House of Commons Hansard #109 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was tobacco.

Topics

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

1:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed from June 9 consideration of the motion that Bill C-51, An Act to amend the Food and Drugs Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Food and Drugs Act
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Liberal

Sukh Dhaliwal Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-51. This bill has caused great concern among my constituents and other Canadians. Many of them are seniors and ailing citizens.

For several months I have been receiving letter after letter from my constituents regarding their concerns about this bill. They are ordinary Canadians who are worried that they will not be able to get the natural health products that they have been using successfully for years. They are worried that Health Canada will be given police state powers. I have had the opportunity to meet with many of them as well. The bill is alarming people who are not political. A constituent of mine, Johan Ghazali, wrote:

While I don't also get involved in politics, I am concerned about a new Bill that will affect many Canadians including myself. The Bill in question is Bill C-51 that is being ramped through Parliament without much debate.

On the surface, C-51 appears to be about protecting the public health, but has many profound and perturbing implications.

Yesterday we learned in a regular government member's speech that this bill is incomplete. The government will be proposing major amendments to the bill. This proves that the concerns of my constituents are justified.

I am greatly concerned about the issues raised by my constituents. I am committed to improving the safety and health of Canadians. I support measures which will strengthen the regulatory process to ensure that Canadians are able to access the safest and most effective therapeutic products.

I firmly believe that Canadians have a fundamental right to have access and choice in treatment options regarding their health. Time after time, the government's policy has been to bring the message from Ottawa to Canadians. The Conservatives are tight-lipped about the information, never saying anything but the Prime Minister's talking points.

That is not my way of doing things. That is not what my constituents want me to do. My constituents elected me to bring their message to Ottawa. That is what I am doing and it is what I will keep doing.

We should ensure that this legislation does not further restrict the use, sale and distribution of safe natural health products. We need to balance the controls with the danger. My constituents are telling me that the drugs on the market are not a great risk to the health of Canadians.

One of my constituents, Ms. Emoke Szijarto, wrote:

--I have been using “natural remedies” since my childhood instead of taking harmful chemicals. My father who is a doctor has prescribed us natural remedies when we were sick and he is a great advocate of using natural things in healing. I learnt from him, and wish to follow it.

Many more of my constituents use natural health products to improve their well-being, as do many other Canadians. Last Friday I met with a couple in their seventies, Adella and Richard Matthew, who are in good health. They say their vitality comes from the use of these products for the past 30 years, but they are worried. They are worried that they will not be able to get those products anymore. They are worried that they will need prescriptions which would involve a doctor's appointment which is hard to get. They are worried that they will be punished for recommending products to their friends. They are not alone.

My constituents Randy and Terri Pope wrote that this bill:

—goes against everything that the average Canadian citizen believes in, such as freedom of choice and freedom of speech. My mother and father were born and raised in this great Country, and I'm sure my mother would roll over in her grave in disgust if she heard of this outrageous proposal. How dare this Government try to control how I decide to care for my health.

There are many legitimate reasons to use these products. Some of my constituents want to lower the costs of their medication. Others want to avoid unpleasant side effects. Some believe that alternative therapies are simply more effective.

Another one of my constituents wrote:

I am a 31 year old male suffering from sever Sudden Onset Arthritis. At it's worst this disease has totally handicapped my mobility. Not satisfied with the solutions offered to me by mainstream North American medication I turned to the recently provincially acknowledged Traditional Chinese Medicine profession and have been receiving treatment...for the past two years. The success of the treatments has been phenomenal in that I am now mobile again....The TCM treatments I have been involved with have none where as the Mainstream solution had many side effects that I was unwilling to live with.

I support the right to meet these needs with natural drug products.

There is a great concern that the bill will lump natural health products into the same regulatory regime as drugs and be subject to a higher burden of regulation. It would move them and several others into the same heading and not differentiate between drugs and natural health products.

I support the rights of consumers to fair and accurate product information. The claims about health benefits made on the packages and in the marketing of these products must be truthful and honest. They must not mislead Canadians. I support efforts to improve enforcement of these principles.

The government says that it has no intention to permit direct-to-consumer advertising, yet the bill leaves a loophole that could allow pharmaceutical companies to directly advertise drugs to consumers through television, radio and print, as they do in the neighbouring United States of America. This could drive up the health care costs and influence which drugs people take. It would take advertising out of the hands of Parliament. That is a serious concern.

Finally, my constituents are concerned that tighter regulations would benefit drug companies. Natural health products are one of the few competitors to that large, well-financed industry. Undermining them would benefit their bottom line.

My constituent, W.R. Blair, is very concerned about these changes. He wrote:

The language of the Bill is a true reflection of slippery and slimy corporate tactics which should be viewed as criminal conspiracy in my view....

