House of Commons Hansard #168 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was physical.

Topics

Pest Control Products Act
Government Orders

April 15th, 2002 / 5:25 p.m.

Bloc

Jocelyne Girard-Bujold Jonquière, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-53, an act to protect human health and safety and the environment by regulating products used for the control of pests. It is no secret that the population of Canada and Quebec is increasingly concerned by the overuse of pesticides. Through this bill, we will be bringing up to date the 1969 legislation, which is 33 years old.

During the last parliament, I was a member of the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development, where I had the opportunity to participate for almost a year in hearings on this issue. We tabled a very substantive report, which made positive suggestions to the government asking it to take action on the issue.

After hearing very many witnesses, we came to the conclusion that the concern of Canadians and Quebecers was justified and that pesticides could pose a serious threat to human health and the environment.

I must say that Canada's policy on pesticides leaves a lot to be desired. As a matter of fact, regulations and the pesticides management system regulating the use of pesticides have remained unchanged for the last 30 years. Obviously, the government uses outdated scientific data to register this kind of product, which poses an extremely serious threat to society in general and especially for children, pregnant women, fetuses and seniors. During the hearings of the committee last year, Dr. Kelly Martin, of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment stated, and I quote:

I would say there's concern. There's limited evidence, and there's quite a lot of concern over that. It's not like leukemia and lymphoma, for which we have reasonably good evidence to act on. Breast cancer is the other big concern with pesticides.

Dr. Merryl Hammond, founder of Action Chelsea for the Respect of the Environment, also expressed her concerns to the committee, and I quaote:

Many studies published in prestigious, peer-reviewed medical and epidemiological journals and reports point to strong associations between chemical pesticides and serious health consequences, including--and I'll just read this list briefly--endocrine disruption and fertility problems, birth defects, brain tumours and brain cancer: cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer, childhood leukemia, cancer clusters in communities, gastric or stomach cancer, learning disabilities, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, canine malignant lymphoma, and various acute effects—

Children are vulnerable in part because they run a greater risk of exposure to pesticides due to the specific characteristics of their development and physiology. For example, they eat more food, drink more water and breathe more air per kilogram of body weight than adults and can thus absorb larger quantities of the pollutants present in the environment.

The main recommendation made by the Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development was therefore for the government to review its pesticide management system and put the principle of safety foremost in its process of registering pesticide products.

From my examination of Bill C-53 I am pleased to note that Health Canada acknowledges that the primary objective of the bill in question is to protect Canadians, Canadian children in particular, and to ensure that there is an ample supply of healthy foods.

To that end, Bill C-53 includes provisions requiring the producers of pest control products to point out adverse effects on health, and older pest control products to be re-evaluated 15 years after registration, and giving the minister the power to withdraw them from the market if the information required is not provided. It also gives increased powers of inspection and provides for higher maximum fines. These can go as high as $1 million for the most serious offences when pesticides are not marketed or used in accordance with the legislation.

As well, in many respects, the new process allows greater public participation through consultations held before major decisions are taken in respect of registration, special review or re-evaluation. Under the provisions of the new pest control products act, anyone will be able to make a request to the minister for a special review of the registration of a product.

Under the 2002 PCPA, anyone may file a notice of objection to an important registration decision. In addition, the review will be open to the public. The public will have numerous opportunities to participate and will have access to most of the information received by the review panel.

There will also be a public registry. This registry will include information on registrations, re-evaluations, and special reviews, including the PMRA's detailed evaluations of the risks and values of pesticides.

I would remind the House that when witnesses appeared before the Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development and we tabled the report, they complained vigorously about the PMRA and very serious problems within this government structure. I hope that, with this bill, the government will have listened and taken action to ensure a truly rapid response. When people put questions to PMRA representatives, they will receive a speedy response.

Information on tests will also be available. The public may inspect the results of scientific tests submitted to justify registration requests. If what the government does in practice is consistent with a desire to protect society, as set out in the bill, it will be possible to meet Health Canada's primary objective. Note that I said if.

