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

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

Steven Fletcher Charleswood—St. James, MB

Mr. Speaker, if a comprehensive strategy is put forward I hope it would include elements that would require Bill C-206 to be redundant. If they decide that labels are necessary, then that needs to be given serious consideration.

The one thing that really struck me during the hearings was the fact that one of the industry representatives said that if it were part of our constructive strategy and it were shown that labels would in fact change behaviour then they would have no objections to doing so. That buy in by stakeholders is important and that may be one of the great legacies of their participation in this process.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

James Lunney Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to enter the discussion on this very important issue calling for concurrence of the House in the ninth report of the health committee. This basically it is a motion where the health committee is asking that Health Canada work with stakeholders to complete and present a comprehensive strategy and plan to address fetal alcohol syndrome.

I will begin by acknowledging the member for Mississauga South. I did mention this earlier in a small intervention but I think all members appreciate the efforts of the member over many years to advance this cause before the House. I personally, as a member of the health committee who sat through the debate and discussion, am pleased that it came before the committee. I think we all learned a lot about it and I am hopeful that we will see this issue advanced.

What is fetal alcohol syndrome? It is the leading cause of developmental disability among Canadian children. It was first established as a medical diagnosis in 1973. That makes it rather modern as something that has been recognized in the medical world.

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, FASD, is not one set of symptoms alone. It is a spectrum of disabilities associated with prenatal exposure to alcohol. The issues range from very mild symptoms to very severe mental disability and deformity.

While preventable, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder is a complex, multifaceted public health and social issue. It affects Canadians from all walks of life but, interestingly enough, we know that there are some communities that have been affected far more significantly and more profoundly. Certainly in our first nations and Inuit communities it has been disproportionately devastating.

The bottom line is that alcohol for a pregnant woman is a disaster and the only way to ensure or guarantee a safe pregnancy is to avoid alcohol entirely. However the message is not that a single glass of wine for a pregnant woman will be a disaster in itself. It is the multiple drinks, the binge drinking or the heavy dose of alcohol that can be extremely destructive to the fetus.

There is a huge range of serious physical and mental defects. It varies with the amount, the timing and the frequency of alcohol consumed and depends upon a number of factors, perhaps the genetics of the fetus and the mother or the overall state of health.

What has been done? I think this is significant. Since the early eighties there has been a patchwork of awareness campaigns and activities that have grown to support women at risk as well as to meet the needs of people in communities affected by FASD. More research, monitoring and evaluation of individual initiatives have increased in recent years.

Some of the programs that came before committee were quite significant. In the province of Quebec, statistics show that fetal alcohol syndrome is even more prevalent in Quebec than in other provinces. The province has responded with a very good educational program. Some of the tools that Éduc'alcool has put out for public awareness are actually very good. They are making an impact. They are out in the schools. They are being used in the communities and in the clinics and there is a real effort to get the information out.

The program promotes moderation; how to behave with our children, whatever their age; and that prevention begins with the family. It provides very good practical advice for parents on how to behave with children, whatever their age and whatever the risk to which the children are exposed.

It also provides advice on how to interact with 8 to 11 year olds and what type of messaging parents should have. It provides advice on how to behave with 12 to 14 year olds who are now increasingly in the risk range as their possibility of pregnancy rises. It also provides advice on dealing with 15 and 16 year olds. Statistics show that some 24% of 16 year olds drink alcohol just about every week. These, I believe, are Quebec statistics because it is the Éduc'alcool program that is providing the information. Just 23% of 16 year olds have never had a drink. They are at risk.

The program goes on to give advice on how to behave with 17 to 18 year olds who increasingly are vulnerable to peer pressure and have more access and more economic capability of accessing alcohol in quantities that could be destructive.

Some of these programs include influencing young people not to drink and drive and to make the right choice.

Efforts have been made in recent years to address education, important initiatives to getting the information out.

It is estimated that 9 babies in 1,000 born in Canada have fetal alcohol syndrome, which is about 1 in 100. It is the leading cause of developmental disability. The costs to society are high. Without taking into account the lost potential and opportunity, which is not measurable for individuals, the direct costs have been estimated to be about $1.5 million per person. That is a huge cost to society.

It is also known that we are facing a lifelong disability when a fetus is damaged at this early developmental stage, that it can be prevented and that we need to be taking some action to reduce the cost of morbidity and the terrible affliction on society.

The essence of Bill C-206 was that we should go out and label alcoholic beverages. I think there are some advantages to be later addressing this with other nations because we have with the United States, for example, some 15 years' experience with labels. The member for Mississauga South had brought us examples of labels from some products. The label on a beer bottle, for example, was around the neck. It was in a text that was either vertically orientated or in a colour that made it nearly invisible. We might wonder why some of those labels are ineffective but when we look at them it is clear that we need a microscope and some special lighting to read the message at all.

We saw other labels that were brought in that were clearly visible. The problem is that after a whole range of initiatives were tried, no one could really provide the committee with any evidence that these labelling initiatives had actually had an impact. In fact, it seems that in spite of the labelling things have become worse and the incidents of fetal alcohol syndrome continues to increase.

