House of Commons Hansard #19 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was security.

Topics

Food and Drugs Act
Private Members' Business

11 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

moved that Bill C-251, An Act to amend the Food and Drugs Act (warning labels regarding the consumption of alcohol), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by thanking Ms. Elspeth Ross who is with the FAS Network at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario. I cannot say enough about the work that she has done in support of families and children with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders and helped parliamentarians to understand the devastation that alcohol has caused.

Alcohol is the most widely used and abused drug in the world, but in Canada beverage alcohol is the only consumer product that can harm us if misused and one that does not warn us of that fact.

Existing legislation does not adequately recognize alcohol as a drug or indeed as a product that is clearly associated with significant risk to public health and safety. It plays a role in thousands of premature deaths, preventable injuries, and prenatal brain damage each year. It is associated with increased cirrhosis of the liver, cancer, cardiovascular diseases, respiratory diseases, homicides, suicides, as well as motor vehicle, boat and snowmobile crashes, falls, fires and drownings.

Moreover, high rates of consumption are associated with increased mental illness, an increase in crime and reduced work or productivity. These translate into a human loss of devastating proportions and an economic toll of billions of dollars.

The active ingredient in alcohol is ethyl alcohol, commonly known as ethanol, which works much like ether. Acting like an anesthetic it puts the brain to sleep. It also acts as a central nervous system depressant that slows body functions down such as heart rate and respiration.

Small quantities of alcohol may induce feelings of well-being and relaxation, but in larger amounts alcohol can cause intoxication, sedation, unconsciousness, brain damage, physical or mental illness and even death.

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders or FASD is a term which describes a range of effects that can occur in a person whose mother drank alcohol while pregnant. These effects can include physical and mental disabilities and problems with behaviour and learning, and often a person has a mix of these problems.

Persons with FASD often have problems with learning, memory, attention span, problem solving, speech and hearing, and they are at very high risk for trouble in school, trouble with the law, alcohol and drug abuse and mental health disorders. FASDs include fetal alcohol syndrome, which causes growth problems, abnormal facial features and central nervous system problems.

Children who do not have all the symptoms of FAS can have another form of FASD and these children can have problems just as severe as those children who have FASD. There is no known amount of alcohol use that is safe during pregnancy and there is no known time during pregnancy when alcohol is safe to use.

FAS is often described as the leading known cause of mental retardation. While it is true that it is more prevalent than Down's syndrome or spinal bifida, it is not the cause. The simple fact that the consumption of alcohol during pregnancy is the one and only cause, FAS is 100% preventable by abstaining from the consumption of alcohol during pregnancy.

It must become the cultural norm that drinking during pregnancy is inappropriate, but since 50% of pregnancies are unplanned and the highest risk period to the fetus is between days 15 and 22 of pregnancy, when a woman does not even know she is pregnant, the fact is that if a woman is in her birthing years, if she is sexually active and not using protection, she should abstain from consuming any alcohol to totally eliminate the risk of harming her children.

Bill C-251 was inspired by a report from the health committee back in June 1992. It was entitled “Foetal Alcohol Syndrome: A Preventable Tragedy” in which it recommended warning labels on the containers of all beverage alcohol to alert consumers that consumption during pregnancy can hurt the fetus.

The House will note that the bill is only one clause long which deliberately leaves the details of the labelling requirement to be prescribed by governor in council. That means that the precise wording, form and size of the label together with other details necessary to enact the bill will be provided in the regulations of the bill. That was recommended to me by Health Canada officials on order to provide as much flexibility and latitude to respond to industry concerns and suggestions.

I know that health officials have been dialoguing with various stakeholders and I very much hope that the industries affected will agree to work collaboratively with Health Canada, and become part of a national harm reduction strategy related to alcohol.

This past summer there was a conference of experts in Regina. The headline of the release stated that: “Doctors, judges, lawyers agree more needs to be done about fetal alcohol exposure”. There is one quote that caught my attention and it was from Dr. Gideon Koren, a professor and director of the Motherisk Program, at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. He said, “There's no way we are doing the right things--we are not...Compared to some other maladies, from heart and stroke to cancer, there is no big societal drive to do something”.

That is an assessment of an eminent medical professional who, prior to this, had been supporting the beverage alcohol industry position with regard to labelling. He has changed his mind. What we are doing is the wrong thing. He also said, “Health Canada estimates that about one per cent, or 300,000 Canadians, suffer from some form of this disorder...That's one child in every 100 births, or about 4,000 new cases, occur each year and the costs are huge”.