However, allow me to express a reservation with regard to Bill C-53, which does not fully follow up on a recommendation made by the Standing Committee on Environment. The committee felt that, by 2006, there should be a re-evaluation of all pesticides registered before 1995. Unfortunately, the bill does not seem to have set a deadline with regard to the re-evaluation of old pesticides. Therefore, I hope the government will reverse its decision and will include into its legislation an amendment to that effect. What is the point of tightening up pesticides registration standards if products registered over the last 30 years are not re-evaluated? Their harmfulness will remain the same and children, pregnant women and seniors will not be better protected for all that.

In that regard, the organization called Campaign for Pesticide Reduction has shown a cautious optimism with regard to the health minister's Bill C-53. According to the organization, in order to be effective, the new legislation should allow for the withdrawal of the registration of pesticides recognized as being harmful to health.

I agree with that position. If the health minister really wants to protect health, she will have to bring forward in committee an amendment providing that as soon as a pest control product is recognized as harmful to health, it will be removed from the registry. This is critical.

In my opinion, there is another deficiency in the bill, that is the cosmetic use of pesticides. Allow me to quote from the environment committee report.

A number of witnesses informed the committee that they are opposed to pesticide use for esthetic purposes in urban areas. According to the he Working Group on the Health Dangers of Urban Pesticide Use, Nature-Action Québec, Citizens for Alternatives to Pesticides and the Campaign for Pesticide Reduction, pesticides are used principally for esthetic purposes in urban areas and this poses an unnecessary risk for those applying the products and the general public. It cannot be emphasized enough that children at all stages of growth are the primary victims of our overuse of chemicals. As many of the effects of exposure to pesticides are chronic, they may well suffer the consequences of exposure all their lives and even pass this on to the next generation

The Committee firmly believes that a moratorium on pesticide use for esthetic purposes is necessary until science has proven that the pesticides involved do not constitute a health threat and some light has been shed on the consequences of their use in urban areas. Pesticide use should only be permitted in an emergency, such as a serious pest infestation which threatens the health of people and the environment.

This was one of the main recommendations of the committee at that time, which was unfortunately ignored by the government when it drafted Bill C-53. I cannot understand how it can be that the government could set aside such an essential recommendation. People must realize that the mania for a beautiful and totally dandelion-free lawn is not without danger. Young children are the ones most likely to play in the grass, in parks or other areas in their neighbourhood.

There are, however, too many carcinogenic pesticides which are harmful to their growth and may even cause leukemia. It is very urgent and very strongly advised that the government add one recommendation and add a clause to its bill, which would be along the lines of finally setting a deadline for stopping the use of pesticides on lawns.

If we really want to have as our sole objective the protection of the health of society in general, there must be some compromises and we will have to accept having a few yellow flowers in our lawns. What is worse: childhood cancer or a few dandelions? I think that the answer is self-evident.

Moreover, we have succeeded in developing alternatives to pesticides for our lawns. In this respect, it is important to mention organic farming, which seeks to promote and protect biodiversity, sustainable development and the environment. The fact is that traditional farming causes soil erosion and degradation. The benefits of organic farming are threefold.

First, not using pesticides and synthetic fertilizers eliminates the potential danger of damage to the environment. Second, the absence of synthetic fertilizers forces farmers to be concerned with soil conservation ethics, which means maintaining and recycling soil nutrients, thus reducing the risk of pollution around the farm. Third, in winter, soil recovery with forage crops, winter grains and cover crops is emphasized to improve soil condition and reduce the risk of erosion, degradation and compaction.

A number of cities in Canada and in Quebec have already begun using environmentally friendly means, similar to organic farming, to maintain their parks and lawns. According to Nature-Action Québec, it is possible to have a nice lawn without using chemicals. I do not intend to give a gardening and groundskeeping 101 course, but appendix 11.1 of the report of the Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development includes some useful tips for achieving a good looking lawn without the use of pesticides.

These are practical yet very simple tips. Companion planting works wonders in gardens. Many insects are repelled by garlic, chive, mint, anise, coriander, geranium, nasturtium and many other plants. For example, putting such plants close to rosebushes will keep aphids away.

