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 marriage.

Topics

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

11:25 a.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Hochelaga, QC

Éduc'alcool went to university campuses to explain that this kind of behaviour is unacceptable. It told pregnant women the same thing. The most difficult audience to reach are those who drink and drive, the hardened drinkers who get behind the wheel in the evening. It is true that there is still more work to be done, as we learned from Ms. Nadeau of Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

Then there is another consideration, the motion made in committee by the member for Guelph to kill the bill, and let us not mince our words on that. There are terms like infanticide and regicide, but I do not know what the term for killing a bill would be. The member for Guelph moved to have the bill deemed not to have been adopted in committee, so it died. There was another possibility, which the Bloc members could not support, to have the federal government set up a national strategy on fetal alcohol syndrome.

We do, of course, acknowledge that this syndrome is a reality that must be addressed. When I represented the Bloc on the parliamentary committee reviewing the non-medical use of drugs, I recall visiting places—Winnipeg, Manitoba, for one—where FAS was a severe problem.

We believe, however, that it is not the role of the federal government to come up with such a strategy. Where fetal alcohol syndrome is concerned, the health facilities are often involved. We in the Bloc Québécois do not believe that this is the role of the federal government, nor that it is in the best position to set up such a strategy.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time the federal government might be tempted to intervene in the health care field. I remember, when we were studying the new reproductive technologies bill, how I warned the government that this bill was obviously unconstitutional. The Liberal MPs did not want to listen to me.

Now today they are faced with a court challenge. The Liberal government of Jean Charest—a government that does not show a lot of backbone in defending the interests of Quebec—has nevertheless felt obliged to appeal in order to challenge the constitutionality of the new reproductive technologies legislation.

The federal government is periodically tempted to intervene in the health field above and beyond its jurisdictional limits, which are aboriginal health, research, veterans and patents. We cannot, therefore, be in favour of such a strategy.

My congratulations to the hon. member for his enthusiasm and hard work. I would ask him to let the provinces do their job as far as fetal alcohol syndrome is concerned, taking as their model the Éduc'alcool program in Quebec, which has produced convincing results in the struggle to combat problem drinking.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his participation in the debate. He has done his job in representing the interests of Quebec. I am here as a member of Parliament trying to represent the interests of all Canadians who are concerned about this issue.

The member put amendments to the bill at committee which basically would create exemptions for small producers. There is more detail to it, but it basically would succumb to the argument that small producers would have a harder problem than the large producers in putting labels on their products.

That is probably mathematically true, but I am not sure whether or not it is a good enough reason when many of the small producers export to the United States and put warning labels on their products. Many of them have customized labels which they change from time to time depending on the season.

I am also concerned about something which the justice officials brought before the health committee, and which Health Canada confirmed. There could be a problem with regard to the charter, and I am not sure whether it would be under the section dealing with freedom of expression, regarding the producers' freedom to put whatever they wanted on their bottles. The argument would be whether or not there was an infringement and whether or not under section 1 of the charter it was demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society that the infringement made sense because it affects health, et cetera.

I am a little concerned that the argument is not fully developed and that we are not giving conflicting messages, or we are not giving consideration where maybe it is due and also, whether it might not impair the argument before the courts on a charter challenge. The tobacco industry went before the courts and Health Canada won that case.

I hear the member and I understand. Nobody wants to be draconian in dealing with the problems with the misuse of alcohol, but we certainly want to make absolutely sure that we look for that win-win where everybody can play a role. Would the member please comment?

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

11:30 a.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his kind words and his questions.

I think that my colleague was present at the committee when the Bloc Québécois proposed a motion to have justice department officials appear. They have not really taken a position, it must be said, in the debate raised by our colleague. Would it be prejudicial to freedom of expression? What we know for sure is that there was a risk. I think that this scenario was even mentioned in a brief to cabinet, which the committee members did not see.

What we know is that the freedom of expression guidelines were determined by the Supreme Court in two decisions: the Sharpe decision on child pornography and the Irwin Toy decision on advertising children's toys. It is acknowledged that freedom of expression basically depends on three things, in particular not being harassed on the basis of one's beliefs.