This dirty stinking backroom deal furthers my belief that corporations have bought and paid for legislative compliance...

The government needs to assure Canadians that big pharma is not the driving force behind the bill.

There is work to be done on the existing act. Recent incidents of unsafe food, health and consumer products have underscored the need to modernize the Food and Drugs Act. It was introduced back in the 1950s. I support modernizing the regulatory system. We need to improve the surveillance of these products throughout their life cycle.

Yesterday we learned that the government would propose three major amendments in committee to address these serious concerns. To the best of my knowledge, the Conservatives intend to separate natural health products into their own legislative category, make it clear that the regulation of natural health products is separate, clarify the powers of inspectors and set up an advisory committee.

These are significant amendments, which will dramatically change the treatment of natural health products. This means Health Canada does not have the confidence of any of the government members.

The government is proposing major changes that are outlined in nothing but a speech. It reminds me of the documentation-free unveiling of its defence strategy all over again.

It is my understanding that some of the Conservative MPs wrote a letter to the health committee chair outlining the changes. Yet no members from my party have it. This is shocking. All members were elected to represent the interest of their constituents in Parliament. Does the government think some MPs are more equal than others? That is no way to govern in a minority Parliament situation.

How am I supposed to comment on these improvements when they have not even been drafted yet? We should be debating the real bill. I agree with the member for Mississauga South. If the government is serious, the bill can be withdrawn now, amendments can made and re-submitted to the House so Canadians can have the real bill and we can all have a real debate. I welcome the direction of these amendments and look forward to studying them when they are finished.

I see some of the members on the Conservative bench laughing about this. In fact, it is a laughing stock. The Minister of Health has written a letter to the health committee and it is not available to all 308 members in the House who have equal representation. It is very important from that perspective.

Again, I still welcome the direction of these amendments and look forward to studying them when they are finished, or are made public.

Judy LeBeau, one of my constituents, would welcome them as well. She writes:

The debate surrounding C-51 is an excellent opportunity for the Government to make good on previous commitments to create a third category for natural health products, which are low risk and have demonstrated benefits for the health and wellbeing of Canadians.

From the beginning, the government has failed to reach out to the grassroots. It has been clear for months that ordinary Canadians care about the bill. Yet the government ignored their concerns and refused to have a dialogue with regular people. When the government finally put out answers their questions, it did not make it easy to access that information. Even the elderly couple I met with last week could not find it. Even if people find it, these major amendments, which the minister will propose to the committee, will change the intent of the bill and change all the questions and answers on that website. This failure has worsened confusion in the public and scared ailing and wonderful Canadians.

I support the right of my constituents to have choice in health treatments. Part of that choice is having access to honest and safe natural products.

Food and Drugs Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

Gary Goodyear Cambridge, ON

Mr. Speaker, I guess I want to congratulate the hon. member, but I would like to ask him a question. The reason I guess I would like to do that is I was very confused by his speech.

On one hand, he complained that the government did not go out and speak to people, which we did. That is where the amendments and suggested amendments have come from, because we listened to Canadians and stakeholders. He is wrong, even on some of the things he has said himself.

Why would the member come to the House of Commons with a speech like that and mislead Canadians? I spoke with the member yesterday. We talked about all the amendments. He now pretends they did not exist and the bill is a bad bill, yet he knows full well that we are at second reading. This is what we do in the House of Commons. This is where we have debate with members participating. This is where we come up with ideas to make the bills better.

I do not understand the logic that it is somehow wrong to amend a bill. We have proposed certain amendments that will alleviate all the concerns the member has raised in his speech. The member knew that before presenting his speech. I am curious why the member would stand in the House and mislead Canadians in such a fashion.

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1:30 p.m.

Liberal

Sukh Dhaliwal Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, the question of the member for Cambridge is exactly where I wanted to go. I asked the member for a copy of the letter so I could see the amendments. In response he told me that he did not have the letter from the minister to the health committee.

How do we know whether those amendments even exist? We have to assume it. This is exactly the problem with the government. It is very tight-lipped. If it were so open and so honest, then it should share those amendments right here.

The right thing to do is to withdraw the bill and then bring forward the amendments. We should bring the real bill into the House so members can have a real debate on it. It is not only us. My constituents should be able to look at the amendments and make comments on them.

The exact policy of the government is that it does not want to share the information with the grassroots.

Food and Drugs Act
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1:35 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I have three short questions and comments.

First, for the experts on the bill who are watching, as I said in my previous speech, it is very important for one of my constituents that Empowerplus continues to be legally available. I hope they would confirm to me by email or some other means that it is the case.

Second, the member for Cambridge, with whom I mostly agree on this bill, has to understand that the reason the members have asked to consider the bill before second reading is there are so many amendments both by the government and others. The experience we have had in the past is when we get to second reading, we cannot change things that much.