Natural substances may also be used to catch pests. A container full of a mixture of molasses, lemon juice and water will attract earwigs, and they will drown. Slugs react in a similar fashion to beer and honey. As for carpenter ants, they are attracted to and poisoned by a mixture of peanut butter and boric acid.

A number of natural infusions make excellent pesticides. Mixtures made of rhubard, onion, garlic and soap, for instance. They can be sprayed on vegetables, put on the soil, applied to tree trunks or poured directly on plants.

There is no need to spread carcinogenic products over our lawns. Natual products work fine. The government could have prohibited the use of pesticides for aesthetic purposes, because there are natural and effective alternatives. Unfortunately, the bill seems to ignore the importance of research into and development of organic pesticides.

Nonetheless, Bill C-53 is a step in the right direction. It will allow for the review of legislation that is 30 years old and now outdated, given the evolution and progress of science. It will also establish the paramountcy of the principle of safety and general health protection. Yes, there are shortcomings, as I mentioned earlier in my speech. That being said, this bill will provide for greater transparency and increased public involvement. It provides for very severe fines for companies that try to give misleading information. We will now be able to progress, but we cannot stop at this.

This bill must become a catalyst to raise awareness among people that pesticides are toxic. These are products whose sole purpose is to kill. Apple producers make up to 16 applications of pesticides per year to prevent the apple scab, yet this fungus, when appearing in small amounts, only has a minor effect on the nutritional value of the fruit.

Sooner of later, we, as a society, have to make a choice: do we want to eat poisoned apples and have lawns that stink of chemicals, or live in a more healthy environment?

Pest Control Products Act
Government Orders

5:40 p.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to commend my colleague from Jonquière for the quality of her speech. She clearly shows that the Bloc Quebecois is able to make analyses that are not partisan and that reflect reality. Without necessarily responding to all the needs, this bill is a positive step, and the Bloc recognizes it as such.

However, I would like to ask her whether it would not be desirable to propose an amendment to put forward incentives to foster organic agriculture.

In my riding, we have the Institut de technologie agricole, or ITA, of La Pocatière. Students and teachers there have developed expertise in organic agriculture and in the specific sector of horticulture. I think the government should have included in this bill the possibility of providing incentives to help develop this type of activities. In an environmental perspective, this would have been a very meaningful and important step forward.

I would like to ask my colleague if she intends to propose an amendment or to try pressing the government to correct its bill to ensure that, in five or ten years, people will realize that action was taken to get rid of rather artificial pesticides and replace them with organic processes and approaches that improve the quality of life in all our environments.

Pest Control Products Act
Government Orders

5:45 p.m.

Bloc

Jocelyne Girard-Bujold Jonquière, QC

Mr. Speaker, when the environment committee tabled its report, we specified that the government should act on this.

The government will have to give grants to organic farming pilot projects. As my colleague said, now is the time to act. Five years from now, it will be too late. We have the bill; the process has been set in motion. The Bloc Quebecois says “Yes, we have taken a step in the right direction”. However, we should have a vision for the future.

In all areas having to do with pesticides and organic farming, all areas that will be of growing concern to future generations, a process must be set in motion now, through bills with teeth, to ensure they will have tools to move forward.

Someone will have to put forward an amendment, and I hope the government will be open-minded enough to consider that amendment.

Pest Control Products Act
Government Orders

5:45 p.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her answer. It is encouraging indeed. I hope the government heeds our suggestion and, ultimately, when the bill comes back to the House for further study, it will contain an amendment like the one that the Bloc Quebecois would like to see included in the bill.

I will remind the House that the president of the Order of Agrologists of Quebec, Claire Bolduc, stated that the fact that this bill does not encroach on provincial jurisdictions was not really a problem in Quebec. We already have an act which, as she said, is not perfect, but it is among the toughest in that area.

Finally, do the bill before us and the amendments to be proposed shortly not represent a victory for those who want a healthier environment? Should we not ensure today that we have a bill for the future, a bill that will last five, ten, fifteen or twenty years because we really do need to clean up our act in this area? The fact that we support this bill shows that the environment is a great concern for both Quebecers and other Canadians.