The significant thing about Canada addressing the latter issues is that in spite of the fact that some people think it is a good idea to put labels on there and it might feel better that we are doing something, we do not want to take an initiative just so we can feel a little better if the initiative will not be effective. It seems to me that the government has enough initiatives that turn out to be ineffective or misdirected.

We might mention some common examples, like a gun registry that turns out to be ineffective or misdirected, or a range of other issues that are actually misdirected, or the criminal justice with concurrent sentences. Someone gets a five year sentence but in fact receives concurrent sentences. People have committed crimes that are maybe two crimes that call for five years, but they get only a five year sentence and then get statutory release and are released early.

We have a lot of messaging that goes out that turns out to be ineffective.

On the labelling issue, while we want labelling and there may be a way to make labels effective, the evidence is not clear that is the primary direction in which we should be going, and the committee has therefore asked for a comprehensive plan.

We were startled, as committee members, to hear that although Health Canada officials had been working on a strategy for several years and meeting with stakeholders, they were giving indications that although they felt they were closer to a strategy for fetal alcohol syndrome, they felt they were nowhere near a comprehensive plan for the whole range of managing alcohol.

What the committee wants and what we want to propose is that Health Canada put some emphasis on this matter and come up with a comprehensive plan that would include a wide range of issues.

I want to bring up an issue that came out of committee that many people listening to the debate may not have heard. I actually raised the issue with the member for Mississauga South earlier in a question but I think he missed the point I was trying to raise.

The point I was trying to raise came out of a report to the committee by Dr. Gideon Koren, who is involved with Motherisk and the Hospital for Sick Children. The good news is that after some 10 years he reported that some 15 studies in animals showed that administering antioxidant vitamins, vitamin E, vitamin C, vitamin A, lowers or eliminates the risk to the fetus in animals. Thank goodness CIHR has funded some studies to demonstrate this in human beings.

A little good news came out of the study and it is an inexpensive way to begin protecting people. The information did not surprise me because we know antioxidant vitamins mitigate a whole range of chronic degenerative diseases. It would be very good news indeed if we could recommend and make sure that people at risk, particularly young mothers and women who are consuming, were getting antioxidant vitamins to reduce the risk.

We are asking the House to endorse a comprehensive strategy which might include labelling, include greater public awareness and put some real funds into making sure we advance a program that works.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

12:55 p.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened to my colleague very carefully and I agree with him when he says that Health Canada has been working on this for years. It is very true. I also agree with my colleague from Mississauga South, who is right to say that after ten years of studies and evaluations, it is time to take vigorous action to fight the tragic but avoidable effects of fetal alcohol syndrome and excessive alcohol consumption by young people, and I would add to that, drunk driving.

Anyone who calls for a national strategy is calling for procrastination. We were told here just yesterday, at the Standing Committee on Health, that of the $1.2 billion the Health Infoway program was given, only $51 million has been spent so far. Well, that program was created five years ago.

Insofar as the child care system is concerned, $700 million will be invested in a trust. It will obviously be hard to access the funds. If I remember correctly, a few weeks ago my colleague and his party were decrying the child care system approach.

What I would like to know from him is whether it is not better for each province to have its own policy, under which each could respond to its own needs and problems. With a national strategy, we have the same old problem: the approach is too centralizing and the strategies that are needed to solve the problems never get developed.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

1 p.m.

Conservative

James Lunney Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am not sure I understood the member's point regarding trust funds. I do not know whether she was referring to the money that was set aside for hepatitis C, for example, to compensate people. That is a very good example of another misdirected program which promised to deliver help to people in great need and here, after all these years, we find that of the $1.2 billion, over $1 billion still remains in that fund. We are still discussing in this House how we might administer help to people. If that was an illustration of another ineffective program, she was making a very good point.

On the question of whether a national strategy would be better or whether it would be better to allow provinces to develop their own strategies, I want to commend the province of Quebec for recognizing a problem and advancing the Éduc'alcool program. It was very encouraging to see the work it has already done. Perhaps a national strategy would want to incorporate a lot of what Quebec is already doing. However I think the issue is big enough but the provinces are so strapped for resources because of the huge costs of health care that they are basically treading water. I do not see us advancing this without a very comprehensive national strategy that would include labelling and a whole range of other educational materials.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

1 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member is quite right. I did misunderstand his previous point. Motherisk has come up with interesting research that analyzes stools of newborns which shows that the consumption of alcohol during pregnancy is actually 10 times higher than they previously thought through interviews. I thought we were talking about that.

In any event, could the member please tell us about the funding of Éduc'alcool?

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

1 p.m.

Conservative

James Lunney Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

Mr. Speaker, as I recall, the funding, which I believe is a penny a bottle, but it is a small amount collected at the distribution centres where alcohol is being sold that goes into the program. I am sure that is a very valuable asset.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

1 p.m.

Conservative

Joy Smith Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Mr. Speaker, having taught school for 21 years, there are many fetal alcohol syndrome children who are in the school system. As we know, FAS is a leading cause of development disability.

Could the member please comment on how FAS impacts on the school system?

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

1 p.m.