The government's objective must obviously be considered. For example, if the Supreme Court had been asked to rule on such a question, it might have looked into whether it is in the public interest to ensure that alcohol is consumed responsibly. I think that the Supreme Court might have answered yes to this question.

Then there would have been other questions. First, it would have asked whether the means that the government used were proportional to the objective. Is it proportional to want in a way to limit the space on the label for producers and manufacturers? I think that the Supreme Court might have answered yes to this question. Second, the Supreme Court would have tried to determine the effectiveness of such a measure. I think that this is where the member's bill might have been a bit more vulnerable. In any case, we are in the realm of speculation here because the Supreme Court was not asked to rule on this.

Insofar as microbreweries are concerned, I think that our colleague was also present at the committee when the Association des microbrasseries du Québec came to see us in the person of its utterly charming president, Ms. Urtnowski. It is necessary to know that some microbreweries use very traditional methods. In some cases, labels are put on manually. Microbreweries would obviously have had to acquire technologies costing hundreds of thousands of dollars, even though they do not have the same wherewithal as the national brewers or the same market share.

That is why the Bloc Québécois put forward an amendment to the effect that manufacturers who produce less than 300,000 hectolitres would not be subject to the regulation proposed by the member for Mississauga South.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

11:35 a.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to make a comment and to question the hon. member from the Bloc. He is a very able health critic for his party. I have listened with interest to his comments about the labelling issue for fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.

I think the member is aware that the NDP did support labelling. In fact it was our member for Winnipeg North who introduced a motion several years ago. The motion was approved by the House, but unfortunately the government has been very slow to move on this issue.

I certainly understand and am aware of the concerns as expressed by the members from the Bloc in terms of how this might impact microbreweries. In fact there are microbreweries in my own riding of Vancouver East.

It seems to me that there are two issues here. One is a public health issue in terms of providing a broad dissemination of information about fetal alcohol syndrome and the massive consequences for individual children and families but also for society at large. The idea of some sort of public labelling is a very important measure. People can always find technical reasons why something should not be done. It is a matter of looking at the principle that is involved and then determining how one applies that principle.

I certainly understand the position of the Bloc, but I have to say that the NDP is firmly in support of the idea of labelling as an important public health measure, a public policy measure, that needs to move forward.

The second point I would offer to the member is perhaps he would agree that the issue around fetal alcohol spectrum disorder also relates very much to class and economic issues in our society. It relates to poverty.

In my own riding of Vancouver East if we had much more emphasis on preventive health, on adequate housing and nutrition and income, which is a big issue, we would be able to address these concerns. It would provide a much healthier environment for families and children and we would be able to prevent this kind of syndrome from taking place.

I would ask the member to comment on that.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

11:35 a.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her question. I recalled her taking part, as I did, in the deliberations of the committee on alcoholic beverages in Canada. Our colleague tabled a report in this regard. The issue is not whether we want there to be information available on fetal alcohol syndrome, because all parties support this principle. The issue is whether the measures are effective. As legislators, we must ensure a bill will be effective, before it becomes law.

The Bloc voted in favour of labelling tobacco products and the 10 rotating warnings. Although the labelling was appealed right to the Supreme Court because it was considered to take up the commercial space of the tobacco manufacturers, that did not stop us. However, in the case of alcoholic drinks, we had no study on the benefits and the scientific evidence.

I think the Quebec model, with Éduc'alcool, the college of physicians and the health department, was a lot more successful with the target clientele. I think the member for Mississauga South was involved in a moral crusade, which deserves our respect. However, we cannot stop here. As we know in the business, good feelings do not always make good politics. We cannot stop at good feelings. Further analysis is needed.

In terms of effectiveness, unfortunately, we did not have these studies. We had them when the Standing Committee on Health reviewed the matter of regulating tobacco products. The Department of Health had presented studies.

Here again, a minimum standard of rigour requires us to consider the consequences and effectiveness of the bills we pass. In this case, scientific evidence was not on the side of the member for Mississauga South.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

11:40 a.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Mississauga South for his dedication, commitment and perseverance in raising the issues around fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and about the impact of drinking, for example, underage drinking. It shows a tremendous amount of commitment to a cause. He has been very passionate about it.