Should we not call upon the people to take more responsibility in that regard and to approach their governments, at the municipal, provincial or federal level, and urge them to take action to constantly improve the quality of our living environment?

Pest Control Products Act
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5:45 p.m.

Bloc

Jocelyne Girard-Bujold Jonquière, QC

Mr. Speaker, just like my colleague, this is what I hope for. We have a tool for the future. We all want to protect the environment.

The environment committee report is quite comprehensive; one can find everything in the document. I invite people to obtain a copy of the report--there are still copies in both French and English--in order to see the very serious work done by the committee. The witnesses who appeared before the committee said what the government should aim for. We heard from some fine witnesses people who made some very compelling suggestions.

The report sets out everything needed for the government to finally become a leader in the area of pesticides and organic farming and everything pertaining to our collective conscience. Every day, people are being challenged; now they will have some way of realizing that maybe tomorrow will be too late and that they should act right now.

Pest Control Products Act
Government Orders

5:50 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Keith Martin Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with my esteemed colleague, the member for Vancouver Island North.

It is a pleasure to speak on Bill C-53, a bill that deals with pesticides. There is a lot of information and some misinformation concerning pesticides and I think that above all else we must ensure that the precautionary principle is upheld. All of us here in the House want to ensure that public health and public safety are number one, but we want to make sure that whatever decisions we make on pesticides are based on scientific fact. Herein lies the difficulty: getting to the facts of the matter.

Pesticides are a double-edged sword. On the one hand they deal with removing pests, which is necessary for the production of the food products all of us eat, but on the other hand there can be side effects. I will use the example of DDT. We know that DDT has saved the lives of millions of people around the world by preventing malaria and other diseases. In fact it has saved a lot of crops. On the other hand, on our continent we have seen that DDT has had a disastrous effect upon raptors. We saw the decimation of the populations of bald eagles, golden eagles, peregrine falcons and many others when their eggs became too fragile for the little chicks to live. As a result, DDT was rightly banned in North America. We want to make sure in dealing with pesticides that science and public safety will be upheld.

I only have a few minutes so I will deal with an issue that is important in my heart and to many of my constituents and that is the safety of children. We know that all of us are living in a chemical soup. It is a soup made up of chemicals from pesticides and from agricultural products that are dumped into the water and get into our environment. Sadly, when we track this over the last 25 years we see a very disturbing trend. We see a massive increase in asthma and a massive increase in childhood tumours, from acute lymphocytic leukemia to tumours of the central nervous system and tumours of the bone and muscle. This is very disturbing because these tumours have been and are very rare, but the numbers are increasing quite dramatically.

If we look at different demographic patterns and different areas where these tumours and cancers are found, we see a trend that correlates in some cases to areas where people are exposed to a high level of pesticides. In my province of British Columbia in the Okanagan Valley, in areas around Prince George and indeed in my riding in Sooke, I see a very disturbing trend of an unbelievable increase in the amount of tumours that are relatively rare, but in profusion in these areas, and a parallel with the implementation and use of certain pesticides.

What we in our party are saying is let us make sure that pesticides are safe. We applaud the bill in the sense that it deals with issues such as children and issues such as using science, but we think it can go further. We think the government and the minister should be using scientific information not only from within Canada but from around the world. Why do we not hook up with other researchers around the world and use the best information, the best science, to apply to the work that we are doing here? Surely countries around the world, all of us, are in the same position. All of us want to ensure whether certain pesticides should or should not be used. We are asking the government to link up, to make official linkages with other researchers around the world to ensure that the best research information is used in the evaluation of pesticides.

Other things can be done. There are alternatives to pest control, such as using certain trees and shrubs, using certain lawn products that are not pesticides, digging weeds out by hand and keeping our lawns well watered and fertilized. We should remember that a healthy lawn is a healthy deterrent to weeds. We also can use different vegetable gardens. Indeed, if we plant alternative plants we can find a cross benefit in protecting gardens from certain pests. We also can use biodegradable products, cultivate our gardens and rotate our crops each year. These are alternatives to the very easy response, which is to simply spray our lawns with a pesticide.