We had an example in one committee where something was changed in a clause from year to two years and the Conservative chair of the committee ruled it out of order, it was too much change. Therefore, we can understand people's hesitancy and why they would prefer the bill to go to committee before second reading.

A question I have for the member is from one of my constituents, Drew. It is very short, but it reflects a concern about which other constituents have also written. He says:

I would not be writing this letter if this bill had no “teeth”, but unfortunately (under section 23) it gives government agents unprecedented power to search, confiscate and prosecute people....

Does the member have any comments on the regulatory and enforcement mechanisms in the bill?

Food and Drugs Act
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

Liberal

Sukh Dhaliwal Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Yukon for his work on this bill, for his speech in the House yesterday, and for his commitment to his constituents.

When it comes to enforcement, many of my constituents are fearful that inspectors will be able to go into their bedrooms and kitchens to find these drugs. They will be put in jail and face a big fine.

We are looking for a third category where we can have legislation instead of regulation, so it is clearly defined by Parliament. Inspectors need to have clear direction from Parliament. This is a concern of constituents in Yukon and also a concern of my constituents in Newton--North Delta.

Food and Drugs Act
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1:35 p.m.

Liberal

Robert Thibault West Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, it has always been my understanding, as a member of Parliament, that when one votes in favour of a bill at second reading, one is voting on the principles of that bill. We expect that the bill will be sent to committee where committee members can work on the details, and work on minor adjustments to the bill to make those principles work. If the amendments are substantive, then the principles are being changed.

In this case the minister has stated both inside and outside the House and at committee that natural health products were not at play in the bill. He said that nothing in this legislation would change the rules for natural health products: the availability, the choice. But I understand from members opposite that the minister now wants to put forward some amendments that would deal specifically with natural health products where they are not involved in the bill now. That is changing the principles of the bill.

I believe that it would be respectful of the House if the minister withdrew the bill, made the relevant amendments, and put the bill forward, so that all members could do an adequate study, receive advice from the Library of Parliament, receive advice from interest groups and professionals prior to our debate at second reading, and well in advance of it going to committee where we would make those moderate modifications.

Does the member not find this to be contemptuous of Parliament? Does he not find it to be disrespectful that members would abuse their privileges in this way?

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1:40 p.m.

Liberal

Sukh Dhaliwal Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have had many discussions with the member for West Nova. He was very kind every time I spoke to him about my constituents' concerns. We had a very open discussion.

The question that he raises is exactly what I meant in my speech. The member for Cambridge had explicit information that we did not have and our constituents did not have. Those amendments would change the intent of the bill.

The member for West Nova said the same thing. It would be better for the minister to withdraw the bill, put the amendments into the bill, and let the bill come back to the House, so that Canadians and parliamentarians could have a real look at it. Parliamentarians could then have an open and transparent debate on the bill to bring out the truth--

Food and Drugs Act
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1:40 p.m.

Conservative

Gary Goodyear Cambridge, ON

You would not understand it, if I wrote it for you.

Food and Drugs Act
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1:40 p.m.

Liberal

Sukh Dhaliwal Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member for Cambridge can grumble about whatever he wants. He has admitted that he has explicit information that other members do not have. What is wrong with us?

I would suggest that the government should withdraw the bill and note rush it through this Parliament.

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1:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

Order, please. The debate on Bill C-51 has now lasted for more than five hours. Accordingly, the speeches that will follow will be limited to 10 minutes.

I will give the floor first to the hon. member for Verchères—Les Patriotes for a 10-minute speech.

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1:40 p.m.

Bloc

Luc Malo Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise as a member of the Standing Committee on Health, and also as a consumer, to speak to Bill C-51.

The Bloc Québécois has been saying for a long time that there is a lack of surveillance over foods from countries other than Canada. We ask that importers of such products meet standards similar to the ones we have here for products manufactured in Quebec and Canada. The Bloc Québécois also wonders whether these importers should not also be subject to a number of criteria to ensure that public health is not threatened by products manufactured elsewhere.

Of course, Bill C-51 would introduce innovations such as a tracing system, a register of adverse effects especially for drugs, a recall management system, a new measure to eliminate damaging effects on public health. However, the bill also contains slightly vaguer measures that, according to the bill, would be clarified by regulations.

It is because of this vagueness that we must meet in committee with the Minister of Health, in order to find out why the bill leaves so much room for regulations. It is also important that the committee hear experts from various associations and even members of the public. Once the committee has done its work on Bill C-51, we expect the minister to be extremely open to amendments that will improve the bill.

At this point, I would like to mention a few vague provisions that will require clarification when the bill is studied in greater detail in committee. We know that Bill C-51 makes changes regarding drug advertising. Subclause 15.1(2) of the bill prohibits advertising of prescription therapeutic products. I quote:

No person shall advertise a prescription therapeutic product to a person other than a practitioner unless they are authorized by the regulations to do so.