Since I last spoke about this bill last May, I told the committee at the time that there were 20 countries which already had health warning labels on containers of alcoholic beverages. Let me remind the House they include: Armenia, Iceland, Portugal, Spain, India, Japan, Republic of Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Mexico, United States, Cost Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela and Zimbabwe.

There have been changes since then and I want to let the House know, but first let me go through a few press clippings that I picked out. On September 4, 2007, not so long ago, South Africa announced that it has new regulations requiring containers of alcoholic beverages to display messages highlighting the negative effects of alcohol consumption. The department said that the regulations would come into effect in the next 18 months as part of an ongoing campaign to promote healthy lifestyles.

In Ireland, on October 14, 2007, not so long ago, mandatory labelling of alcohol containers with health warning labels about the dangers of drinking alcohol during pregnancy will be introduced. Members should note that Drinks Manufacturers Ireland, DMI, the umbrella body for the alcohol industry, confirmed yesterday that it had agreed to the health warning which will apply to all alcohol containers sold in the republic. The message will carry an image of a pregnant woman with a diagonal red line or written warning on it.

Let us look at August 14, the European Union is calling for the dangers of alcohol such as drinking while pregnant and driving to be highlighted on bottles and labels of bottles and cans.

Let us look at Tasmania, July 2, 2007. Tasmanian child commissioner, Paul Mason, said, “Women of childbearing age should not drink alcohol in the case they fall pregnant”. He is pushing for labels on alcohol containers to warn women of the risks associated with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder which affects about 5,800 Tasmanians. He went on to say: “there is no safe level of drinking alcohol during pregnancy”.

How about New Zealand? For the last two years it has considered and now has the recommendation from the health committee which makes the following recommendations including: first, that it develop legislation or standards to require mandatory labels to be placed on all types of alcohol liquor reminding women of the dangers of drinking alcohol during pregnancy; second, that it publicize the adverse health consequences of drinking during pregnancy including community education about fetal alcohol spectrum disorder; third, that it increase monitoring of, and research into, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and that effective intervention demonstrated by this research be applied immediately; and finally, that it adopt a policy encouraging women not to drink at any time during pregnancy.

How about Australia? On June 17, also since the last time I spoke in this place on this bill, says that all alcohol products will carry warning labels of the links between binge drinking and brain damage if the new safety push succeeds. This is from the alcohol education rehabilitation foundation who said that, “We have an epidemic of intoxication in Australia. We don't drink more in total than we did 10 years ago, but the way we drink has changed”. It is talking about binge drinking. It went on to say, “While it's not the complete answer, it should be one of the ways we get the community to understand that alcohol is not a benign product”.

Further, in Australia, it is estimated 50% of individuals with FASD will end up in institutional care, a mental health facility or in prison. It has been estimated that Australia spends more than $13 million a day on FASD-affected individuals through health care, institutional care, mental health, in justice services and other areas. Acting now would not only reduce these costs but improve the lives of children, families and communities.

Finally, let us look at the UK. The UK has just, under Tony Blair, adopted a national alcohol harm reduction strategy. In the executive summary it says:

The Strategy Unit’s interim analysis estimated that alcohol misuse is now costing around [$40 billion Canadian per year.]...The annual cost of alcohol misuse includes: 1.2 million violent incidents (around half of all violent crimes); 360,000 incidents of domestic violence (around a third) which are linked to alcohol misuse; increased anti social behaviour and fear of crime--61% of the population perceive alcohol-related violence as worsening; expenditure of [$200 million Canadian] on specialist alcohol treatment; over 30,000 hospital admissions for alcohol dependence syndrome; up to 22,000 premature deaths per annum; at peak times, up to 70% of all admissions to accident and emergency departments; up to 1,000 suicides; up to 17 million working days lost through alcohol-related absence; between 780,000 and 1.3 million children affected by parental alcohol problems; and increased divorce--marriages where there are alcohol problems are twice as likely to end in divorce.

That is pretty compelling. The UK is working on a voluntary compliance, just like in Canada.

Let me go on to the stats. When I gave the stats the last time, 67% of Canadians supported health warning labels, in a survey commissioned by Decima and Health Canada.

We have a new one now. It is an Environics survey done for Public Health Agency of Canada, published in May 2006, just after I gave my speech with regard to support for the initiative to provide information about the risks of alcohol use. In response, an overwhelming number approved of the initiative to provide information on the risks associated with alcohol during pregnancy.