What the government can do is work with the other two jurisdictions, the provinces and the municipalities, on a public education program to tell the public that there are other ways to protect our lawns, that there are alternatives to pesticides. Were we to do that, we would see a dramatic reduction in pesticide use among homeowners. Although homeowners represent only 15% of all pesticide users, why it is important is that it is homeowners who use pesticides inappropriately. That is the key. I would ask the Minister of the Environment to work with his counterparts across the country on a public information program that would dramatically reduce pesticide use by showing how to use pest control alternatives. We must remember that pesticides are only one of the choices we have in this whole area.

There are other things we need to do. We need to look at risk management, accountability and transparency. One of the things we have found that is problematic in the Pest Management Regulatory Agency is that there is not enough transparency, not enough accountability, in determining the evaluation process. In my riding and I am sure in many others, Canadians are concerned. They do not have the information. They are concerned when people get sick after being exposed to pesticides. They do not have answers, but they want and indeed deserve answers from the government. Why does the minister not stand up with his counterparts and answer the questions the public has?

As an example, we can look at the gypsy moth eradication program that took place on Vancouver Island. Low flying planes sprayed pesticides all over Victoria. The question is, was it useful? Another question is, was it necessary? I think the answer to both is no. No, it was not useful. No, it is not necessary. Clearly we cannot have these knee-jerk responses to dealing with problems as opposed to having well thought out, reasoned ideas and solutions to deal with the management of pests that exist among us.

Another problem we have in British Columbia is the issue of the northern pine beetle. The northern pine beetle is having devastating effects on the forest industry in my province. People who fly over northern British Columbia see a swath of forest that has been destroyed by the northern pine beetle. It is staggering. The economic effect has been devastating. That, combined with the punitive American softwood lumber tariffs that have been imposed on our country, has been devastating for our lumber industry. My colleagues in our party have asked the minister across the way to please intervene with the forest industry and stakeholders and deal with this problem. If it is not dealt with, this summer will be a very bleak one indeed for the forestry industry as the northern pine beetle continues its devastating ways, destroying larger and larger swaths of the Canadian northern forest industry.

There is a huge movement in the country to deal with the abolition of genetically modified organisms. A lot of emotion surrounds the issue. The fact is that if we did not have GMOs large numbers of crops we normally have would be destroyed. We cannot forget that GMOs provide our burgeoning population with food. Who are we, who can afford products that are not modified in any way, to tell developing countries that they cannot have genetically modified foods?

GMO foods are saving millions of lives across the world. We cannot deny those food products and seeds to countries that are on the brink of starvation. If they did not have them, crops would be destroyed by normal pests that eradicate foods in those developing countries. We need to stand up and say that genetically modified organisms must be allowed if they are safe and we must do the research to ensure that they are safe. On the other hand, we cannot have a knee-jerk response and deny the developing world genetically modified foodstuffs that will save people's lives.

It is a balancing act. We support a balancing act that of course favours public safety, but again, let us respond to these challenges based on fact and science and not based on emotion.

Pest Control Products Act
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6 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

John Duncan Vancouver Island North, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to speak to Bill C-53, which is about regulating pesticides. I am pleased to do so because prior to joining this place I held a pesticide applicator's licence for about 20 years and used pesticides in a very broad landscape, that being the forests on the coast of British Columbia. Of course that at times could be a controversial thing to do, but I think I did it very responsibly. I feel that as a consequence of that background I can bring a perspective to this issue that is different from many in the House

The average person has to think for a minute about what we mean when we say pesticide, because it can mean anything from the little spray thing used on insects to something spread by an airplane in Vietnam to knock out forest canopy. There are a lot of visual images. Pesticides is the umbrella term for herbicides, fungicides and insecticides. When we talk about using a pesticide, then, we have to define what the pest is, and the pest is in the eye of the beholder. What is a pest today might not be a pest tomorrow.