Here, once again, the bill mentions regulations yet to come.

Nonetheless, this regulation would allow prescription drugs to be advertised. It is possible to do so under paragraph 30(1)(h).

The Governor in Council may make regulations for carrying the purposes and provisions of this Act into effect, including regulations... respecting: (i) the labelling, packaging or advertising—or the offering or exposing for sale—of foods, therapeutic products or cosmetics.

Current legislation at least bans the advertising of prescription drugs. However, as we know, it is possible to get around the legislation. There are two choices for advertising drugs: the product can be named but not described and the ad can show people enjoying themselves living a better life, or the problem can be described but not the treatment and people can be told to consult their physician.

We know that the bill appears to be going in precisely the same direction. Consumer associations in Quebec and Canada have asked the government a number of times to plug this loophole.

Perhaps this should be cleared up in committee.

There is also the marketing and approval of drugs. Currently Health Canada is assessing the possibility of setting up a new type of drug licensing called progressive licensing. Bill C-51 includes some of the concepts involved in this progressive licensing approach. It would allow information to be collected and analyzed on an ongoing basis after the drug is marketed. It is only after the drug is marketed that a greater number of people will be exposed to it and that other important data on the drug could be established.

It is good to look at the entire life cycle of a drug to see whether it works. Quite often when clinical trials are done, the number of guinea pigs, as they could be called, is relatively limited, which sometimes prevents us from seeing in detail the possible interaction a drug may have with other drugs the patient is already taking. What is more, as Professor Carleton from British Columbia told us in committee, genetics can also come into play when assessing drugs.

However, considering this approach, we need to ask questions. Will the process be rushed? Will drugs end up on the market before they have been carefully examined? Another question we should ask is whether drugs will be put on the market before they are fully ready to be put on store shelves and in pharmacies.

Subclause 18.7(1) of the bill seems to open the door to that possibility. It states:

Subject to the regulations, the Minister may, on application, issue a market authorization to a person in respect of a therapeutic product other than a designated therapeutic product if the Minister is of the opinion that the person has established that the benefits that are associated with the therapeutic product outweigh the risks.

(2) The market authorization is deemed to be subject to the terms and conditions that are prescribed from time to time.

(3) The Minister may issue the market authorization subject to the additional terms and conditions that he or she considers appropriate.

We would like to speak to the minister to find out, for example, what are the criteria he will use to evaluate and make that decision in accordance with proposed subclause 18.7.

The bill also states that the minister will establish a register where information on adverse effects will be available. Subclause 20.8 of the bill says:

The Minister is to establish and maintain a publicly accessible register in which is to be kept the prescribed information about therapeutic products.

However, we also read in the bill that the information in the register will come only from health care institutions. No register will be set up to gather complaints from consumers or patient associations, for example. Only health care institutions will be able to contribute. What is the reason for this? It would be interesting to hear the minister's response to this as well.

This register raises another question. We currently have the MedEffect register. What will happen to it? Does this mean that this register is ineffective? Once again, it would be interesting to come back to these questions in committee.

The bill also talks about inspectors. This is important. Currently, there are many inspectors who work within the Quebec Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Agri-Food performing the same duties as this bill proposes. These people play an important role in food inspection. We wonder how Bill C-51 would affect these people and if the federal government would be interfering in Quebec's jurisdiction with this bill.

There is also the question of natural health, which—

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1:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

It is with regret that I must interrupt the hon. member.

We shall now proceed to questions and comments. The hon. member for West Nova.

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1:50 p.m.

Liberal

Robert Thibault West Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate the hon. member on his remarks. He is a diligent member of the health committee, and I cannot help but notice his impressive new haircut. I understand he shaved his head to raise funds in support of people with cancer. What a commendable thing to do.

I am sure he has followed this bill's progress, as have I. All the witnesses who appeared before the committee, not specifically for this bill, but to examine some of the drugs on the market and the drug approval process, generally spoke in favour of progressive licensing for drugs, which this bill specifies.

The member realizes, as I do, that many Canadians were afraid that this bill would make it more difficult to access natural health products. The minister indicated that this bill was in no way meant to target those products or change access to them in any way. It is not meant to make access any easier or any more difficult. It is not meant to change the licences to sell such products or any such matters. He said that was a completely separate issue.

Now we are told the minister intends to make a number of changes to the bill, changes that will affect these products. I think this will change the principles of this bill and I would like to ask the hon. member if he agrees with me.

We were asked to support the principles of this bill at second reading and to study it thoroughly in committee. Now, those principles are being changed. When we go back to committee, it will be with a bill that is different from the one we have been studying so far, the one we have been discussing with experts, the one on which the research branch of the Library of Parliament has been advising us. I would like to hear the hon. member's comments on this.