The member for Hochelaga suggested that members of the NDP might occasionally resort to tippling. He is absolutely correct. I do enjoy a glass of wine on occasion, and as any responsible drinker, I am sure to use it in a responsible fashion.

In talking about the issue of labelling alcoholic beverages, many people who came before the committee said that this was absolutely not to be seen as a strategy.

Mr. Speaker, I just want to advise you and the House that I will be sharing my time with the member for Vancouver East.

When we were talking about labelling, many people saw labelling as one tool in a tool box. Many people saw labelling as a way to signal the government's intention to develop a full, comprehensive strategy around fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. Many people saw labelling as that critical first step, a signal that people were committed to ensuring that this issue stayed front and centre on the health agenda.

It was with great disappointment that I saw the bill killed at committee. It was with great disappointment I recognized that this is the third time this matter has come before the House.

Much has been made around the fact that there have not been any substantive studies to point to the fact that labelling would decrease alcohol consumption. The question that should have been put to people was whether labelling would increase awareness around the risks. It troubles me that we would not agree that labelling would increase awareness around the risks. We label many other products. Alcohol is one of the products that can have risks for a population and which does not carry a warning label. Much has also been made around the validity of studies.

It is interesting to me that hot off the press today a headline in the Saint John Telegraph Journal reads, “Few drinks a day may not protect against strokes, heart attacks”.

Much has been made about the benefits of alcohol but the article states:

The U.S. government warned Tuesday that a few drinks a day may not protect against strokes and heart attacks after all.

Some studies in recent years have touted the health benefits of moderate drinking. Some have even said that up to four drinks a day can significantly reduce the risk of heart disease in people 40 and older.

But researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analysed data from 250,000 Americans who participated in a 2003 telephone survey. They found that the non-drinkers had many more risks for heart disease -- such as being overweight, inactive, high blood pressure and diabetes -- than the moderate drinkers.

Based on those results, the agency could not say that moderate drinking actually was a factor in reducing the risk of heart disease.

The findings were published in the May issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine

“We're feeling the pendulum has swung way too far and Americans are getting sort of the wrong idea” on alcohol, said the study's lead author, Dr. Tim Naimi of the CDC's chronic diseases division. “The science around moderate drinking is very murky.”

The CDC has long worried about alcohol abuse in the United States. Studies have shown that drinking excessively - five or more drinks daily - can increase the risk of heart disease. The CDC says nearly one in three Americans drinks too much.

The agency said people should follow dietary guidelines that limit daily consumption to two drinks for men and a single drink for women.

Other groups -- such as the American Heart Association -- say drinking alcohol increases the dangers of alcoholism, high blood pressure, obesity, stroke, breast cancer, suicide and accidents.

There have been several studies, but it is very interesting that now there is a study which is saying wait a minute, maybe moderate drinking is not so great for us after all.

The only reason I have brought forward this study is that throughout the discussion at committee, people consistently said there was no conclusive evidence that labelling would affect drinking behaviour.

The committee heard evidence from a variety of sources. One of the groups that came forward was the Canadian Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. In April 2001 it indicated, “Warning labels must not be considered in isolation, since knowledge alone rarely results in changed behaviour. Warning labels reinforce rather than replace other forms of education. Labelling should be seen as just one part of a broader public health effort to reduce alcohol related harm. That effort should also include ongoing public education, responsive public policy and availability of effective treatment services”.

That was just one of many witnesses who said that labelling in their view was an essential part of a comprehensive strategy.

The position statement of the Australian Drug Foundation in March 2003 stated that labelling provides a counterweight to alcohol marketing which promotes that alcohol is safe. It said that labelling also protects the fundamental right of the consumer to know the risks of the product.This is a critical point which seems to have often escaped the discussion. We are talking about the fundamental right of consumers to know the risks of a product.