What are the numbers? Some 87% approval for requiring health warning labels, 97% of Canadians approve government-sponsored advertising, 95% approve of warning messages on alcohol advertising, 85% approve of warning signs in bars and clubs, and 80% approve of warning signs in restaurants.

Canadians overwhelmingly support labelling and messages about the significant risks associated with alcohol consumption. Now is the time for Parliament to act.

If we could prevent even a small percentage of the problems caused by misuse of alcohol, the savings in health social programs, education and criminal justice costs would be many times more cost effective than an effective national alcohol harm reduction strategy. More important, we could eliminate so much misery and human suffering, and that is the essence of a caring society.

Members will want to know, do labels work? That is the wrong question. Labels on the bottles of beverage alcohol should be considered to be the declaration of Canada that alcohol is a harmful product if misused and Canada is going to start the strategy to ensure that we get a real harm reduction strategy very soon.

Food and Drugs Act
Private Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia
Manitoba

Conservative

Steven Fletcher Parliamentary Secretary for Health

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for bringing this issue to Parliament again. We dealt with this issue as recently as the last Parliament. It was brought to the health committee, which did an intensive study on what impact such labels would have on behaviour.

It was actually very interesting. My colleague from Yellowhead will be speaking shortly. He was the former chair of the health committee and will have more time to get into what occurred. The bulk of the evidence the committee heard suggests that warning labels would not result in a reduction of hazardous alcohol consumption for specific at risk populations, such as those who drink and drive or women who continue to drink alcohol while pregnant.

There is no evidence that warning labels reduce alcohol related risk taking. The initiative could in fact take away valuable resources for programs that do work.

We can use common sense. The priority of binge drinkers is not to read labels but to drink. Anyone who has been to a bar has seen that people use glasses that are not labelled and do not take time to read labels.

Last time, the health committee, including Liberal members, rejected the bill because there are better alternatives than that which the member is suggesting. I wonder if I could ask the member to comment on why the Liberal members, along with other members, voted to quash the bill in the last session.

Food and Drugs Act
Private Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member simply does not get the issue. He wants to talk about labels and whether labels in and of themselves are the solution to all problems.

What I said at the end of my speech, and it is too bad he did not listen, is that right now we have beverage alcohol that looks like a benign product. It is a fun product. However, the evidence is clear, and it is not refuted by the member, that it is a dangerous product. It can cause harm if misused, but it does not warn us of that fact.

If a label is put on a beverage alcohol container, it is a declaration, a sign and a symbol to every Canadian that this is a product that can harm people if misused. That, then, is the starting point at which all other promotional, educational and harm reduction programs can begin. That cannot be done until it is declared that alcohol is a dangerous product. The member should know that.

Food and Drugs Act
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Mississauga South for his hard work on this issue. It is certainly an important issue for all of Canada.

However, the question today is not about what the science says and what public opinion says, because that has been a given for many years. We have known for ages that putting labels on bottles in fact makes a difference and that Canadians support it.

The problem we have today is whether the member for Mississauga South can commit his colleagues, the Liberal members of the House, to do anything more than they did the last time we dealt with this issue, which was to unanimously support my motion for labels six years ago and then do nothing when in government.

The same goes for the Conservative government. Both Liberals and Conservatives say one thing one day and do something else another day. The real question today is this: what assurances can the member give us that his colleagues will do anything different this time than they did six years ago?

Food and Drugs Act
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

The hon. member for Mississauga South will be interested to know that the clock has run out, but I will allow a short moment for his response.

Food and Drugs Act
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have to say that in this place there are members of Parliament who vote the way they do for the wrong reasons. There are some members on the health committee who voted because they have a brewery in their riding.

Food and Drugs Act
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis Winnipeg North, MB

I'm not talking about that. We're talking about your members who voted for it and did nothing.

Food and Drugs Act
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

We are talking about members who voted in that way. All I can say is that I know the Conservatives voted against the health committee report to have a comprehensive harm reduction alcohol strategy. They have spoken against this bill. I know who is not for this bill: the members of the Conservative Party. They should be ashamed.

Food and Drugs Act
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

Rob Merrifield Yellowhead, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege for me to stand and comment on this legislation put forward by the hon. member for Mississauga South. He has worked very hard on this issue over a number of years. He has brought the issue before the House a number of times and it has reached the health committee a couple of times. I particularly want to refer to the last time it was before committee, when I had the opportunity to chair that committee and to see exactly what the merits of this piece of legislation might be.

