbed by children.

The department has developed a test protocol and is currently assessing polyvinyl chloride products to validate test procedures. Test results should soon be available to help determine the risks represented by phthalates.

Two of the most valuable tools at the government's disposal are the Hazardous Products Act and the Hazardous Products (Toys) Regulations, which are both administered by the Products Safety Bureau of Health Canada. The legislation in effect totally bans the sale of certain toys while others are not allowed on the market until they meet certain very precise safety standards.

The mission of Health Canada's Product Safety Bureau is to prevent deaths and injuries linked to the use of products. In order to reduce the potential dangers of products intended for children and to promote their safe use, the Bureau operates on a number of levels, particularly by enacting legislation, setting standards and informing consumers.

The Bureau's activities dovetail with those of Health Canada's national information and education program. Child safety and the prevention of injuries linked to the use of consumer products constitute one of the program's key objectives.

I am certain that Health Canada's sound research, coupled with dialogue and consultation with governments, industry and NGOs, will make it possible to clarify the issue and constitute a solid and informed basis for measures the Government of Canada might take in future in this connection.

This well thought out approach reflects Health Canada's decision to have a solid and informed assessment of the risks in order to gain an understanding of the complex health issues,.and to act accordingly, especially where children are concerned.

In reacting in a rigorous and thorough manner to this potential health hazard, we are following up on an ongoing government commitment to ensure the health and safety of all Canadian children.

The Health Protection Branch of Health Canada is making every effort to reduce health risks associated with the natural or artificial environment which can lead to injury or death.

The main responsibilities of this branch are, first, to assess and control the nutritional value, quality and safety of food products; second, to assess and control the safety and effectiveness of drugs, cosmetics, medical instruments, radiation emitting devices and other consumer products; third, to identify and assess environmental risks, and to monitor, prevent and fight diseases; and fourth, to provide laboratory services such as those required for the analysis and evaluation of plastic products containing potentially dangerous phthalates.

At the Health Protection Branch, these various programs are bound together by the government's desire to ensure the health and safety of Canadian children. Of course, this concern is shared by parents and other caregivers, public health workers, product manufacturers and retailers.

By mobilizing all available resources, knowledge and expertise and by co-operating with partners from various sectors, the government has effectively reduced potential risks to our children's safety.

I will conclude by saying that I find this to be a worthy motion, but in light of the efforts already undertaken by Health Canada and because of the lack of information, as mentioned by the member of the Reform Party, I think it is a little premature at this time.

Labelling Of Toys
Private Members' Business

5:25 p.m.

Bloc

Suzanne Tremblay Rimouski—Mitis, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak on Motion M-85 put forward by my NDP colleague, the hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst.

The motion reads as follows:

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.

I would like to thank the hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst for giving us the opportunity to discuss the safety of the manufactured products that we buy and in particular the potentially toxic products used in the production of children's toys.

Today, Earth Day, is the perfect time to ask us the following questions: In what kind of environment do we want to live? Do we want a healthy environment for our kids? Should we let companies put their profits before the quality of the products they sell? Should our governments legislate to protect our environment and ensure that the legislation is enforced?

The motion before us deals with phthalates. This is a chemical product that is used to make many plastic products more malleable. They are found in a number of children's toys among other things.

Recent scientific studies carried out in several European countries show that these products can cause cancer, liver damage and infertility. These same studies indicate that children, particularly preschoolers, are more vulnerable.

The Vinyl Council of Canada and the Canadian Toy Manufacturers' Association have denied that phthalate-containing toys are dangerous. They have asked that any decision be postponed pending the results of a study underway at Health Canada. But it could take Health Canada months if not years to examine all toys and determine which ones release phthalates. It could take this department a long time to determine the acceptable level of this product in toys.

Why are manufacturers putting people's health at risk by waiting to withdraw their products until phthalates have been proven dangerous? By that time, parents could end up with sick children, and the government would have to bear the cost of any health services needed to restore them to health or to treat them for permanent damage.

Last December, Denmark's environment minister condemned the industry for trying so hard to deny any problems with phthalates instead of looking for safer alternatives. Other substances could be used to make plastic more malleable. Why not use substances that are recognized as safer?

