House of Commons Hansard #131 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was companies.

Topics

Quarantine Act
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12:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

Is the House ready for the question?

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12:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

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12:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

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

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12:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

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12:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

I declare the motion carried. Accordingly, the bill stands referred to the Standing Committee on Health.

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

The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill S-2, An Act to amend the Hazardous Materials Information Review Act, as reported (without amendment) from the committee.

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12:40 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Calgary Southeast, AB

moved that the bill be concurred in.

(Motion agreed to)

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12:40 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Calgary Southeast, AB

moved that the bill be read a third time and passed.

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12:40 p.m.

Conservative

Rick Dykstra St. Catharines, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to support Bill S-2, An Act to amend the Hazardous Materials Information Review Act.

The Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission which operates under the act being amended is part of a joint effort of the federal government, the provinces, the territories, industry and organized labour to protect the health and safety of those who are going to be working with hazardous materials. The primary objective of these amendments is to speed up the process of getting the information needed to handle hazardous materials safely into the hands of workers. This will of course enhance the protection of their health and their safety.

There have been extensive consultations on these amendments with all stakeholders, including organized labour, employers using hazardous materials in their operations, suppliers of hazardous materials and finally, all provincial and territorial governments. I can assure you, Mr. Speaker, that they are all in full support of the legislation.

The commission is part of the workplace hazardous materials information system, WHMIS. The system was set up in the early 1980s to establish an integrated mechanism to provide workers with the information they need when they use hazardous materials safely. It is supported by industry, by organized labour, by the federal government, and by all provincial and territorial governments.

When WHMIS was established, industry had a concern that there would be circumstances in which the full disclosure of all information on the hazardous ingredients in a product would betray a trade secret. That is a fair point because this would result in a potential loss of competitive advantage to the company holding the trade secret and either a financial loss to that company or a potential financial gain to its competitors.

In order to address this issue, the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission was established under the Hazardous Materials Information Review Act. The commission is a unique agency in several ways.

First, it is the only organization that has the authority to provide an exemption from disclosure of trade secret information related to hazardous materials used in the workplace.

The second part of its mandate is that it balances its function of protecting trade secrets with a direct responsibility to ensure that complete and accurate information is provided to employers using these products because the workers are actually going to be handling these materials.

Third, the act establishes an independent appeals process through which the decisions of the commission can be challenged.

Finally, the commission carries out its responsibilities for the protection of trade secrets and just as important, ensures that workers have the health and safety information they need, on behalf of the federal, provincial and territorial governments to do their work.

The commission's authority for carrying out these responsibilities on behalf of provincial and territorial jurisdictions derives from the fact that the Hazardous Materials Information Review Act has been incorporated by reference into the occupational health and safety legislation of all provinces and territories.

This means simply that any supplier of hazardous material who wishes to sell the product in this country and who wishes to conceal the information on the product as a trade secret, must first make application to the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission to do so.

The application discloses to the commission the information considered to be a trade secret. It is accompanied by the information specifying the measures that the claimant has taken to protect the information from public disclosure. Documentation supporting the application must clearly show the value of the information to the claimant.

The commission first reviews the economic documentation provided in support of the claim for the exemption from disclosure and then determines whether the information meets the specifications for trade secrets as set out in the regulations.

If the application meets all aspects of the regulation, the exemption is granted and the information is then protected. If the requirements are not met, the claimant must reveal the information for which the exemption was sought or stop selling the product here in Canada.

The commission's experience had been that industry has been conscientious in all its claims for trade secret protection. I am happy to report that nearly all have been found to be valid.

The second mandate of the commission is a review of the health and safety information to be provided to workers so that it ensures it is in full compliance with the relevant federal, provincial and territorial governments.

If the health and safety information is not in compliance, the commission issues an order requiring that the information be corrected within a specified period of time. So that all potentially affected parties are aware of the corrections that have been ordered, the compliance order is published in the Canada Gazette. It is at this point that the claimant has the option to make the corrections, appeal the decision, or simply withdraw the product from sale in Canada.

It is important to note that the track record of claimants with respect to providing accurate and complete health and safety information has not been as favourable as that for the economic justification of their trade secrets.

While the commission requires that all information be in compliance before it finalizes its deliberations, roughly 95% of the applications include health and safety information which must be corrected before there is full compliance. Appeals by the claimant or by any other affected party are heard by an independent appeal board made up of three individuals representing organized labour, industry and of course government.

In response to the concerns of stakeholders, the commission undertook a renewal program with the objective that would make the commission more effective, more efficient and more client oriented. It is also going to be more focused on early compliance with respect to health and safety legislation.

The renewal program was again a tripartite effort with the lead role played by the commission's council of governors. I would like to overview the council itself. It is an oversight body which provides strategic advice and guidance. Its membership includes representatives of organized labour, industry and of course all orders of government.

While the council focused on a number of changes which have already been implemented through administrative or regulatory means, the council of governors also unanimously recommended to the Minister of Health that the renewal exercise be completed by enacting the amendments which are set out in Bill S-2.

There are three amendments. The first relates to the economic justification in support of claims for the exemption from disclosure of trade secrets. The second relates to the correction of health and safety information. The third relates to the facilitation of the appeals process.