I think it is important for us to understand that FASD is a very serious problem in this country and has to be dealt with in a very comprehensive way. FASD is not a simple thing. It devastates families. It devastates our health care system and our court system with regard to its major impact on the human costs as well as the health costs.

As we look at FASD, we can imagine how a parent feels who, because of the consumption of alcohol, has a child that is afflicted with this disease. Parents have terrible guilt knowing that they have negatively impacted and handicapped a child unintentionally through something that certainly could have been prevented.

We really need to get a handle on this problem through something that is a lot deeper than putting a label on a bottle of alcohol or dealing with it from that perspective. I will get into exactly why I believe this has to be much deeper and more aggressive than that.

I will illustrate this by suggesting that right now we are in a season when many Canadians go big game hunting. Anyone who has ever gone big game hunting knows that it is very easy to be led off the trail by seeing a rabbit track while tracking big game in the snow. I would suggest that this is what we are doing with this legislation here: if the hunter chases the rabbit track, he is still hunting, but he will miss the mark. He will miss what really needs to be done in looking after the needs of his family for that winter. I will get into that a little later.

I would suggest that this bill is a rabbit hunt rather than a big game hunt. I would suggest that this issue is much bigger than rabbits and has to be dealt with in a more comprehensive way, rather than putting a label on a bottle and thinking that we have dealt with the problem.

What I would say to the hon. member is that we must look at the evidence we looked at in the health committee as to whether putting a label on a bottle would actually work or not. We had many witnesses talk to us about the issues and about whether labelling would be substantive and would actually do the job or not. The fact of the matter is that a significant number of the witnesses, although it would not be quite fair to say most of them, suggested that putting labels on bottles of alcohol would not make any significant change in the behaviour of individuals with regard to whether they would drink or not drink while pregnant.

In fact, there are some statistics with regard to drinking alcohol that have come forward since this piece of legislation and a similar piece of legislation, which I think was Bill C-206, brought forward in 2005. Since the early 1990s, 90% of Canadians who drink have been aware that heavy alcohol consumption during pregnancy has a negative impact on the fetus. Since the 1990s, that number has gone up significantly. At the present time, according to the most recent information we have, 99% of Canadians know that drinking during pregnancy harms a fetus.

If we simply put a label on a bottle of alcohol to inform the public that it causes problems for the pregnant mother, it is not going to do more than what is already out there as far as information to that pregnant mother is concerned. The message has to be deeper and more aggressive.The solutions have to be more aggressive. The message for the mother must say that if there is the potential of being pregnant any amount of alcohol could potentially cause significant problems for the child.

The report of the Standing Committee on Health, which looked into this, was entitled in part, “Even One is Too Many”, suggesting that the message has to be more aggressive than just putting a label on a bottle that says if a woman is pregnant, drinking may harm the fetus. We have to make sure that the message goes much farther than that.

An individual from my riding who came to see me worked with women whose children were born with FASD. We had a long discussion about the situation, about the impact on these people, and about how we could deal with the problem in a much more aggressive way.

We have talked about a comprehensive program here and about what needs to be done. The hon. member who has moved forward this piece of legislation is suggesting that we just put on a label and that would initiate a comprehensive plan.

The individual who came to see me talked about her experiences in working with FASD children and their mothers. She suggested that the best way to combat this, based on her experience, is to make sure that if an individual has one child with FASD, she never has another child who is a victim of FASD, and that she be dealt with in as comprehensive a way as possible so that there is a support system that comes around that individual.

The issue is not just the person who goes partying on the weekend, drinks too much and is not aware of it. It is more about the binge drinking. It is on first nations reserves. It is in dysfunctional families, where individuals are addicted to this product and have no opportunity to have a support system around them to make sure they can deal with the problem at hand.

This individual who came to me is suggesting that if we really want a comprehensive plan we should work in conjunction with the provincial governments to deal with FASD and the delivery of health care systems in a comprehensive way. We should make sure that we do everything we possibly can to give support to those individuals so that FASD is not repeated.

When we looked at this piece of legislation, we also saw that putting a significant amount of money into putting on labels would have a negative impact on some of the small and medium sized brewers. It would take money away from where they have already designated it to deal with this issue. Putting a label on a bottle, which really does not accomplish the goal, would have a negative impact on their industry, on their businesses and on taxpayers.