In several countries such as Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden, Argentina, Spain, Belgium, and Italy, stores have voluntarily withdrawn these toys at the request of governments as a preventive measure. This has involved losses for them, but they believed that children's health was more important.

When in doubt, the consumer's interest should always prevail. For example, it is common in the food sector to see a company withdraw all its products from the shelves because a few people got sick. It is a matter of respect for customers.

In 1997, Health Canada issued a warning because children's health could be affected by the lead contained in blinds made of polyvinyl chloride. The fact that these products had been widely distributed before it was realized that they could be dangerous shows the importance of prevention.

The motion before us today at second reading does not even demand that all phthalates be prohibited. It merely asks that a label be put on children's toys containing phthalates, since they could potentially be dangerous. This would allow parents to make an informed decision as to whether they are prepared to take the risk of having their children chew on toys that could release toxic substances. The label put on these products would not say that they are harmful, but it would inform consumers, as is the case with the labels found on all stuffed animals, cereal boxes or other consumer products.

Just this morning, La Presse reported that a five-year old girl was found to have a high level of lead because she kept chewing on a pendant that she received as a Christmas present. Health Canada issued a warning and the American manufacturer voluntarily withdrew the product from the market.

It is only natural for young children to put things in their mouths. It is part of their development and discovery process. This is why it is worrisome to see that teething rings, rattles and other toys that children often put in their mouth for hours may contain toxic substances.

Phthalates are dangerous products. In the laboratories where they are used, they have a label with the warning “Avoid contact”. Since phthalates account for 10% to 40% of the weight of some toys, they can be mechanically released when children chew on these toys.

Studies conducted by the governments of Denmark and Holland, and by Greenpeace's laboratories in Great Britain, show that the quantities thus released largely exceed the acceptable level, up to 40 times according to the European Commission's scientific committee on toxicity, ecotoxicity and the environment, which conducted a study on a phthalate, di-iso-nonyl. These substances get into a child's saliva and then into the digestive tract, poisoning the child.

At the present time, the manufacturers are claiming they meet Canadian standards, which is true, but in reality there are no Canadian standards for acceptable quantities of DINP phtalate or di-iso-nonyl phtalate. There is a loophole in the Hazardous Products Act, since a product not specifically listed in the act is legal, regardless of its level of toxicity.

As far as plastics are concerned, these are not regulated by the Hazardous Products Act. Thus Health Canada has no way of protecting the public from dangerous additives which may be in these plastics. Health Canada could not, therefore, ask retailers to withdraw these products.

I must, however, put the government on guard against the trend toward deregulation, which is being felt in all areas. I am totally in agreement with elimination of the over-regulation that exists in certain areas, in order to simplify and clarify the wording of legislation for the benefit of all. But eliminating red tape must not be confused with deregulation, which would lead to decreased public safety.

At a time when our health system is overburdened and experiencing financial problems, it must be realized that preventive measures will not only save considerable amounts of money, but also a great deal of suffering in the medium and long term.

A child's early years are crucial to physical and intellectual development. Young children are highly susceptible to minimal quantities of toxic substances. This is why it so crucial to ensure they live in a healthy environment and the consumer products in this environment are safe. Healthy children will grow into active and fulfilled adults.

I support this motion and I ask the government to always do the utmost when people's health is at risk because of toxic substances. Human health should get more priority than corporate financial interests, even if companies try to influence the government towards more lenient regulations.

Liberal members are suggesting that the Hazardous Products Act already protects people, but, if the hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst had not raised it, the issue of phthalates in children's toys would not have been taken up by Health Canada. In a previous study, the department tested vinyl toys for the presence of lead and cadmium only.

I congratulate the hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst on his motion, and I hope it will be passed. It has already generated discussion on the safety of children's toys and forced Health Canada to study this issue.

In conclusion, the hon. member has also reminded us that we should always be on the alert and demand that public safety take precedence over the marketing of consumer products. On behalf of those children who have no voice, and as a preschool education professional with 35 years experience, I sincerely thank the hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst for this motion.

Labelling Of Toys
Private Members' Business

5:35 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Greg Thompson Charlotte, NB

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to the following motion by the member for Acadie—Bathurst:

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.

