House of Commons Hansard #85 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was health.

Topics

Privilege

April 19th, 2005 / 10 a.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Rivière-Du-Loup—Montmagny, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to respond to the question of privilege raised by the hon. member for Gatineau on Friday, April 15.

During the debate on the Bloc Québécois motion on April 14, 2005, when I was expressing my concern over the fact that sponsorship money may have been used for election campaign purposes, it seemed as though I was directing my comments at the hon. member for Gatineau. That was not my intention.

I withdraw any comments that may have offended her and offer my apologies.

Privilege

10:05 a.m.

The Speaker

I thank the hon. member.

Canada's International Policy
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Papineau
Québec

Liberal

Pierre Pettigrew Minister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 32(2), I have the honour to table, in both official languages, Canada's International Policy Statement—A Role of Pride and Influence in the World.

Government Response to Petitions
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Beauséjour
New Brunswick

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to table today, in both official languages, the government's response to four petitions.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Steckle Huron—Bruce, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am proud to present on behalf of the committee, in both official languages, the third report of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food entitled “From a Management Crisis to Becoming Better Crisis Managers: The 2004 Avian Influenza Outbreak in British Columbia”.

I might just add that this outbreak was a first in Canada, a great learning curve, not only for the industry but for all stakeholders, including the CFIA. I believe the exercise that was undertaken in Abbotsford was a worthwhile one, not only serving government but serving the primary producers in this case, and of getting to the bottom of this issue. The recommendations contained in this report speak very well to the kinds of things we heard on our visit there.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Anita Neville Winnipeg South Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present today, in both official languages, the second report of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women.

I am pleased to advise the House that the committee began a series of consultations with organizations to prioritize the issues that were most important to Canadians. These groups told the committee that many programs and policies over the past decade have had a negative impact on women.

The committee had a broad consultation with government officials and with members of the Treasury Board and the Privy Council Office, and we found that the federal government departments differ significantly in their ability to do gender based analysis.

The committee proposes that it is time to implement a new way of conducting the business of policy making in this House, a new way which gives increased attention to gender differences so that all Canadians benefit equally from legislation, policies and programs.

In its report, the committee outlines a comprehensive approach to ensure that gender based analysis is carried out throughout the federal government. It envisions a multi-partner effort whereby individual departments are involved. Status of Women Canada has a lead role, and the Privy Council Office, the Treasury Board Secretariat and Finance Canada coordinate and enforce accountability mechanisms.

Pursuant to Standing Order 109, the committee has requested a comprehensive report from government on this report.

State Immunity Act
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

Stockwell Day Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-367, an act to amend the State Immunity Act and the Criminal Code (terrorist activity).

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to introduce today the victims of terror compensation bill. This would amend the State Immunity Act and it would allow claims in Canada against foreign states which sponsor any of the groups that are listed as terrorist entities. By permitting this, it would allow those who have been hurt, injured or damaged in any way by acts of terrorism or suffered damages to actually pursue and take civil action for compensation.

The bill has been developed cooperatively with the Canadian Coalition Against Terror, an organization that is made up of Canadian terror victims and also community activists.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

Rob Merrifield Yellowhead, AB

Mr. Speaker, I move that the ninth report of the Standing Committee on Health, presented to the House on Friday, April 15, be concurred in.

This is a very important motion. The committee has discussed this issue and I must give accolades to my hon. colleague for Mississauga South. I salute him for his conviction and determination. For over a decade he has been working on trying to get warning labelling for alcohol. It is not so much because of the warning that we have to salute the hon. member, necessarily, but for his determination in his attempt to bring awareness to this issue.

The member for Mississauga South introduced Bill C-206 and the health committee took a serious look at this piece of legislation. The committee was looking for a more comprehensive program. Because of that, we listened to a number of witnesses from across the board and across the spectrum of industry and health groups and so on to understand what we should be doing with regard to this piece of legislation.

Before I get into the details, I would like to say that I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Oshawa.

When the committee took a serious look at this, we had to ask if we should do something with this or not. We concluded that the bill should not go ahead the way it is written. There was no testimony that would necessarily support moving ahead with this bill in a way that would do what the mover of the bill intended, which is bring awareness to individuals who are using and consuming alcohol to the point where they would refrain from using alcohol, which in turn would allow us to eliminate the terrible scourge of fetal alcohol syndrome in the country. The motion was eight to one, which is fairly unanimous.

Why then would we bring this motion to the House and actually pass it at committee? I believe that the newspaper reports on this issue, most of the people who work in the Department of Health and most industry people have the wrong idea of the health committee regarding this issue. It was not that we disagreed with the issue. It was that we wanted to do something significant which would actually accomplish the goal and the intent of the mover. The goal is a notable one and is worthy of consideration.