I have a real concern about this. People might ask why we do not put a label on a bottle. They might ask what harm it would do. The harm it will do is that, as the government before this one has done with so many things, some think we can just go a little ways toward the right thing and that means actually accomplishing it. They chase the rabbit, even though they are big game hunting, and think that when they catch the rabbit everything is going to be fine.

That is an absolutely inappropriate way to look at this issue. This issue is much too serious for us to think that just putting a label on a bottle will solve the problem. In fact, when we were last in committee, the hon. member actually brought in bottles from the United States and a number of countries and showed the committee the labels on the bottles. The labels on those bottles were so small and so insignificant that one almost would have to bring out a magnifying glass to read them clearly. If one were in a poorly lit room and not seeing very well, or drinking at all, one would not be able to identify the label on the bottle or the significance of it.

Let us look at tobacco. We have very aggressive and abrasive labelling on tobacco packages. I am not so convinced, nor are the statistics convincing, that putting even those very aggressive and abrasive labels on cigarette packages is changing things. Really, what is changing cigarette smoking in this country is banning it from public areas and having so much peer pressure applied to the citizens of this country that it becomes unfashionable to smoke in the presence of other people, particularly children. We need to make sure in regard to FASD that drinking while having the potential of being pregnant is unfashionable as well.

I could go on about how this would negatively impact the industry for no good reason, but my time is just about up and I really want to say that we need to look at legislation that comes into this House and deals with the issue in an aggressive way. We need to deal with the issue in a way that does not just paper over what needs to be done, but actually does something that is aggressive and effective for the citizens of this country.

For that reason, I will not be supporting this piece of legislation. Although the intent of the hon. member is right and goes in the right direction, the bill does not deal with this issue in the way it needs to be done.

Food and Drugs Act
Private Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

Bloc

Christiane Gagnon Québec, QC

Mr. Speaker, thank you for giving me the floor this morning. Bill C-251, which was introduced by the member for Mississauga South, reopens the debate on Bill C-206 sponsored by the same member. In fact, it reopens the debate on labeling alcoholic beverages with warnings about alcohol consumption.

I would like to remind this House that 200 countries have rejected this idea and that New Zealand recently rejected this idea after a lengthy debate.

We have to ask ourselves whether this is an effective way of reaching the various target groups and whether it would be problematic to affix warning labels on bottles. When we talk about alcohol consumption, we are really talking about alcohol abuse. A number of members of the scientific community who are researching alcohol consumption say that placing warning labels on alcoholic beverages might be alarmist. This opinion may not be shared, as we can see in this House this morning. A number of stakeholders have yet to express their views, but each person's perception is different. The issue is how we want to help target those who are affected by fetal alcohol syndrome, such as women and children, as well as people who drive while drunk or who endanger their health.

In my opinion, we really need to look at this issue in depth. Is this the best way to combat alcohol abuse, which has an impact on people's lives? I want to be clear: we are not denying the effects of alcohol abuse on pregnancy, for example, or on driving or heath, as I said earlier. And we are not denying that those effects are completely avoidable. In our opinion, targeting and rigour are the keys to effectively fighting this scourge.

A number of stakeholders shed light on this issue when we had to decide whether we were going to vote for or against this bill. Combatting alcohol abuse requires serious action, based on convincing and conclusive data.

Consequently, we must invest in research. Our government must support targeted research to combat alcohol abuse. A great deal of research has been done in the past 15 years, and I will give an example of the effects of alcohol abuse in Quebec. Obviously, everyone knows that alcohol abuse is a problem. Statistics prove this. Surveys have been done of Quebeckers. Still, members will be surprised to learn that more than 85% of alcohol abusers understand how alcohol affects health.

As I said, we have to find a way to reach the most vulnerable members of our society and achieve a better understanding of these behaviours. We also have to consider those who refuse to be reached through awareness campaigns. I think that is the best way to fight alcohol abuse. It is also important for governments to get involved, as I said earlier.

A Quebec organization called Éduc'alcool asked members of the Groupe de recherche sur les aspects sociaux de la santé et de la prévention, also known as GRASP, to research the social aspects of health and prevention, an issue these scientists have been investigating for 15 years.

Together with a group from the Université de Montréal, this research group analyzed all available research on the subject and found that, when combined with other communication tools and methods, a warning label can be an effective way to make some consumers more aware of the phenomenon.