The motion was introduced following Greenpeace's allegations about additives in vinyl toys. It alleged that the phthalates esters, a common family of chemical products, represent a danger to children. It would cause any of us to be concerned when we recognize there could be a danger.

However there is an important point to make. The particular esters we are talking about have been used safely for over 40 years in toys as well as in health sensitive applications, including blood bags, catheters, IV tubing and surgical gloves.

It is not just toys that we are talking about. It is a wide range of medical products. No other plasticizer has been subjected to the same level of scrutiny and testing as the one in question here tonight.

The product we are talking about actually softens plastic and makes it pliable. That is all it does. That is why it is used in children's toys and that is why it is used in surgical tubing. Obviously that tubing is subjected to a lot of stress and has to be able to withstand it.

Last fall Health Canada released a report conducted by the product safety bureau's environmental health directorate. It concludes that the lead and cadmium present in these vinyl consumer products do not pose any significant risk to children. It is important to remember that.

More important, Health Canada has undertaken a risk assessment of phthalates and will be releasing the results of this testing very soon. In fact it should be late this spring or very early summer. In the best interest of parents and children I would suggest that we wait for the risk assessment to be done.

In all fairness, any decision to label toys should be based upon pure science. We have to depend on that. Obviously, if we do not depend upon pure science, the significance of labelling would be seriously undermined. That is the only responsible way to proceed. It has to be based on pure science and the research that is necessary to determine whether or not there is a danger. That is why we are suggesting that we should wait on that.

This party does not have a problem with the member's motion because it is coming from the right place, right here where it should be. The scientific evidence I have been able to gather in the last number of months points to the fact that Health Canada is taking it very seriously and we are going to wait for those results. No scientific evidence shows that there is any kind of a health risk.

I talked about our party respecting the motion and how much work the member has put into it. Our party will be the first to approve appropriate labelling, should the scientific and regulatory agency state that this chemical in question presents any kind of a risk. I want the public to know that. I want members on the government side as well as members on this side to know that.

It is important for all of us to know that some of the Danish studies which were alluded to and examined by Greenpeace have been discredited for what they call producing unrepeatable results. In the scientific world it means that results can be achieved through a certain process. If there is a problem, that should be repeatedly done proving the same stated fact at the end of the test. In this case it did not. They were also using what we consider false methodology. I am sure a few chemists in this room tonight know exactly what I am talking about.

Standards have to be put in place by Canada's health and safety bureau. There needs to be a regulatory standard for intake just as the European Union has already done in terms of the theory to put in place maximum daily intake of DINP.

Based on what we know and the scientific evidence out there, unfortunately we cannot support the motion until the necessary scientific protocols, which are important in the scientific community, have been established and Health Canada has in place regulatory powers under Health Canada's product safety bureau. That is why we are waiting. We will wait for the scientific jury to report back to us and we will make the appropriate decision at that time.

Labelling Of Toys
Private Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

Bruce—Grey
Ontario

Liberal

Ovid Jackson Parliamentary Secretary to President of the Treasury Board

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak to Motion No. 85 in the name of the member for Acadie—Bathurst.

It is important that members have private motions such as this one when they and their constituents have major concerns. There is no question that it is important to get all the facts out.

I noted some very interesting comments from members of the Bloc and the member opposite who just spoke indicating that we have to be vigilant. We need ways and means of protecting not only our children but our society in general through Health Canada, through the kinds of processes we use, and by hearing information from our colleagues in other countries.

There is no question that potential hazards exist from polyvinyl chlorides or PVC plastic toys, but that is not the issue. The issue, as the member before me said, is whether it is really the type of toxin advocated by Greenpeace. Is it something we should pull from the shelves? We use stringent methods of testing in order to make sure this happens.

Health Canada has been involved with the particular testing of PVCs since the 1980s. The department has taken a leadership role over the last 12 years in assessing the implications of PVCs on the health of all Canadians.

The issue is of importance to me. I have two grandchildren, one just born the day before the election. She is 10 months old. She has about two or three teeth, Mr. Speaker, which are quite sharp when you put your hands in her mouth. As the member said, this additive is something that makes things pliable. We want to make sure that it is not toxic because when we listen to people like Dr. Fraser Mustard we know now that the outcome for young children is so important. We know that from the time the child is born the parents should not be involved in smoking and they should not be involved in alcohol or any dangerous drugs that will interfere with the child. The first three years are absolutely critical, we know that. We know how the brain grows in the first six years.