What the committee decided was to have the House concur with the motion. We had the Department of Health come to committee and report to us and that was the most startling piece of testimony the committee heard. We heard that the Department of Health was not going to report on a comprehensive program at all in order to accelerate the work the department said it has been doing for a considerable number of years with regard to fetal alcohol syndrome. The department said it would not lay a comprehensive plan before the committee or the House or even the minister .

This is not the message we need to send to the Department of Health. It is not the message we need to send to the Minister of Health. What we need to send to the Minister of Health through the power of this House is a message to impress upon him and the department the need for that comprehensive program.

It is in light of this that we bring forward our motion. I will read the motion into the record because members must have all of the wording of the motion to understand exactly what we are saying. The motion is as follows:

--that the government present a new strategy for the prevention of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder to the Standing Committee on Health, to be developed by Health Canada and stakeholder groups, by June 2, 2005.

Many members in the House will say they cannot support this because we are asking the department to come up with something by June 2, but let us look at the testimony that came from the Department of Health to the health committee. The department said it has been working on this for a number of years. The department said the work was pretty well finished.

In fact, the testimony says that the department is much further along on this than it is on many other areas of alcohol use. When we look at the testimony given in committee and at what the department has said it is doing, compared to what it has said it is going to do, we understand very clearly that we must have some action.

We do not need more studies. We do not need more consultation. This has been consulted to death. We understand that we have a serious problem. Nine out of 1,000 babies born in this country are born with fetal alcohol syndrome. It is a significant problem. Fetal alcohol syndrome is very serious. It affects hundreds of children born each year. They begin life with a serious strike against them and it is something they have to live with for their entire lives.

We need to do something about it and Health Canada can do something about it, but only if we give officials the pressure that is needed to be able to push them to action. This motion that I am asking the House to concur in will do just that. It will impress upon the Department of Health and the minister the need to actually move to action.

I can already hear the other side suggesting that we cannot ask a department to do something within that short a time period. We certainly can because we know that it has the ability to do it. We know it is a long way along on this issue already. We know that this is just a matter of sitting down and tweaking.

We are not telling the department it has to actually do anything except come up with a plan of what it is going to do to be able to accomplish the goal of the intent of the mover of Bill C-206. That is very easy to accomplish. It is something that needs to be done, because failure to do it means that we will do nothing. Doing nothing on this issue is not appropriate for the legislators of the House, for people who come together to make the laws of this land to protect society, from itself in many cases and from issues in society that are harmful.

This is a motion that I believe everyone in the House should think very seriously about; I was going to say soberly about, but I do not want to use the pun lightly. I do want to impress upon the House how serious a problem this is and how important it is for us to look at it from all angles.

We did hear from the alcohol industry, which asked why we should put all of our attention on labelling. It would cost it a significant amount of dollars and dollars are not going to come out of thin air, said the industry; they can come out of either the consumers who use it or the already existing programs that deal with fetal alcohol syndrome disorder.

We did not think it was appropriate for us to just say “let us put a label on every bottle” and then walk away from it thinking we had done the politically correct thing while not actually accomplishing any good. I do not think that anyone in the House necessarily wants to play politics with an issue this serious. What we really want to do is accomplish the goal, which is to prevent individuals from having fetal alcohol syndrome. We heard testimony about how devastating it is when pregnant women are involved with alcohol. At each stage as the fetus is developing, the alcohol retards and destroys the growth pattern.

The argument was about whether this happens in the early days of pregnancy, the middle or the end, but the reality is that it happens in all of these stages. The testimony was compelling enough that we should impress upon anyone who has the potential of being pregnant to leave alcohol alone, to not become involved with it. It is also important to mention that a woman who is pregnant and has one or two drinks should not become alarmed. What this does say is that we should leave it alone if at all possible so that we do not retard the development of the fetus.

How do we win on these kinds of issues? We win the same way we won on drinking and driving. We have not won completely but we certainly have made a paradigm shift in society. Now if someone drinks at a party and wants to drive, people stop that person before he or she gets into that vehicle, whereas 30 years ago they would help the person into the car. That was a paradigm shift. Peer pressure becomes a powerful thing. We need to use that same pattern when it comes to fetal alcohol syndrome and mothers who are drinking.

My time is nearly up but I do want to impress upon the House how important this motion is, because it will be debated here for three hours and we will actually go to a vote in the House. Votes in the House should mean something. When they mean something, the department and the industry should take the nod from what the House is saying. We have a responsibility here and I ask members to consider that as they vote for this motion.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:20 a.m.

West Nova
Nova Scotia

Liberal

Robert Thibault Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his speech in support of the intent of the motion, unanimously adopted by committee. There is some wording in the motion which I would like him to clarify.