The first amendment will permit claimants to make a declaration that the information for which they are seeking an exemption from disclosure is indeed a trade secret as set out in the regulations and further, that documentation in support of that claim is fully available and that this documentation will be provided upon request.

This amendment will ease the administrative burden on claimants and the commission, thereby starting the process of ensuring accurate health and safety information are in the hands of employees and workers.

Administrative measures will be put into place so as to ensure the integrity of the process, but the track record of industry suggests that problems are highly unlikely.

It is also important to stress that this amendment deals specifically with the economic documentation in support of trade secret claims and has no impact on the evaluation of the health and safety information to be provided to workers and employees.

The second amendment will permit claimants to enter into undertakings with the commission. The purpose of these undertakings will ensure that the necessary corrections to the health and safety information will be provided to workers without the issuing of a formal compliance order.

This simply acknowledges industry's concerns that formal orders reflect negatively on its commitment to workers' health and their safety. More important, complete and accurate health and safety information will be in the hands of workers much sooner than is now the case.

The third and final amendment will allow the commission to provide appeal boards with clarification of records at the request of those boards or at the request of the parties to an appeal. This is something that the appeal boards have been seeking, but is not permitted under the act as it stands currently. This change will expedite the appeals process and again ensure early delivery of accurate health and safety information to workers.

These are the amendments to the Hazardous Materials Information Review Act set out in Bill S-2. Members can be assured that the amendments have the unanimous approval of all stakeholders: organized labour, industry, all provincial and territorial governments and the federal government.

The net result of these amendments will be earlier worker access to complete and accurate information on the safe handling of hazardous materials in the workplace. This can only be a positive step for workers' health and safety.

To that end I would like to comment on one of the commitments in the government's 2007 budget, which complements this legislation in a very real and tangible way.

Budget 2007 provides $1 million over two years to the Canadian arm of the International Association of Fire Fighters to help implement the hazardous materials training program. This program will be available to all first responders to an accident or a potential attack. This training and preparation complements this bill.

Firefighters in my riding came to Ottawa to tell me and the finance committee why this program made sense for them as first responders. It is a request that they have been making for over seven years. When it comes down to dealing with hazardous materials, the finance minister, the Minister of the Environment, the Prime Minister and this government listened and with the passage of this bill, we will continue to listen.

All around, it is clear this bill is a good one and is supported further by this government's focus on dealing with this important issue.

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12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Anthony Rota Nipissing—Timiskaming, ON

Mr. Speaker, if you seek it, I believe you will find consent that I split my time with the hon. member for Oakville.

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12:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

Does the hon. member have the unanimous consent to split his time with the member for Oakville?

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12:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

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12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Anthony Rota Nipissing—Timiskaming, ON

Mr. Speaker, Bill S-2 originated in the last session of Parliament under the sponsorship of the Liberal leader of the Senate. It was passed by the Senate, but had only received first reading in the House when Parliament was dissolved.

The bill seeks to change the process by which the manufacturers of hazardous materials can become exempt from providing full disclosure of the composition and characteristics of their products in order to avoid economic harm that would result from the publication of trade secrets during the disclosure process.

At the centre of this process is the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission, the body that grants the exemptions to full disclosure. The amendments to the act have been requested by the commission itself, which has been restructuring over the past three years to allow it to perform its work more effectively and more efficiently.

The Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System was set up in 1987 as a collaborative effort among labour, industry, the federal, provincial and territorial governments. It was designed to facilitate the disclosure and appropriate handling of hazardous materials in the workplace. It requires product labels and safety documentation to include identification of hazardous ingredients in a chemical product, the specific hazards posed by the product, the precautions to be taken when handling the product, and the first aid measures to be applied in the event of exposure to this product.

However, full disclosure of the chemical composition of products does not have to take place if revealing such proprietary information would likely cause economic loss to the claimant or economic gain to the competitors.

As I have mentioned, the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission was created to review such claims against full disclosure. It reviews the health and safety documentation of those products, issues compliance orders, and provides appeal mechanisms under federal, provincial and territorial legislation. The operations of the commission are overseen by a council, consisting of 17 members who represent organized labour, industry, each provincial and territorial government and the federal government.

When the commission receives a claim, it must determine if the information to be concealed is indeed proprietary and whether disclosure would indeed be economically determined to be detrimental to the claimant. If the trade secrets claims is not upheld, then the ingredients must be disclosed, otherwise the product cannot be sold in Canada.

The commission also ensure that the health and safety information supplied to employers and workers accurately and completely describes the hazards of the product and its ingredients. In the event of a claimant or any affected party challenging a decision of the commission, an appeal is begun and is heard by an independent board made up of representatives from government, labour and industry.

Bill S-2 makes three amendments to the current process. The first amendment is aimed at reducing the administrative burden on claimants who currently must gather and present substantial supporting documentation, and on the commission that must review each detailed submission.

In the 17 years that the commission has been in place, no claims have ever been deemed invalid by the commission and only one in 500 claims have been found to be non-compliant.