I have been paying particular attention to a CBC program called Grow Baby Grow and it is fascinating to see the outcome, when children are looked after properly. It makes for a much better nation, it makes for great citizens, it makes for people who will take our places when we retire and we know we will be in good hands. We need to protect our kids.

There is no question that I want to be vigilant, I want parents to be vigilant, but I also want to make sure that when these tests are done they are valid and that the science being used is not invalid and will create problems for the industry.

The issue of phthalates in children's products, especially the DEHP, has been investigated by Health Canada. It has been investigated by many foreign governments as well, including Sweden, New Zealand, England and the United States. Suffice it to say the decision on DINP will await the completion of the scientific investigation now under way by Health Canada. Preliminary results were expected this spring and we hope we will have them soon. Should investigations indicate there is a danger or a risk to children the department of course will not hesitate to pull these things off the shelf and make sure that a threat to our children does not exist.

We have to be consistent, we have to be responsible and we have to use a professional approach to the testing. The government's ongoing commitment to the health of all Canadians is extremely important. The government will listen to all the information we can get and we will be vigilant in making sure that our citizens are protected.

I thank the member for his intervention. I think it is important that we have the debate. I cannot support the bill because, as has been said by my colleague earlier on, we want to make sure that when we pull things and put restrictions on the industry it is valid and we are using scientific information.

Labelling Of Toys
Private Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

Before we resume debate we have approximately 10 minutes remaining and we have four people who would like to get a few words in. We will keep that in mind as we resume debate with the hon. member for Sydney—Victoria.

Labelling Of Toys
Private Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

NDP

Peter Mancini Sydney—Victoria, NS

Mr. Speaker, bearing in mind the time constraints I will attempt to be brief, although once I am on my feet in the Chamber I sometimes find that a hard task.

Because I am speaking in support of this piece of legislation I do not think it is necessary for me to go over all the reasons why we should support it. Some of those have been enumerated by my colleague from the Bloc and my colleague from the Reform Party. Instead I will take the few moments I have to review perhaps the reasons why members of the government and members of the Conservative Party are not supporting this legislation and I think I can effectively raise some rebuttal to that.

We heard the parliamentary secretary say that at this point he cannot support labelling, and that is what we are talking about doing. We are not talking about pulling toys off shelves. We are not talking about banning them. We are talking about labelling them so that consumers who are parents buying for their children know what they are buying for those children and they can make the choice.

Members of the government have said that to date there is no conclusive evidence that it threatens the health of children, no specific cases having come forward, but that Health Canada is currently studying the situation. I think his exact words at one point were research is being done that will show the extent of the problem, not whether there is a problem but the extent of the problem. My colleague from the Conservative Party spoke against this bill because he says his party is also waiting to see if there is a significant risk.

We know in Europe these products have been taken off the shelves. We know there are studies in Denmark that indicate there is a risk. This debate is all too familiar. We have had this debate during question period every day for the last number of days the House has been sitting and I refer to the hepatitis C issue the Minister of Health has been grilled on. My hon. colleague from the Conservative Party arranged a press conference for those people who will not be compensated.

Why are some people not being compensated? The Minister of Health has said they were not testing at a particular point in time although we know and there is some evidence to suggest—and I am not going to get into that debate today, but the parallel is interesting—that Health Canada was aware that there was testing available for blood products before it was implemented in this country.

Today we have members of the Conservative Party, the Reform Party, the Bloc party and the New Democratic Party grilling the Minister of Health as to why people who became infected before that test was available or accepted by Health Canada were not compensated.

We know there is evidence in other countries that this product can be harmful to children but the government and Conservative Party want to wait until Health Canada does its own testing. Are members going to be in this House in 15 years grilling the Minister of Health about young children who today may become sick because we have not accepted the testing?

I will not use up all of the time because there are other points to be made. I encourage anyone watching this debate tonight, especially from Ontario since that is where many of the government members are from, to phone or write their member of parliament to indicate their concerns, especially parents of young children.