I know his understanding of it, but the motion could appear unclear to individuals. I agree with the member that the department has done some work and that we want the presentation of that work and the plans for the future to deal with FASD, but I think the speaker would agree that it should not be confused with the comprehensive strategy. A comprehensive strategy on alcohol abuse would include other elements like the operating of machinery, general health concerns, family breakups and all the other problems that can arise from the abuse, misuse or overuse of alcohol.

The motion states:

--that the government present a new strategy for the prevention of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorder to the Standing Committee on Health, to be developed by Health Canada and stakeholder groups, by June 2, 2005.

I understood from his speech that the member does not expect there to be a full consultation and the developing in consultation with all the stakeholders of a completely new strategy by June; it would be a continuation of the work the department has been doing.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

Rob Merrifield Yellowhead, AB

Mr. Speaker, I do want to clear this up. The drinking of alcohol causes a number of problems. We have to do something about the comprehensive strategy on drinking and abusing alcohol. It has to be part of this. Drinking and using medication of any kind also has to be part of this.

We could have said to the Department of Health that by June 2 we wanted a comprehensive plan on all those items, but we do not want to lose focus. We want to focus on something for which the department came to committee and said, “We are so far along on this. We have actually been working on this for years”. The department said that it was ready to do something with regard to fetal alcohol syndrome. I am just taking the department's words and applying them here in asking the House to make the department put a comprehensive study and plan, which could or could not include labelling, before the House by June 2.

I am saying that because the departmental officials have said in committee that they actually can accomplish this. Did they say they could do it by June 2? No. They said sometime this summer. We know that nothing really happens in a department in the summertime. We want this done by June 2. It is achievable. There is nothing that actually focuses action more than a timeline and a directive. We can give them the directive. The timeline is in the motion. The Department of Health can accomplish it. Let us get on with making that happen.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

Jim Gouk Southern Interior, BC

Mr. Speaker, there were a lot of witnesses at committee. In fact, I ended up being one of them. I did not realize at the time I requested it that it is somewhat unprecedented for a member of Parliament to appear as a witness on a bill like this. I did so because it is a very important issue, both in terms of my representation of a region with a lot of wineries that would be impacted by this and as a person who supports the intent behind the motion that we have to deal with things like fetal alcohol syndrome. It is very serious and needs our concern.

However, with all those witnesses who appeared, we heard a tremendous amount of evidence. I used some figures when I made my presentation at committee. As it happened, the departmental officials were there and backed up those figures. What they said is that right now the department spends about $3.3 million a year on education to warn people and make them more aware of fetal alcohol syndrome, the need to abstain from alcohol and a number of other measures that they need to take. They also confirmed that the compliance costs for the department, the enforcement costs if this motion were to pass and the labelling were to come into effect, would be something in the neighbourhood of $27 million over a five year period.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Over five years.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

Jim Gouk Southern Interior, BC

If the hon. member had listened, he would have heard me say that it is over five years. He probably was talking over me and that is why he did not hear me say the very thing he wanted me to say.

Twenty-seven million dollars over five years is a lot more than the $3.3 million the government is spending now. I wonder if the hon. member could tell us if we heard witnesses suggest that this money could be well spent on education as opposed to the enforcement of a labelling program.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

Rob Merrifield Yellowhead, AB

Mr. Speaker, as my hon. colleague has suggested, he did come before the committee, as did many others. He was representing the small breweries and vintners, and had a specific focus on it. He was a little concerned, certainly with the cost and impediments of just putting a label on.

As he suggested in his question, what is that going to do as far as it concerns enforcement and the price of enforcement? We did hear that enforcement was going to be costly. The comprehensive program or strategy that we are looking for may or may not have labelling. It may have some labelling and not all bottles labelled. The argument is made with a bottle of wine, do we put a label on a bottle of wine since most people drink wine from a glass that does not have a label? All of those concerns were talked about.

It is important that we have a comprehensive strategy that actually shifts the paradigm, a paradigm in society, so that we understand the intense problem of individuals who are pregnant and drinking. That is where this motion is going and that is why I ask members to consider it.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

Colin Carrie Oshawa, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a real pleasure and an honour for me to speak on this topic.

I would like to commend the member for Mississauga South for fighting for this issue for so long. The fight against the negative effects of irresponsible alcohol use, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and drunk driving to name only two, has been inspirational. He deserves much credit for the momentum building toward a comprehensive fetal alcohol syndrome strategy.

It has been estimated that nearly 1% of live births are children with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. These statistics are certainly alarming, as many families and women are not getting the warnings or are failing to be properly educated about consuming alcohol during pregnancy.

Consumers of alcohol must choose if they want to drive or operate machinery. They have to choose to consume the alcohol, knowing that it may affect their health. However, a child born with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder did not choose to have this disorder and perhaps the parent did not have the opportunity to choose as well. However, children born with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder will have to deal with the disorder for the rest of their lives.

