House of Commons Hansard #62 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was information.

Topics

Criminal Code
Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

All those opposed will please say nay.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

In my opinion the yeas have it.

I declare the motion carried. Accordingly, the bill stands referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

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

Hazardous Materials Information Review Act
Government Orders

October 16th, 2006 / 3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Diane Finley Haldimand—Norfolk, ON

moved that Bill S-2, An Act to amend the Hazardous Materials Information Review Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Hazardous Materials Information Review Act
Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia
Manitoba

Conservative

Steven Fletcher Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to introduce legislation that has the full support of all stakeholders.

The amendments to the Hazardous Materials Information Review Act will benefit workers exposed to hazardous materials in the workplace, employers in whose businesses these materials are used, suppliers of hazardous materials to Canadian industry and provincial and territorial governments in their responsibilities for occupational health and safety. All of these interested parties see the amendments as very positive. There is no opposition to their adoption.

In particular, the net result will be earlier delivery to workers of full and accurate information on the safe handling of hazardous materials. As everyone will appreciate, the outcome is welcome for all those involved in the use of hazardous materials in Canadian workplaces.

Before discussing the provisions of Bill S-2, I would like to outline the responsibilities of the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission in order to provide context for the amendments. The commission is an independent, quasi-judicial agency of government which, while it may not have been in the public eye, plays an essential role in the protection of workers' health and safety and of industry's trade secrets.

The commission is part of the workplace hazardous materials information system, or WHMIS, a joint undertaking of labour, industry and the federal, provincial and territorial governments. Under the authority of the federal Hazardous Products Act, WHMIS is the mechanism by which the health and safety information needed to handle hazardous products safely is disclosed to workers using those products.

The information which must be provided to workers identifies the hazardous agreements in products, the specific risks to the health and safety of those using those products, the precautions that must be taken in handling the products and the appropriate first aid measures in the event of accidental exposure to hazardous ingredients.

When WHMIS was established in 1987, industry was concerned that there were situations in which the full disclosure of information on the hazardous material would betray trade secrets. This in turn would result in financial losses to companies holding trade secrets or financial gain for a company's market competitors.

For example, a company might find through its research a new application for a hazardous ingredient in a manufacturing process. If the full chemical identity of that ingredient was made available to workers, it would be available to that company's competitor and the company making the discovery would lose a competitive advantage that it has gained. The commission was created with a mandate to grant exemptions from disclosure for bona fide trade secrets while at the same time ensuring that documentation on the safe use of hazardous products provided to workers is accurate and complete.

I also draw the House's attention to the fact that the Hazardous Materials Information Review Act has been incorporated by reference into the occupational health and safety legislation of the provinces and territories. The mandate of the commission to balance the rights of employers and workers to full information on the use of hazardous materials with the right of an industry to protect its trade secrets is, therefore, carried out on behalf of the federal, provincial and territorials governments.

This means that whenever a business wants to protect information it considers a trade secret, it makes application to the commission for an exemption from disclosure and with that application includes the required health and safety documentation. The commission reviews the economic documentation in support of the claim for exemption from disclosure and determines whether the information meets the regulatory criteria for trade secrets.

The commission also determines whether the accompanying health and safety information is in compliance with the federal, provincial and territorial requirements with respect to providing the information needed to protect the health and safety of those working with the product.

If the commission determines that the information being provided to the worker is not in compliance with the applicable federal, provincial or territorial health and safety regulations, the claimant is ordered to make the necessary corrections and to provide the commission with a copy of the corrected health and safety documentation.

The decisions and orders of the commission are published in the Canada Gazette so all parties have full information on the corrections the claimants have been required to make. If the corrections are not made within a specific time period, there are measures at the commission's disposal, including steps leading to the restriction of the sale of the product in question.

A key part of the national program delivered by the commission is a tripartite Council of Governors. The governors represent organized labour, industry, the federal government and all provincial and territorial governments. The council acts as an advisory body to the commission and provides strategic advice and guidance. It is through the council that concerns of stakeholders are expressed and it is through the council that appropriate means of resulting concerns are identified.

With the full support of the Council of Governors, the commission undertook a competitive and comprehensive renewal program with the objective of making its operation more transparent and efficient, with a focus on early compliance with the health and safety standards.

Through an extensive consultation process, many improvements in the operations of the commission were identified. Most of these improvements have already been implemented administratively or through changes in regulation. For example, the commission changed its procedures to make the scientific basis for its decision available to applicants early in the process. With a better understanding of the reasons of the decisions, applicants will have less incentive to appeal. Because appeals take time, this means that full and accurate information is in the hands of the workers much earlier if there is no appeal than if there is an appeal.

The legislative changes set out in Bill S-2 complete the renewal process and further the goals of making the commission more efficient and transparent and shortening the time required to get full and accurate health and safety information into the hands of the workers.