Labelling Of Toys
Private Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Liberal

Larry McCormick Hastings—Frontenac—Lennox And Addington, ON

Mr. Speaker, this is certainly a very important motion. While it is clearly intended to protect the children from potentially hazardous products, and I do respect the work that went into this, it is simply not the most effective response. This is because the mere labelling of a product based on the presence of phthalates tells the parent nothing about the potential hazard itself. It is therefore of little use in helping parents make informed decisions.

For the label to be of use it would have to identify specific substances, how much are in the toy and what level constitutes a potential health hazard. Furthermore, the implication of this motion is that government health and safety regulations would allow dangerous products to be placed on the market with full knowledge of their potential danger.

This is not true. It was not true yesterday, today or tomorrow. If a specific toy were found to contain a hazardous product and if this product had sufficient quantities to harm a child the product would not need a warning label because the product would not be on the market. The government would have already taken steps to remove the product from the market. That is why we have the Hazardous Products Act.

This issue of vinyl plastic has received recent attention in the media following a release by Greenpeace of a report that states that phthalates used in children's products are a health risk. But here it should be noted that the product identified in both studies is known as DINP. The chemical was introduced by toy manufacturers in the United States six years ago to replace a product called DEHP which was thought to be potentially hazardous to children. Therefore the products Greenpeace refers to in its report are classic chemicals used to soften the PVC or vinyl.

Health Canada has tested these products and even expanded its testing and assessment of other plastic toys. The only toxin detected was DINP with very small amounts of DEHP. I would like to emphasize a point here that appears to have been overlooked in this motion and that is the mere presence of phthalates in a given product does not necessarily constitute a health risk.

Currently health officials are examining studies to assess if in fact these particular substances are toxic in this case and if they prove to be a hazard.

Certainly none of us will disagree on the intent of this motion because we are concerned about the health and safety of our children on this issue. Some of the points made during the course of this debate have created some confusion about what additives are under dispute and their effects.

However, I do believe that we now have a better appreciation of this issue and of the role Health Canada has been playing because the number one priority is our children.

Labelling Of Toys
Private Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, these past four days, we have heard that all parties were concerned about the tainted blood issue in Canada. Health Canada and its minister have had fingers pointed at them every day. And the issue was raised during the whole week that preceded our two week recess.

Today, three very important points were raised in the debate on Motion M-85. First, the fact that members from all political parties support this initiative proves the significance of this motion, and we can understand why that is.

At first reading, everyone spoke in favour. At second reading, corporate lobbying began and a number of members started to change their tune. Most of us here, in the House of Commons, are parents, and those who are not all know children they care about. This motion touches a chord in us as parents and adults who want to keep children out of harm's way.

I have three daughters and I can tell you that, I would have wanted to know that there was a risk that some of the toys I bought them when they were babies could cause cancer, liver damage and infertility, had it been possible at the time.

That is the problem with phthalates in plastic toys. We cannot tell which toys contain this chemical substance. This means that parents who buy a soother or a teething ring are playing Russian roulette with their children's health.

Let me outline the studies conducted internationally, which show how important it is to label toys containing phthalates. Phthalates are chemical agents used to make plastic more pliable. They are largely used in the manufacturing of pacifiers, teething rings and other flexible plastic toys.

Studies undertaken by the Danish government show that phthalates can be released when children bite into plastic toys. Swedish studies on rats show a correlation between the ingestion of phthalates and the onset of leukaemia, infertility and organ anomalies.

Also, a study carried out by the European Union concluded that the security issue raised by the phthalates known as DINP, DNOP and DEHP is cause for concern.

This debate also showed that members of the House of Commons are not the only ones concerned about the use of phthalates in plastic toys. In Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden, Argentina, Spain, Belgium, Germany and Italy, toy manufacturers and store chains have withdrawn toys containing phthalates.

I do not have much time left, but I would like to sound a warning. There are problems with contaminated blood and if members vote against this motion, I would not want to see any of our children dying because of this three years from now. I am only asking that the label advise Canadian parents what they are buying, just as it indicates the content of carpets or other products.

If we cannot do this for our children, we should just pack it in and go home.