What are the effects of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder? Health Canada has included some as being: intellectual defects and learning disabilities, hyperactivity, attention and/or memory deficits, inability to manage anger, difficulties with problem solving, pre-natal and post-natal growth deficiencies, early school dropout, alcohol and drug abuse problems themselves later on, problems with securing and maintaining employment, homelessness, trouble with the law and mental health problems. Indeed, the latter are very serious and a public threat.

The Public Health Agency of Canada has further estimated that lifetime extra health care, education and social services, and costs associated with the care of an individual with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder are $1.4 million U.S.

Other studies have suggested that over 25% of those behind bars may have been exposed to alcohol in the womb. I learned so much about this disorder in committee. A statement was respectfully submitted to me by Sheila Burns, the project coordinator of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder in Durham region. She said:

Since the identification of the teratogen Thalidomide, the medical community has been examining the damage caused by alcohol exposure to the developing fetus. Research is now clear that even moderate drinking during pregnancy can cause damage. No culture, no socio-economic group is spared.

Health Canada reports 1:100 Canadians have some level of damage caused from in-utero alcohol exposure. The results: high suicide rates, family breakdowns, criminal behaviour, drug and alcohol addictions, mental illness and homelessness. The implications are staggering and the toll enormous. The disability is life long and cannot be cured. It can be managed, but only at a huge cost to our society. The disability is preventable.

Durham region has been working hard to coordinate awareness initiatives, promote education and coordinate support services. They have longed for more support and warning labels are a part of that.

We have learned in the health committee that we need a comprehensive approach. We, in the Conservative Party, wholeheartedly share the concern of the member for Mississauga South about fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and drunk driving. The party supports the intent of the member's bill, but not the bill itself. Put simply, there is a more comprehensive way and a better plan to address the problem it seeks to solve.

The eighth report of the committee recognizes the ineffectiveness of alcohol labelling, highlights the costs associated with it, and recommends that the House proceed with a comprehensive fetal alcohol spectrum disorder strategy that may or may not include warning labels.

The Standing Committee on Health voted almost unanimously in favour of a more comprehensive strategy. The eighth report contains reasons why the committee recommends that the label only strategy proposed by Bill C-206 be replaced with new comprehensive fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and drunk driving strategies.

All witnesses and committee members agreed that fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and drunk driving are serious problems that demand action. We know that these issues cause untold suffering on those who are affected by them.

However, very little evidence was put forward to indicate that alcohol warning labels in themselves are effective at preventing either fetal alcohol spectrum disorder or drunk driving. Labelling certainly works for a variety of purposes. It will help improve awareness. However, for fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and drunk driving, given the intended targets of messaging, labelling by itself is ineffective.

The implementation of Bill C-206 would have cost the federal government significant dollars to implement and maintain. The diversion of these resources into labelling at the expense of targeted programs would not have been cost effective. The implementation of the bill would have likely raised trade and charter questions, which would have imposed further costs to the government.

Many witnesses called for a comprehensive fetal alcohol spectrum disorder strategy. They did not feel that the first dollars should be committed to just this labelling initiative. There was consistent concern that if the government moved ahead with labelling, it would be able to claim that the problem was addressed and would not feel compelled to do what is really needed. That is why I am so encouraged to see this motion and how it is unfolding today.

The cost of labelling would have crippled many smaller breweries, distillers and wineries. For an economic impact, this was significant and we had to address these concerns.

What surprised me was a leaked cabinet document which indicated that Health Canada is aware of the ineffectiveness of labels in themselves in preventing fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and drunk driving; but in the letter, Health Canada acknowledged that not to support Bill C-206 would look bad politically.

This is no way to craft legislation; this is no way to govern. Laws should not be justified based on how they will be perceived; laws should be based upon sound research and well-proven facts.

The majority of witnesses who appeared before the committee told members that established targeted programs currently in place to address fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and drunk driving have a much better chance of success than warning labels alone.

The Conservative Party of Canada believes that a comprehensive strategy that may or may not include warning labels is the best way to tackle fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. We therefore support the motion to concur in the eighth report of the Standing Committee on Health.

The Conservative Party of Canada will demand that the alcohol beverage industry play an active role in this new strategy. Although the industry has played a part in previous initiatives, it must do more and will therefore be called upon in taking a leading role in developing the strategy. The committee supported Mr. Merrifield's motion:

Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), and a motion adopted by the Committee on Thursday, April 7, 2005, your Committee recommends that the government present a new strategy for the prevention of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder to the Standing Committee on Health, to be developed by Health Canada and stakeholder groups, by June 2, 2005.

This motion will be tabled. The health minister has indicated he is serious about preventing fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and he has told the House of Commons that his department is working toward a comprehensive strategy for fetal alcohol spectrum disorder based on proven and established best practices.

The Conservative Party of Canada hopes that Health Canada will develop, release and implement its strategy as soon as possible. Mr. Merrifield's motion will--