We are all sophisticated enough to recognize that when it comes to a management regime, it is important to define what we are trying to do and to target whatever we are trying to do as closely as possible. That is something I took pride in doing, because for the most part the kinds of applications I was involved with were done by hand and done, in my case, on an individual tree basis.

This did give me a certain perspective relating to how the pesticide management review agency should operate. At that time, if a product had an agricultural label, even though that might be a perfect formulation for use in the forest, one might be pre-empted from using it. Because the agricultural market then was a lot larger than the forest management market, many companies refused to pay the serious upfront expenditures required in order to get that kind of labelling because it was simply not worth it.

We oftentimes felt we were using chemicals that we would have preferred not to, but we were using them because they were the only ones authorized under the federal permitting process. I have not kept up with all of the detail behind this, but in all likelihood that probably is still occurring. I see that the legislation still includes as a part of the process that the effectiveness of the chemical be listed and I think this is counterproductive. This is one part of the bill that I definitely would like to see changed. Let the customer, the industry, whatever sector is using that formulation, determine whether or not the chemical is effective.

I can give a somewhat humorous example. When maple trees are cut down they coppice, they tend to grow up from the stump. There is a lot of energy in the roots and they have this multiple stem coppice that comes up. We found this most disconcerting in some areas that had a lot of maple. We wanted to establish a new crop, but that is not what we wanted so we tried different chemicals and chemical formulations and nothing worked. Then we had a crew go through a hillside and inject the individual stems. We found that it worked sometimes and not other times.

Through trial and error and scientific analysis we checked to see why it would work here and not work there. We found it was working where we had a somewhat lazy operator, a lazy worker who did not treat every stem or every coppice. We figured the biology is that by keeping a few alive, the material recycled enough times that it got everywhere and then eventually killed the entire coppice network.

We learned a huge lesson by accident from a worker who was not following instructions. The very way we have had some of our best scientific discoveries has been through laboratory accidents or observations where things have happened overnight in a Petri dish or in some other experiment.

The government should try to stay away from regulating all of the uses or potential uses and let industry and the user make that decision. Of course, safety has to be the first and foremost concern.

Those are some of my key observations. I am a great believer that target treatment is important. Operational and other research and development should be encouraged. The way to encourage that is to have not too much specified detail on how people utilize the material.

Other than that, the bill is going in the right direction. I am encouraged that we have let local usage be determined at the local level. That is very important.

Pest Control Products Act
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6:05 p.m.

Liberal

Mac Harb Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak in support of Bill C-53, the pest control products act.

The bill is very important not only for the reasons the minister has put forward but also for many other reasons. This is far-reaching legislation. For the first time we have seen something which in a sense will have a direct impact on our community. Municipal politicians in the city of Ottawa are speaking in support of the bill, which is something we do not often see.

The bill will help ensure that our children get special protection from health risks posed by pesticides. To do so the government is enshrining in legislation the requirement to incorporate a modern risk assessment concept including additional safety factors to protect our children.

From a health and environmental aspect the bill requires that any aggregate exposure to pesticides from food, water, residential use and the cumulative effects of pesticides that act in the same way be assessed from here on in.

Another extremely important component about the bill is that the government is continuing to make strides to increase the protection of the health of Canadians. The newly introduced pest control products act will provide special protection for children and pregnant women, will facilitate sharing test data with other regulators and health professionals and will require older pesticides to be periodically re-evaluated.

It is exceptionally important for parliament to pass the bill as quickly as possible so it can be implemented.

I congratulate the minister on this initiative. As well, I congratulate all of the community interest groups who have written to the government and to our offices asking for the speedy passage of the legislation. I do not want to take up any more time except to say that I hope it passes quickly.

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6:10 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is the House ready for the question?

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6:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

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6:10 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

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6:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

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6:10 p.m.

An hon. member

On division.

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6:10 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I declare the motion carried. Accordingly the bill stands referred to the Standing Committee on Health.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the second time and referred to a committee)

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6:10 p.m.

Liberal

Joe Jordan Leeds—Grenville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I think if you seek it you will find consent to see the clock as 6.30 p.m.