Labelling Of Toys
Private Members' Business

6 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

It being 6 p.m., the time provided for debate has expired.

Pursuant to the order made Tuesday, April 21, 1998, the motion is deemed to have been put and a recorded division deemed demanded and deferred until Tuesday, April 28, 1998, at the end of the time provided for government orders.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

Labelling Of Toys
Adjournment Proceedings

6 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Greg Thompson Charlotte, NB

Mr. Speaker, I rise concerning the hepatitis C compensation package and questions I have asked the minister repeatedly in this House.

The position taken by the Government of Canada and supported by the health minister is completely untenable. The package announced by the health minister leaves 20,000 to 40,000 innocent victims outside any kind of compensation. It is unbelievable a package that would leave out 20,000 to 40,000 people would be announced.

Unfortunately it could be as high as 60,000 people because the minister the other day admitted he does not know how many people have been left outside the compensation package. This is unbelievable in a country as historically generous as Canada.

A little frame has been built around the years 1986 to 1990. Those unfortunate victims who are outside the years 1986 to 1990 would not be compensated. Persons born on December 31, 1985 would not be compensated but persons born one day later, on New Year's Day 1986, would be compensated. How can a government agree to a package that is absolutely as insane as that?

Nobody on this side of the House supports that kind of nonsense. Much to their credit there are many backbenchers on the government side of the House who cannot support it either.

I want to let the Minister of Health know that this issue is not going to go away. As long as there is a member on this side of the House, and I do not care whether the member is a Reformer, an NDP or with the Bloc, we are not going to let this issue die. In the history of Canada, and Canada is 131 years old this year, there has never been a piece of business as sad as this one. The government is being so ungenerous to so many people.

The government has found a way to buy its way out of some of the other problems it created. Remember the helicopter deal? It paid half a billion dollars just in legal fees on what we would call a cancellation clause on a botched helicopter deal. Half a billion dollars. The government paid out $750 million, three-quarters of a billion dollars, on the failed Pearson airport deal.

A mathematical genius is not required to arrive at the number that we have on this one. Simply add half a billion and three-quarters of a billion and it is way over a billion dollars. The government found money for those botched projects but it cannot find money for innocent victims. It is unbelievable.

This issue is not going to go away. I am glad the justice critic is with me tonight. He just reminded me that the minister is the same minister who was spending half a billion dollars on gun registration, half a billion dollars on legislation we do not need in this country.

The issue is not going to go away. We are going to fight it. We want changes.

Labelling Of Toys
Adjournment Proceedings

6:05 p.m.

Vaudreuil-Soulanges
Québec

Liberal

Nick Discepola Parliamentary Secretary to Solicitor General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the Minister of Health I am pleased to respond to the hon. member. I would like to remind him that we are talking about people, not statistics, not numbers. We are talking about people's lives who have been affected as a result of infection through the blood system.

I would also like to remind the House that we have been guided by the desire to help these people, help them as quickly as possible and to do so on the basis of compassion and sound public policy.

We have listened to those who were affected by the blood tragedy and we listened to Justice Krever. We heard about the urgency of the situation. We heard that assistance should come and come soon and be tailored to the needs. We have since moved very quickly. We have taken action. Thirteen ministers of health have had to act and they have had to do so in a responsible manner.

I would like to take a moment to address Mr. Krever's approach to the issue. He had a very particular mandate which he fulfilled but to which he was also bound. His final report is a comprehensive and exhaustive examination of evidence and various facts. The report provides the best historical look at why the events of the past occurred, what was done and more importantly, what should be done in the future in order that we can learn from the errors of the past and learn about ways in which we should improve the blood system in the future.

The Minister of Health has an important mandate and set of responsibilities that he must take very seriously also. His provincial and territorial colleagues have mandates of their own. They have worked together to address the past. We have also worked together to build the future. We anticipate how our decisions have very serious consequences now and for the future. We are not just talking about the injuries sustained through the blood system, we are talking about all health care, medical interventions and health services.

On March 27 Canada's health ministers announced that governments were offering $1.1 billion in assistance to Canadians infected by the hepatitis C virus.

I have run out of time, Mr. Speaker. I will discuss this with the hon. member personally.