The Motherisk program at the Hospital for Sick Children also saw labelling as a critical part of the strategy. It said, “The alcohol industry first denied the existence of FAS and later did very little to prevent it. The main reason that they oppose warning labels is their fear of losing revenue. They claim that they oppose warning labels because they are not an effective method of FAS prevention. That contradicts their lack of effort to find other means. Warning labels are an effective way in changing the culture of drinking, similar to the change in attitude toward smoking, or drinking and driving. In the implementation of the alcohol warning label, nothing can be lost, only gained”.

Another issue which often was not discussed was that people talked about labelling being ineffective. The industry spends a substantial amount of money designing labelling to encourage drinking of their particular product. If labelling is not effective, why would the industry spend so much money labelling bottles?

That issue came up in a study at the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University in the U.S. in February 2003. This study was done in the U.S. so I am not suggesting that Canadian industry does the same thing.

The study said, “They saw action as being urgent. The decline in alcohol consumption among minors over the past 20 years appears to have promoted campaigns such as the increase in marketing malternatives and gelatin shots, Zippers, both appealing to children, and the efforts of the liquor industry to mount major advertising campaigns on television”.

We have also seen all kinds of different labelling. Some of the samples we saw at committee really encouraged some behaviour that many of us thought was highly questionable.

A number of people went before the CDC, including three surgeons general. Those three surgeons general called on the alcohol industry to include in its advertising and product labels “clear warnings of the dangers of underage drinking and adult excessive drinking”. They also called for “endowing an independent foundation with no ties to the alcohol industry to work exclusively to curb underage drinking”.

The Betty Ford Foundation said that the findings demonstrated that the alcohol industry had an inherent conflict of interest between public health and industry profit.

I could go on with quotations at length. In 1992 the subcommittee on health in “Fetal Alcohol Syndrome: The Preventable Tragedy” said that government warning labels on containers of beverage alcohol sold in the country had been done since 1989. It was referring to the United States. It said that labelling had been happening in the United States since 1989 and the wheels of industry had not ground to a halt, despite the fact that the industry had to put labels on bottles.

It is ironic that Canadian brewers are shipping alcohol with labels to the United States. If it is good enough for the U.S., it should be good enough for Canada.

Ways and Means
Government Orders

April 19th, 2005 / 11:50 a.m.

West Nova
Nova Scotia

Liberal

Robert Thibault Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, there have been discussions on all sides of the House and you will find that there is consent for the following motion:

That Ways and Means motion No. 8, standing in the name of the Minister for Veterans Affairs on the Order Paper, be deemed moved and adopted on division.

Ways and Means
Government Orders

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, because of the translation kicking in late, I heard part of the motion. I am not sure if I fully understood it and wonder if the motion could be reread for the House to understand it.

Ways and Means
Government Orders

11:50 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I am going to repeat the motion in French:

Que la motion numéro 8 des voix et moyens inscrites au Feuilleton d'aujourd'hui au nom de la ministre des Anciens combattants soit réputée mise aux voix et adoptée.

Does the hon. parliamentary secretary have the unanimous consent of the House to move the motion?

Ways and Means
Government Orders

11:50 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Ways and Means
Government Orders

11:50 a.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, if I understood right, my colleague added at the end, “moved and adopted on division”, which you omitted.

Ways and Means
Government Orders

11:50 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Yes, I think that the words “on division” were included.

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Ways and Means
Government Orders

11:50 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Motion agreed to)

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to start off by giving my sincere personal thanks to the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan for helping to inform Canadians about this important issue and for her hard work in committee.

I attended each of the committee meetings and I know she always asked questions to inform herself and challenged positions. I want her colleagues to know that this hon. member did an excellent job on behalf of Canadians concerned about this issue.

The member raised a broad spectrum of issues and concerns. To me the most important point she raised is the argument about the synergies between having a label on a product and a strategy to complement it, and the converse, that the strategy also has to link itself to a product as well.

The member will probably know that in the United States there was an effort made to fix the label in the United States because it was not readable or noticeable. The bureau of alcohol, tobacco and firearms rejected the move to improve the label in the United States primarily because the beverage alcohol industry said that it was working and doing its job. It was informing people and awareness levels were high.

I wonder if the member would care to comment on that in view of the fact that in the United States the beverage alcohol industry was saying that the label in the U.S. was working, and in Canada the beverage alcohol industry was saying the label was not working.