There are three changes set out in Bill S-2.

First, the bill amends the act to allow claimants to declare that the information for which they are seeking an exemption for disclosure is confidential business information. That documentation in support of this claim is available and will be supplied on request. Currently, claimants are required to submit detailed documentation on steps they have taken to protect the confidentiality and on the potential financial implications of disclosure. This is an administrative burden on claimants and on all of the commission. The commission has found nearly all claims for exemption to be valid.

While this amendment will generally allow claimants to declare that information is confidential business information, the commission will collect full documentation when affected parties, such as labour organizations, challenge a claim or when a claim is selected through the validation scheme set up to ensure the integrity of the decision making process.

This change will simplify procedure for industry claimants and reduce the administrative burden for both industry and the commission. This efficiency will facilitate getting complete and accurate health and safety information into the hands of workers. It should also be stressed that the protection from disclosure of confidential business information in no way affects the requirement that workers be provided with full information on the safe handling of hazardous materials.

The bill also amends the act to permit claimants to make the corrections needed to bring the accompanying health and safety information into full compliance without the issuing of a compliance order.

Currently, if the commission finds that the health and safety documentation is not compliant with legislation, it must order the claimant to make the necessary corrections and publish the order in the Canada Gazette. A large portion of the claimants are prepared to make all necessary corrections as soon as they need to be identified and feel these orders reflect badly on the commitment to workplace health and safety.

The amendments would allow the commission to enter into an undertaking with the claimants to make the required corrections to the health and safety information on a voluntary basis. If the claimant fulfills the conditions of the undertaking, the commission will confirm compliance and, for transparency, will publish the corrections which have been made in the Canada Gazette.

If the undertaking is not fulfilled, the commission will order the claimant to comply. This will speed up the process of getting health and safety information into the hands of workers because it will avoid the delays built into the current process.

The act now requires that when an order is made it must be published. There is then a period of 45 days in which appeals can be filed and a further 30 days after the appeal period before the claimant must have the changes in place. After adding the inevitable delays in publication, there are very significant advantages to workers in pursuing the amendments to permit the voluntary correction of health and safety documentation.

Finally, the bill amends the act to improve the appeal process. The amended act would allow the commission to provide actual clarifications to appeal boards when these are needed to facilitate the appeal process.

Appeals of the decisions and orders of the commission are heard by independent boards with three members drawn from labour, industry and government. Most appeals heard to date would have benefited from additional explanatory information from the commission but this is not permitted under the current legislation.

As I previously mentioned, the improvements already put in place through the commission renewal process have significantly reduced the number of appeals filed. With the proposed amendments, the process of dealing with any future appeals will be facilitated. As with the other two amendments, this would speed up the process of getting accurate health and safety information into the hands of workers.

Those are the proposed amendments to the Hazardous Materials Information Review Act. I stress again the full support of all those affected: the workers using hazardous materials, the employers of those workers, the suppliers of hazardous materials and the provincial and territorial governments as guardians of occupational health and safety. There is no opposition.

The prime attraction of these changes is that they would be vital for the health and safety of workers as they provide information more quickly. The amendments would also provide more efficient and transparent processes and would benefit all the interested parties.

Given the unprecedented support and in light of the fact that the overriding objective of the amendments is to speed up the process of getting complete and accurate information on the safety of hazardous materials into the hands of workers, I have no hesitation in most strongly urging the support of the passage of this bill.

Hazardous Materials Information Review Act
Government Orders

4 p.m.

Liberal

Ruby Dhalla Brampton—Springdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for providing some insight into this important legislation, which is an act to amend the Hazardous Materials Information Review Act.

I listened intently to what the member had to say and was quite surprised that a substantive part of his speech, word for word, was actually written and given by a member in the Senate, the hon. James Cowan, during second reading to amend the bill.

I also realized that the senator was not recognized during the member's speech. I do not know if that would be a form of plagiarism taking place in the House but I would be interested in finding out from the member whether he had any new insights into this particular debate on some of the other important issues versus reading a speech, word for word, from Senator James Cowan that took place in the Senate?

Hazardous Materials Information Review Act
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4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Steven Fletcher Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia, MB

Mr. Speaker, certainly if there was redundancy, I would acknowledge the senator's speech if that was indeed the case.

The fact is this is a pretty straightforward issue. I hope the member opposite will not cause undue delay or become partisan in the debate just for the sake of becoming partisan. There are times when we can work together here to pass important legislation. This is not exciting legislation, but it is important to the workers who have to deal with hazardous materials.

I will acknowledge the senator's comments. I hope the member will work with the government to ensure the safety of workers.

I will also take a moment to point out that it is not uncommon to find very similar comments in the Senate and the House of Commons. I believe we could find dozens of examples where this was the case with the previous government.

More important, we want to ensure the safety of workers, and this government will do that.