Under this amendment, a claimant's declaration will be deemed valid and the production of supporting documentation will only be required if requested by the commission, or if a claim is challenged by an affected party. This will lighten the administration burdens of both the claimant and the commission, allowing the commission to focus its resources on the dissemination of health and safety information to workers and employees.

The second amendment in Bill S-2 shortens the time to get health and safety information out to workers and employers. Currently, when claimants are found to have inaccuracies in their safety documentation, a compliance order is issued and published in the Canada Gazette. This amendment allows claimants to undertake to correct these inaccuracies without having a compliance order issued. This will reduce the delay in dissemination of corrected information to employers and workers.

The final amendment with Bill S-2 is also aimed at increasing the efficiency of the claims process, this time with respect to appeals. With the amendment the commission will be permitted to respond to requests by appeal boards for clarification of the record. Current legislation prohibits the commission from providing input at this stage, even for the purpose of clarifying what are often scientifically complicated details. By permitting the commission to assist, when needed, the appeals process will be expedited.

All affected groups, including industry, labour groups and the regulators support the changes to the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission's process contained in this bill.

More specifically, the amendments would reduce the documentation required to apply for an exemption, would reduce the delay in disseminating accurate health and safety information to those workers who use the product, and would enable a prompt appeals process by allowing the commission to respond to requests by appeal boards for clarifications of the record.

For these reasons, I will be happy to support Bill S-2.

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12:55 p.m.

Liberal

Bonnie Brown Oakville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to say a few words today on Bill S-2, concerning certain aspects of the disclosure and handling of hazardous materials in the workplace.

The bill sets out how confidential business information or trade secrets are to be accommodated under the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System. This system is used nationwide to inform employers and employees about hazardous materials in the workplace.

The bill before us today proposes to change the Hazardous Materials Information Review Act in three main areas.

The information system was jointly developed by industry, labour, federal, provincial and territorial governments. It was enacted through several pieces of federal legislation and in the provinces through their occupational health and safety legislation.

This system requires the manufacturers, importers and distributors of hazardous materials to provide information on the risks associated with these problems. They must also provide those who work with controlled products with instructions on handling the products in a variety of areas, including their usage, storage, transportation and disposal.

It also provides instructions about the appropriate course of first aid treatment in the event that contamination occurs.

This information is placed on a product's mandatory material safety data sheet or label. The data sheets are used in required workplace safety training programs for the employees and the sheets must be updated every three years or when a change occurs.

As all members of the House would agree, the safety of individuals in the workplace is of prime concern. It is also important to uphold the right of manufacturers to protect the confidentiality of their proprietary chemical formulas from their competitors.

The current process, under the Hazardous Materials Information Review Act, provides a process by which manufacturers can prove their compliance with the law and make safety information available to workers while, at the same time, protecting the privacy of their business information.

Under the current system, suppliers and employers may file a claim, under the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission, to exempt the disclosure of a chemical's identity, to exempt the concentration of an ingredient of a controlled product, and to exempt the name of a study which identifies any ingredient of a controlled product. The commission then decides if the claim is valid.

Bill S-2 seeks to amend the existing legislation in three main areas. First, it would change the information that must be provided by a manufacturer or an employer to substantiate a disclosure exemption claim. Currently, claimants must provide a full economic justification for such claims based on their private business information.

This bill would change the legislation to state that an exemption claim can contain a declaration stating that the information provided is confidential business information and that it will be provided upon request. An exemption claim must also contain a summary of the information supporting that claim and it must be accompanied by a material safety data sheet.

A screening officer with the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission may ask the claimant to provide the information if an affected party makes a written representation relating to the claim or if the information must be verified.

The second amendment would add a new section to this act to deal with the authority of screening officers and what are known as undertakings. If a screening officer determines that a material safety data sheet related to an exemption claim does not comply with the Hazardous Products Act, or even with the Canada Labour Code, he or she may send an undertaking to the claimant. It would set out the measures required for compliance, within a specific period of time, without requiring that the claimant disclose its confidential business information.

The bill lays out the specific procedure to be followed if the claimant agrees to follow the measures that would enable it to comply with the law. However, if the screening officer is not satisfied that the claimant has taken the necessary measures, within the specified time period, he or she may issue an order to comply with the Hazardous Products Act or the Canada Labour Code.

The chief screening officer publishes decisions and orders relating to the exemption claims and compliance orders in the Canada Gazette.

Third, this bill would change the act to allow claimants and affected parties to appeal these decisions and appeal these compliance orders. The current legislation does not allow any participation by the commission in the appeals process. A screening officer's record of the undertaking and any clarifications made by the commission would be added to the basis upon which an appeal board will hear an appeal. An appeal board may dispose of an appeal either by dismissing it or by allowing it with an appropriate order.

The changes to the act contemplated in this bill have the support of business, labour and the regulatory authorities. It seems to be a sensible approach to streamlining the process while safeguarding the interests of workers and the producers of hazardous materials.

I believe the bill has the support of all parties in the House and I too am pleased to offer my endorsement.

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1:05 p.m.

Bloc

Robert Carrier Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened to my colleague's presentation on the bill. I would like her to tell me whether, during the work of the committee, amendments were proposed in order to improve the bill prior to third reading.