However, such measures are not effective when it comes to changing behaviour or reducing consumption. They are totally ineffective.

A whole research team analyzed all available research. They also asked a number of centres in Canada and abroad to provide any information they had. In all, over 100 studies were submitted to GRASP, which reviewed all of them.

Personally, what I found striking was the second part, because that is what we have to address. Research suggests that putting a warning label on is not an effective way to change behaviour or reduce consumption, and that a label is useless when it comes to reaching those who consume the most, that is, the target groups, including pregnant women and their fetuses. It is clear that there are consequences for the health and behaviour of children. I believe that this body of research is very important. We are not talking about one study, but about many.

I will now say a few words about Éduc'alcool in Quebec. The purpose of this organization is to educate the general public, young people in particular, and to promote moderation because most people drink in moderation. Many ad campaigns have been run in newspapers and on television. These campaigns have been very targeted; there are ten or so in Quebec. If I have enough time, I will talk about a few of them. These campaigns address all target groups: young people, women, university students, college students and primary and secondary school students.

Drivers are another group that has to be targeted. Various health partners have joined forces with these different ad campaigns. The Brewers Association of Canada is also associated with a foundation that has been set up to address alcoholism.

Éduc'alcool also wanted to examine the historical and cultural context of drinking. We know that a historical and cultural context exists. The first nations are very affected by fetal alcohol syndrome. Why not intervene in very affected groups? Some scientists, or those who have done research on this problem, say that using labels might give the impression that the problem is not so bad, which defeats the purpose.

In Quebec, a lot of money has been invested in this. Éduc'alcool has invested $20 million to educate Quebeckers, generate initiatives and mobilize partners. To that we could also add the free air time the organization often receives on television. Other advertising has also been done. If we add all of this together, these initiatives are worth more than $60 million. And we are seeing results.

That is not to say we do not need to be vigilant or support research. Some might think that because we oppose this bill we do not care about this issue, but we would like to see a different approach, with awareness campaigns and independent foundations. We could also ask those who produce alcoholic products what they might do to help show people that excessive drinking is harmful to health. It is harmful to drink and drive. These are the groups we need to involve to help fight the trend toward excessive drinking. There are also health benefits when we consume less alcohol.

I might have a few—

Food and Drugs Act
Private Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

Resuming debate.

The hon. member for Winnipeg North.

Food and Drugs Act
Private Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have a chance to speak to the very important issue of labels on alcohol beverage containers for the purposes of reducing drinking during pregnancy and drinking while driving. Drinking leads to other health related problems.

I thank the member for Mississauga South for introducing this bill. While he may not be able to determine the behaviour of his colleagues, it is important to keep this issue before Parliament.

This issue has been before the House for over 20 years. The former NDP member for Surrey North, Jim Karpoff, first brought this issue to Parliament to seek the input of Parliament regarding labels to ensure we deal with the problems related to drinking. Since then there have been numerous other initiatives, including those from the member for Mississauga South, and one by the NDP, which was a motion put before the House on April 23, 2001 to require labels on all alcohol beverage containers warning about drinking during pregnancy because it can lead to FAS, fetal alcohol syndrome.

That motion was almost unanimously supported by the House. There were 217 members who voted in favour of that motion and 11 who voted against it. Those 11, as my colleague from Mississauga South pointed out, voted no because of alcohol industries in their constituencies. However, 217 members from all sides of the House voted in favour of that very simple, straightforward, non-costly motion. They did so because it makes sense. They did so because it is one tool in a whole arsenal of tools that helps deal with the problems associated with drinking.

The science is in. We know the relationship between drinking and pregnancy and the links to FAS. The science is in obviously with respect to drinking and driving. There is a growing toll of people who are killed or injured on our roadsides because people continue to drink and drive. I might point out that it is not only binge drinkers who drink and drive. There are people who forget. There are people who take a drink and then do not stop to consider the impact. Ordinary people need to be reminded about the dangers of drinking and driving, just as it is important for women to be reminded, even though they may know all the facts, that one drink while they are pregnant may lead to FAS or FASD.

We do this in every walk of life. It is absolutely ludicrous to hear this diatribe from Conservatives suggesting that labels do not work. My goodness, I have never heard such supercilious, spurious, shallow arguments before, all because that gang of Conservatives are nothing more than mouthpieces for the alcohol industry. They are repeating the exact same lines I have heard from the Brewers Association of Canada and from all the other elements of the alcohol industry. There is not one bit of it that makes sense. No one here is suggesting that labels are the be-all and end-all and that drinking during pregnancy or drinking while driving will suddenly end, but it is one important message that will help.