Hazardous Materials Information Review Act
Government Orders

4:05 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, we are talking about hazardous materials and this bill would make some improvements to the Hazardous Materials Information Review Act.

In my area of Windsor West, approximately 42% of the nation's daily trade goes across the border to the United States. Hazardous material is routinely shipped through this corridor. The material is supposed to go through a number of different procedures, but we have not really seen enforcement of those procedures. We do not have a regional border authority that could actively monitor the way hazardous material goes across the border.

A pre-authorized barge system is supposed to be used for transporting hazardous material, This follows a series of different procedures as opposed to the system of simply going across a bridge and getting into the United States before an inspection takes place. There have been cases in the past of drivers removing from their vehicles placards identifying the material and the procedures to be followed if a spill occurred.

I would ask the hon. member if his government is committed to actually cracking down on the different types of illegal procedures that are happening on the border in the transportation of hazardous materials. Is his government committed to ensuring public safety? The Ambassador Bridge spans the Detroit River where our ecosystem is very much in line with Lake St. Clair and the Great Lakes. We are concerned about them.

What is the government doing to enforce the proper transportation of goods across the border to the United States?

Hazardous Materials Information Review Act
Government Orders

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Steven Fletcher Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia, MB

Mr. Speaker, there were several components to the member's question.

With regard to the question of safety, the member will know that this government has made substantial commitments toward increasing border security. Not only will we increase the resources to maintain border security, but over time we will also allow our guards to be armed, which the previous government would not allow.

What the member is talking about is more of a transportation issue. When we are dealing with trade, there are a variety of systems around the world to assess the safety of material. The Canadian approach ensures that workers will have the health and safety information they need, even if the exact ingredients of the products are not disclosed. In this bill, regardless of where the product comes from, the safety of the worker is assured and that is really the main issue.

The issue of transportation and border security is outside my realm, but I am very proud of the work that Minister Day has done and the investment this government has put into the importance of cross-border security. I think the workers at the border appreciate the investment that this government is making to their heroic and tremendous contributions to the safety of our country.

Hazardous Materials Information Review Act
Government Orders

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

I would just remind the hon. parliamentary secretary that we do not refer to ministers by their name, but by their title instead.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Brampton—Springdale.

Hazardous Materials Information Review Act
Government Orders

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Ruby Dhalla Brampton—Springdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to take this opportunity to express the support of our party, the official opposition in the House, for Bill S-2, An Act to amend the Hazardous Materials Information Review Act. It is very similar to Bill S-40 which was introduced in the previous Parliament by the Liberal government. The bill seeks to change the process whereby manufacturers of hazardous materials can become exempt from providing full disclosure of the nature of their products where that disclosure would force them to reveal trade secrets.

I know the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health has very eloquently put forward some of the changes that would take place, but perhaps I could also divulge some information in regard to this piece of legislation.

As was mentioned by the member opposite, the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission is an independent quasi-judicial agency of government. It plays a very important role in ensuring that we protect the safety of our workers in Canada. Ultimately that is what this legislation is about; it is about protecting workers, both their safety and their health in Canada.

The commission is part of the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System which provides workers with information about health and safety. There are product labels which are available to employees and workers who handle hazardous materials, along with material data safety sheets. They provide workers with information that is important for their protection, such as the different types of hazardous ingredients that they perhaps are working with, the specific risks that may be encountered when utilizing those products, and precautions on how to store and transport those products, and also how to ensure the proper disposal of those products. The labelling sheets and the data safety sheets also provide information on first aid measures that one can take if there is any type of accidental exposure.

The commission has played a vital and important role in terms of educating workers and ensuring their safety. The legislation that is before us wants to implement three amendments. The first amendment reduces some of the administrative burden that one requires for documentation. The second amendment deals with the voluntary correction of material safety data sheets and product labels. The third amendment improves the appeals process.

With respect to the first change regarding reducing the amount of administrative burden, when employers put forward information on how to provide for an application for hazardous materials, they must apply for an exemption. One of the difficulties with the exemption is that when they reveal what the chemical compounds are in those hazardous materials, they may end up revealing trade secrets and therefore, they apply to the commission for an exemption. However, the commission has only denied two of the 2,200 applications that have been put forward to the commission. There is an amendment to allow individuals to label their applications as confidential and the commission would only then review those applications if they were challenged on the basis of confidentiality.

The second amendment being put forward is the voluntary correction of material safety and data. As the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health told the House, if a correction is required to the product labels or the material safety data sheets, it has to appear in the Canada Gazette through a formal order and it is not binding until 75 days after it has been publicized. Thus workers cannot receive the appropriate information until 75 days after it has appeared in the Canada Gazette. This bill would ensure that workers would receive information in a timely manner because instead of having to go through the Canada Gazette, one could make a voluntary undertaking.