Labelling Of Toys
Adjournment Proceedings

6:05 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I rise today on a question I asked in this House on March 25 of this year. I asked the finance minister if and when he would produce sufficient funds as recommended in the east coast report and the Harrigan report. We are talking about TAGS and the infrastructure money required for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador and the other four Atlantic provinces.

With your indulgence, Mr. Speaker, I would like to read to this House a letter signed by five premiers of Atlantic Canada to the Prime Minister dated December 12, 1997:

“We the premiers of Canada's five eastern provinces are writing to express our concerns over the pending expiry of the Atlantic groundfish strategy, TAGS, and to call upon the Government of Canada to immediately establish a successor program to TAGS.

“As you are aware the Atlantic groundfish strategy is due to expire in May 1998. Over the past four years this program has constituted an essential lifeline for over 40,000 individuals and their families from Atlantic Canada and Quebec, individuals who through no fault of their own have seen their livelihoods and those of their families and communities challenged severely by the groundfish crisis.

“TAGS was based on two fundamental premises which have proven incorrect. First, the program was based on the expectation that key groundfish stocks would begin to recover by the time the program was due to end and commercial fisheries could be reopened by this time. This premise has proven incorrect and many of the principal groundfish stocks off Canada's east coast remain incapable of sustaining a commercial fishery.

“Second, the program was expected to bring about labour market adjustment and assist individuals in moving out of occupations tied to the traditional fishery. This has not occurred as funding for training and other adjustment initiatives had to be terminated prematurely in order to meet demands for income support which significantly exceeded initial expectations.

“The net result for these considerations is that many of the fundamental challenges which caused the federal government to establish the original TAGS program remain. Clearly, a comprehensive and effective post TAGS program is essential to the future of individuals and communities throughout Canada's five eastern provinces.

“Through the recent hearings of the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, of which I was a member, and through the community hearings held by the Harrigan task force, the people of Atlantic Canada and Quebec have called on the federal government to assume its responsibility for the development and implementation of an effective post-TAGS program.

“They have also stated clearly that the social and economic stress created by the fisheries crisis are continuing to represent a fundamental challenge to the future of many of our rural communities. This challenge cannot be met effectively through normal programs of government.

“Unquestionably the urgent need to establish the effect of the post-TAGS program cannot be ignored. On behalf of the people of Atlantic Canada and Quebec we therefore call upon the government to ensure that an effective TAGS program is developed and implemented immediately”.

This is the response the government gives. Today in the House the Minister of Veterans Affairs spoke to the delegation from Newfoundland and Labrador. Some 3,000 people are to be cut off TAGS on May 8, one year premature of the originally promised date. He said to those people that there would be no program for them. They are finished. They are cut adrift.

I find that absolutely abominable and the Liberals should be ashamed of themselves for that kind of action to people who are in such a crisis.

Labelling Of Toys
Adjournment Proceedings

6:10 p.m.

Vaudreuil-Soulanges
Québec

Liberal

Nick Discepola Parliamentary Secretary to Solicitor General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, the Government of Canada is aware of the profound impact of the closure of the fishery on provinces, communities and individuals especially in Atlantic Canada and Quebec.

It is now evident that fish stocks are not returning to their previous levels and we must help people adjust to an economy with a very reduced fishery.

The government is also committed to helping the people and the communities affected by the closure of the groundfishery and is prepared to deal with the situation with the same compassion and responsibility that motivated the government to implement TAGS initially in 1994. The government committed back then $1.9 billion in benefits to help fishers and plant workers affected by the crisis in the fishery.

While the government announced that TAGS would essentially continue until the end of August this year, it recognized that action was still required. That is why Mr. Eugene Harrigan was appointed by the government to lead a review of the impact of the end of TAGS. That is also why the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans undertook an investigation of the situation.

I wish to take this opportunity to acknowledge the contribution of both reports. They provide us with assessments of the post-TAGS situation and have given us important information which will prove useful as we continue working on the development of sensitive, forward looking approaches to a post-TAGS program.

In closing, I wish to assure the hon. member and the House that the government remains committed to ensuring that the transition to the post-TAGS environment is managed in a fair and sensitive way. We recognize this is a very stressful time for fishers and plants workers and will make an announcement as soon as we can.