Even if it helps one person, is that not good enough? Is that not why we are here, to try to fix serious ills in our society one person at a time, to try to prevent someone living with a lifetime of FASD, which costs our economy $1.5 million to $2 million every year? Is it not enough to stand up for the mothers and fathers of those who have lost their young children and teenagers because someone was drinking and driving? Is it not enough that we take one little step? We do it in every other instance.

We do it when it comes to drinking coffee. Coffee shops put warnings on take-out coffee cups to be careful, that the coffee is hot and it might burn us. Is there a problem with doing that, I ask the parliamentary secretary of the Conservative government? We know in our heads that hot coffee hurts if we spill it on ourselves, but we are still reminded that it might hurt. It is another reminder to be careful. What about when we turn on the tap? In public places there are signs that say that hot water can be detrimental to our health.

What about “Beware of dog” signs? We know dogs bite, but we still display the signs because it helps us remember that there is a problem if a dog bites and it may make a person stop and think in the heat of a moment when walking in a neighbourhood. That is exactly what we are talking about with respect to drinking.

Do pregnant women not matter?

Food and Drugs Act
Private Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

NDP

Dawn Black New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Do children not matter?

Food and Drugs Act
Private Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis Winnipeg North, MB

Do children not matter? Why do we have a double standard? It is okay to talk about a warning about flying kites near hydroelectric wires. It is okay to talk about hot water. It is okay to talk about hot coffee. It is okay to talk about dogs that bite. However, it is not okay to display warnings about drinking during pregnancy? It is not okay to put out warnings about drinking and driving?

It does not cost the government a penny. It only requires courage and willpower to stand up to the alcohol beverage industry. That is the only roadblock. Every other country around the world is doing it. We just heard about Ireland, Finland, France and our Northwest Territories. It is not uncommon. It is a normal, logical thing to do and it does not make a shred of sense for the Conservatives to stand and oppose the bill.

It does not make any more sense for Liberals to stand time and time again, defend it, say that we have to move on it and then every time they are in government do nothing. The hypocrisy of the Liberals is unspeakable.

How many health ministers have we gone through since 2001 when the NDP motion was passed almost unanimously by the House? There have been five health ministers, four of them Liberals. In five years of Liberal government, did one health minister stand up and say that they government would do this, that it was not afraid of the brewing industry in Canada, that it was not afraid of the alcohol beverage industry and that it would stand up and be counted? No. They spewed out the same nonsense that we now hear from the Conservatives, nothing but crap, nothing but nonsense, nothing that makes a shred of sense. There is nothing logical or intelligent about a thing they have said.

We are not saying this is the end, that we should not do other things like work with pregnant women, get messages out to doctors, prepare material that educates people, put out advertisements and put messages on packages and paper bags at liquor stores. We are not saying that this is the be all and the end all. We are saying it is one little step that Canadians want. Over 95% of Canadians recognize that doing this is worthwhile.

What it wrong with members of the Conservative Party that they cannot stand up to the liquor industry and do something that makes sense? It does not cost them a penny. It does not mean a difference in terms of our taxpayers. It will not hurt anybody, but it might save lives.

Here we are in Canada without labels on our bottles, yet right next to us the United States has had such labels for over 10 years. Any time we want to export our product to the United States, we have to put labels on our bottles, but we will not do it in Canada. We will not live up to that international standard because we are such chickens when it comes to standing up to the liquor industry.

Is it not time we finally do something that is right in this place and put aside all the vested interests, the people who give some members money for their election accounts or whatever, those who are afraid to stand up to the wine, liquor and beer industry? Is it not time we simply ask the industry to do what is civil, what is normal, what is right, what makes sense and what saves lives?

Food and Drugs Act
Private Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

Alan Tonks York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will not be supporting the bill. It should not come as a surprise to my colleague because I did not support it the last time.

Rather than be accused of entering into a diatribe or talking a bunch of crap, I will try to go through what I have attempted to develop is a more reasonable and focused approach to what we should do with respect to fetal alcohol syndrome and what research has indicated would be the right approach to take.

I will make this very clear to those who imply that members take positions because of economic or vested interests. Even if that were a bad thing, I thought we are supposed to attempt to represent all those, be they individuals who are involved in a particular sector or those who are consumers in that sector, and try to balance out all the interests of our constituents and communities.