Conservative

James Lunney Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

Mr. Speaker, there are huge costs to the education system in trying to manage the very complicated problems associated with these kids as well as trying to deal with autistic children. The House has been facing that issue as well.

Many people have been looking for a means to address this question. It is time we found answers because the educational system and parents cannot carry this alone. We need a comprehensive strategy to address these issues and reduce the challenge these children face.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

1 p.m.

Conservative

Colin Carrie Oshawa, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member is quite an expert on natural health products. During committee hearings we heard that some research had been done to decrease the damage in fetal alcohol spectrum disorder by using vitamins properly.

Does the member foresee the use of vitamins in prevention or perhaps added to certain products as part of the comprehensive strategy?

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

1 p.m.

Conservative

James Lunney Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member who has introduced a private member's bill in the House on natural health products that would change the way we regulate them.

I was very hopeful when I heard the announcements about the study, not only to diagnose these damages early in meconium stool, but also to find out if we could reduce the morbidity rate by getting antioxident vitamins to women at risk in their child-bearing years. This would ensure they would have adequate antioxident vitamins to protect their fetus and to ensure they not only would enjoy good health themselves but also to protect their children from this very serious condition. That is something--

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

1:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

April 19th, 2005 / 1:05 p.m.

Etobicoke North
Ontario

Liberal

Roy Cullen Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise and participate in the debate on a motion which would accept the report of the Standing Committee on Health on Bill C-206. First, I would like to congratulate the member for Mississauga South for his very diligent work on Bill C-206, an act to amend the Food and Drugs Act, warning labels regarding the consumption of alcohol.

What the committee dealt with, when it reviewed the private member's bill, was the idea of putting warning labels on bottles of beer, wine and spirits warning against the consumption of alcohol. The member's intent is very well-founded. We know that he has taken a very keen interest in the effects of fetal alcohol syndrome and has made quite a study of it. We know he has very good intentions when it comes to his bill.

However, we need to focus on the process where his bill was reviewed by the Standing Committee on Health. That committee had witnesses from a broad spectrum of stakeholder groups. In the wisdom of committee members, after hearing all the testimony, they decided that the bill should be defeated and that the committee ask the Minister of Health to present a comprehensive plan to the committee by June 2, outlining a strategy for helping people who drank irresponsibly, including drinking and driving and fetal alcohol syndrome. That was a very sound recommendation.

The question of the labelling came up and pre-empted the review of the Department of Health and the Minister of Health of a very thoughtful drug strategy. We should not rush ahead with putting labels on bottles of spirits, wine and beer until we have a look at that comprehensive program. A caution is also warranted because there does not seem to be any evidence, notwithstanding the member for Mississauga South's best intentions, that putting warning labels on bottles will have any impact whatsoever.

In fact, it will put an additional cost burden on industry without any appreciable benefit. We are trying to reduce the incidence of drinking and driving, drinking while pregnant and drinking while operating heavy machinery. The information in studies that have been done in Canada tells me that 96% of women know they should not drink while pregnant. If we survey pregnant women, 99% know they should not drink while pregnant. If we do the same survey about drinking and driving or drinking and operating heavy equipment, a full 95% or thereabouts of people know that they should not drink if they are going to operate heavy equipment or drive.

If the objective is to educate people, people already know this. Therefore, I wonder what we will accomplish. What we will accomplish is that we will put an additional burden on the beer industry, the wine industry and the spirit industry. They will have to move resources from programs that already work, and we know they work very well.

For example, at committee we heard a witness who formed a company called TAXIGUY. The firm operates across Canada. If people want to get a lift from a bar because they have had too much to drink, TAXIGUY has a 1-800 number. Drivers will pick them up, drive them home and the next morning they will come back and help them find their car. That program is funded partly by companies like Molson and Labatt and partly by MADD.

The industry would have to review all these programs. I know the beer industry for example does some tremendous work with fetal alcohol syndrome. It has worked with a group called Motherisk which has a hotline for pregnant women who can phone and talk about drinking and pregnancy.

There is a host of responsible drinking programs that the beer industry and other industries support. The industry would have to review those. We could ask review those for what purpose? It would be so they could absorb the cost of putting labels on bottles where there is no evidence to suggest that these have any effect or impact. They have had warning labels in the United States for many years and there is no evidence whatsoever that labels have any impact.

If we look at the mechanics of it, what about if one goes to a bar and gets a glass of draft beer? What if one goes to a reception and gets a glass of wine poured? There are no labels. I think the impact of this measure is very dubious at most.

What we really need to focus attention on, in my judgment, is the drinker who drinks in excess and drives for example, and these are repeaters. We need to deal with them. It is not the casual drinker who is the problem. The same thing applies to women who are pregnant. It has been shown statistically that some 60% or thereabouts of women who drink when they are pregnant will do it again and again. They will repeat that kind of behaviour. Putting a label on a bottle I do not think will have any impact.

For these reasons, I will support the motion. The health committee looked at this very carefully. Let us accept its recommendation. Let us get a strategy from the Department of Health and then see if labels are part of that strategy or not.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

1:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

It is my duty to interrupt the proceedings and put forthwith every question necessary to dispose of the motion now before the House.

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

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

1:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

1:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.