The third improvement is in regard to improving the appeals process. Right now the commission cannot have any type of interference. However, if it were able to provide some sort of factual clarification it would actually speed up the whole process.

In conclusion, we support this piece of legislation. It would provide definite improvements to the whole process. It would absolutely ensure that workers in this country had access to safe and effective information that would ensure their health and safety. Also, the information would be made available in a timely manner.

We will be supporting Bill S-2.

Hazardous Materials Information Review Act
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

Bloc

Marcel Lussier Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am especially pleased to speak to Bill S-2, since the area of hazardous materials was my concern for several years in my career as a health and safety engineer for Hydro-Québec. I even brought with me the guide my colleagues and I prepared on managing hazardous materials.

The Hazardous Materials Information Review Act is governed by a board. This large board is made up of 18 members, including 2 workers, a supplier, an employer, a federal government representative and 4 to 13 representatives from the provinces and territories.

This large board is part of the framework of WHMIS, which stands for Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System. WHMIS participants and stakeholders can be divided into four main categories. First are the suppliers and manufacturers. Next are the workers who handle the products. Third are the employers or industries that purchase the products. Finally, there are the provincial, territorial and federal governments that monitor the system.

WHMIS, the information system, must provide workers with all the health and safety information they need to handle hazardous materials without any risk to themselves, their neighbours, friends or colleagues, and in order to avoid all dangerous situations for pregnant women.

Information on the use of hazardous materials in the workplace is provided in two ways. First, information appears on the label. All containers must have an identification label. If a label identifying a product is damaged, covered or illegible, the worker has the right to refuse to handle the container and its contents, and can have the contents verified by the manufacturer, if the manufacturer is identified on the label. Otherwise, the product is disposed of in a safe manner.

The second is the material safety data sheet, which must be kept in a catalogue accessible to everyone at all times. It is important to emphasize “at all times”. Regular drills must be conducted to verify the storage location of the binder or catalogue. The MSDS must also be kept up to date and must be accessible to workers. This means the catalogue or MSDS cannot be locked up in a supervisor's office or someone else's office. All of these details must be discussed regularly during mandatory workplace health and safety meetings.

Careful attention must be paid to making new employees aware of health and safety regulations because they must know where catalogues are located and be familiar with all of the products they will be using in the workplace.

What information does the MSDS provide? First of all, it lists dangerous ingredients and, if applicable, toxic products. Second, it details the health and safety risks associated with using the product. Third, it describes product-handling precautions. Fourth, it recommends the first aid to be given in cases of accidental exposure, such as ingestion, skin contact or inhalation.

Anyone who cares about the environment will be careful when disposing of large quantities of these products and will know how to respond appropriately in case of accidental spills in sewer or storm drains or in sensitive environments, such as lakes and reservoirs, wetlands or other vulnerable ecosystems.

Bill S-2 proposes three changes. I have read the speeches given by the senator and other senators during debate in the Senate. I hope that there will be no questions insinuating that I have cribbed from the senators.

Trade secrets represent the first major change. In my opinion, there has to be a certain balance between the right of workers and employers to have complete information about the use of hazardous products and the industry’s right to protect trade secrets, patents, contents and components, which competitors could use to their advantage.

The Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission will therefore have the power to grant exemptions to protect genuine trade secrets of manufacturers and distributors of hazardous products. The commission will review claims for exemption. As well, the required health and safety documents will be filed, and manufacturers will also be asked to provide documents of an economic nature. Those measures will protect the confidentiality of the information and will also eliminate the financial consequences of disclosure of the documents.

The second amendment to the existing act allows for voluntary correction of material safety data sheets and labels where the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission determines that they do not comply with the act. This is a new procedure. There is also a third amendment proposed in the bill, to improve the appeal process.

The Bloc Québécois supports the principle of Bill S-2 and believes that when it comes to hazardous materials it is crucial to keep worker safety in mind. We also believe that this essential effect must be the basis of all decisions made. The Bloc Québécois notes that there is unanimous support for the amendments to the Hazardous Materials Information Review Act set out in Bill S-2 among the members of the commission’s governing council, that is, among the participants I identified earlier: industry, workers and governments.

The Bloc Québécois supports Bill S-2 so that the amendments that the leading stakeholders in those groups have called for can be enacted. In everything it does, the Bloc Québécois seeks to protect working men and women, and that is why it has introduced Bill C-257 to ban the use of replacement workers. There is also a bill on preventive reassignment on the order paper, the purpose of which is to provide women in Quebec who work in undertakings under federal jurisdiction with the same benefits in respect of preventive reassignment as other working women in Quebec.

A third bill, Bill C-269, to improve the employment insurance system, is one such law that affects working men and women. I would remind you that the Bloc Québécois also had the throne speech amended to incorporate an income support program for older workers.

The Bloc Québécois will be supporting Bill S-2.