Therefore, let me make it very clear. If there is a well researched and total comprehensive program, I would support it, as I am sure most reasonable members of the House would, and the industry involved would pay a large portion toward the cost of that program.

I am sure we also would support a more effective way, if there is one, to convey the dangers of alcohol imbibing in the extreme. We should find a program that reaches our young people and people in all chronological categories.

A lot has been said about research. In my reading of the research available, both in Canada and the United States, I have observed, and many have, that warning labels on alcoholic beverages have no impact on the incidence of drinking and driving or drinking during pregnancy. The labels are warning people about two things they already know; that drinking and driving does not mix and that drinking during pregnancy can be dangerous to the unborn child.

A survey of Canadians concluded by Ipsos Reid in 2005 found that more than 99% of Canadian women of child bearing age were aware that they should not consume alcohol during pregnancy. Likewise the number of people who recognize that one should not drink and drive is virtually unanimous.

Therefore, if we lose the focus and we overly depend on that particular graphic approach, we will get those who do not need to be convinced with respect to what the reality is and that in fact that approach will have virtually no impact. This alone is not the right way to go.

Our problem is not that Canadians are unaware of the risks associated with consuming alcohol. Rather our problem is that some people drink and drive or drink while pregnant despite knowing the risks. These people will not be convinced with warning labels. They need programs and services, and these programs are expensive. These are not just window dressing programs or window dressing research that can help them get the help and professional support that they need to deal with those problems, which have been very well articulated by all sides of the House.

For the minority of people who unfortunately continue to drink and drive or drink during pregnancy, studies have shown that warning labels have no effect on their consumption of alcohol. Let me cite some of the relevant statistics. These are researchers for fetal alcohol syndrome from the Hospital for Sick Children, researchers of known reputation.

Dr. Ernest Abel, a fetal alcohol syndrome researcher with over three decades of experience, has said that increased awareness of alcohol warning labels has not changed behaviour in the United States. He has found that behavioural change is resisted because the perceived risks of ignoring those warnings are low, which undermines the motivation to comply.

Dr. Abel further recommends programs targeted specifically at women with the highest risk of having children with prenatal defects, which he suggests is a much more efficient means of reaching the at risk segment of society than broad placed public programs such as warning labels.

A series of studies by another researcher, Dr. Janet Hankin, found that labels had no measurable effect on drinking patterns during pregnancy.

Even the United States Department of Health and Human Services, in its 2000 report to Congress on alcohol and health, specifically noted that research showed that warning labels did not have an effect on pregnant women who were the heaviest drinkers and consequently most at risk.

Canada has made a tremendous reduction in the incidence of drinking and driving, but not through the use of warning labels. Instead, these gains were made with programming aimed at changing societal attitude toward drinking and driving combined with intervention programs targeted at hardcore drinkers and drivers. The results of these efforts speak for themselves.

In the past two decades, the rate of police reported impaired driving incidents in Canada has declined by 57% and continues to drop. Today, impaired driving is largely undertaken by so-called hardcore drinkers and drivers. According to the Traffic Injury Research Foundation, these drivers represent only 4% of all drivers in Canada, yet they are responsible for 92% of all impaired driving trips. Unfortunately, warning labels will not change the behaviours of these drivers. They require more direct intervention, such as the use of alcohol ignition interlock devices, stronger legislation and so on.

The same thing goes for fetal alcohol syndrome. It is not just a case of articulating it through labels. We have seen through the drinking and driving relationship and through the cigarette and tobacco industry that labels themselves are not the intervention program and do not constitute the total regime that will make the absolute impact.

There are a number of potential costs, and we know that. It is not the argument of costs with respect to putting labels on bottles, if the bottles are to be read. As my colleague has already pointed out, glasses are usually used in bars. It is to shift the total focus to the interventions of scale and quality necessary for research and for programs specifically aimed at those who are, pardon the pun, carrying the problem. We have found that labels are not the total solution.

I personally believe the government must continue to work in partnership with stakeholders and industry to reach out to people who still drink and drive and women who drink while pregnant. Unfortunately, evidence from Canada and the United States has shown that warning labels are not the total answer. Rather we should be targeting our efforts at programs aimed directly at so-called high risk drinkers, those drinkers most likely to engage in alcohol misuse.

For these reasons, I will not support the bill, although I commend my colleague from Mississauga South on his tenacity in keeping this issue before the public.