House of Commons Hansard #108 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was hours.

Topics

Food and Drugs Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

Liberal

John McKay Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member made a very good and knowledgeable speech. I congratulate her. I was particularly interested in the fact that one in nine admissions to emergency at Vancouver General Hospital is pharmacologically related.

One of the concerns that the bill sort of addresses, and I am not quite sure whether the government has proposed amendments in this area, is the apparent discrepancy between what natural health products claim and what the evidence is to support the claim.

I wonder if the hon. member has given some thought to whether there should be some bringing together of the claims of the product with the evidence to support the claims for the product, be it empirical or anecdotal.

Food and Drugs Act
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

Liberal

Joyce Murray Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would contend that many of these natural products do not contain claims. Perhaps some do. I think the natural products industry is pretty careful not to make claims. I purchase many products that I know work. I know that based on my 35 years of experience in using them, not because the label on the bottle says to take this and it will strengthen that.

The idea of evidence also brings to the fore the difference between natural products, herbal products, homeopathic remedies, et cetera, and pharmaceutical drugs. By and large, pharmaceutical drugs are developed and sold by major corporations that can spend hundreds of millions of dollars in testing and collecting evidence to support their claims. They then have a patent on a product and can charge huge amounts.

There are some medications that run into hundreds of thousands of dollars a year with regard to being provided to the market. That is certainly not the average, but the pharmaceutical firms invest a lot in research and evidence gathering and they can then recover that.

Who is going to spend the money for double-blind trials on a herbal product for which there is no patent and no way of recovering the costs of putting that research in place? It is simply not practical, so we cannot require the same standard of testing and evidence for a natural product, because otherwise that becomes an unintended barrier to its use.

I believe approximately that one-half of the population of British Columbia uses complementary and alternative medicine at some point during the year for their health, health care and prevention. We do not want barriers to those people taking responsibility for their health.

I had a forum in greater Vancouver a couple of years ago in which I brought together the leading thinkers in naturopathics, in traditional Chinese medicine, in the natural cancer centre associated with VGH, in massage therapy and in some of the other modalities. I brought that group of leading thinkers together in a forum at the Boucher Institute of Naturopathic Medicine, which is in New Westminster, with the then minister of public health, Carolyn Bennett, to talk about how we could better integrate complementary and alternative medicine into our health care system, for all those good reasons that I have already expressed.

The key that came out of that meeting and the key request that the leaders in those other modalities had of the then minister of public health was that the federal government should be investing in research. The federal government should be providing research funding to generate the evidence, because these practitioners and physicians have experienced the evidence of the effectiveness of their products. That is why half of British Columbians seek their help: because their products do work and they do no harm. These natural products, the homeopathics, the tinctures, the organotherapies, do not send people to the emergency rooms.

We need that evidence, but we need the federal government to fund the research for it. Otherwise it will not happen.

Food and Drugs Act
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

Bloc

Claude Bachand Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-51.

First off, I want to say that the Bloc Québécois has been demanding for a number of years already that we look at that issue further. It seems to me that Canadians and Quebeckers are somewhat tired of occasionally being the victims of products that adversely affect their health and that of their children. There have been scandals recently. Just think of the toy scandal, for instance, involving children who suffered lead poisoning.

Quebeckers and Canadians are aware of some degree of deceit in the department stores where they buy everyday consumer items, among other things. Everyone knows that when we pick up a jar of pickles from China, the label sometimes shows that the product was made in Canada. There is false representation every step of the way. The Bloc Québécois raised that issue many years ago, calling on the government to clean up this whole area of drugs, agricultural products and cosmetics. We are pleased in that sense that the issue is being brought before the House today.

The Bloc Québécois will make sure that what I just talked about is reflected in the legislation. We have seen before obligations, everyday things, come into force under a bill, which did not reflect reality at all. That is what we want to pay attention to. It is not because the bill's title refers to tidying up the area of drugs, cosmetics and agricultural products, because the intention is stated in the title, that we should be lax.

In fact, let me say outright that the position of the Bloc Québécois is to vote yes at second reading stage, but there will surely an opportunity to take a very serious look at the bill at the Standing Committee on Health to ensure that reality is defined properly and reflected in the bill.

I have seen governments—and this one is no exception—come up with bills that they claimed would fix some social problem or other, bills that included various guidelines, amendments and new restrictions or that made laws more permissive. We need to sort out exactly what we want this bill to achieve. Naturally, the parties, including the opposition parties, will each have their way of seeing things. All I want to say is that the Standing Committee on Health will study the bill thoroughly.

For now, I will try to communicate the Bloc Québécois' opinion of what is before us now as faithfully as possible.

We also have to talk about how the government reacts and what it is doing to make sure that all products available to consumers are safe.

A number of interesting things have happened over the past few years. I certainly remember how people practically called the Bloc Québécois heretical because it wanted labelling on products. Back then, we were told, “No, no, no.” That was probably 10 years ago now.

We thought we had made some progress, but just last week, one of our colleagues introduced a bill on labelling, and the government worked with the Liberal Party to defeat it. Such things make us wonder about this government's true intentions.

I hope that we will be able to put together a good bill here, and I hope that when it becomes law, the government will actually enforce it. It is easy enough to say, “Here's the law”. It is something else entirely to enforce it, a process that is sometimes not taken seriously.

For example, take what we were told not that long ago, maybe seven or eight years ago when the labelling issue was up for discussion. People were talking about genetically modified organisms. There should have been thorough studies, and, like the United States' Food and Drug Administration, Health Canada should have studied the repercussions and the ins and outs of this issue. But the minister at the time, who is now rector of the University of Ottawa, said, “Oh no, we don't need that”.

Monsanto, a global company specializing in genetically modified products, has conducted all the studies and concluded that it was perfectly safe. In my opinion, that is a serious mistake. It is like asking a Ford dealer if Ford products are any good. What do you think his answer will be? He will say that Ford makes the best products. GM, Chrysler and Toyota representatives would say the same thing about their products.

Government organizations have to ensure that these companies comply with standards. Because of globalization and international competition, standards often vary from one country to the next. That is how we end up with Chinese pickles sold in jars made in Canada. When we are aware of that, we start noticing that the standards are different as well. Therein lies the danger.

Agriculture is affected the most by that. There are many producers in my riding. It saddens me to think that, in the U.S. and Europe among others, the agricultural industry is financed and subsidized, because in Canada we are more catholic than the Pope, so to speak, not subsidizing our agricultural industry in order to comply with the WTO. Yet, there is irrefutable evidence that the United States and the European countries are not complying.

As I said earlier, environmental standards and quality assurance standards for agricultural products in countries like China are different from ours. It is therefore easy for the Conservative government to suggest that we may not be competitive enough. Competitiveness is one factor, but when countries are permitted to subsidize their agriculture and products are allowed into Canada to which standards different from ours, much lower standards, are applied, that does not help our economy and it also puts the health and safety of Canadians et Quebeckers at risk. Attention will have to be paid to this in connection with the bill before us today.

Another interesting aspect of the bill is the tracing system. This is extremely important. When an agricultural product is recalled, we need to know where and in what conditions it was made. Until now, there has been nothing—or almost nothing—like this in place. We are happy to see that Bill C-51 contains provisions on traceability. The bill may also include the register of adverse drug reactions, at least we hope so.

Regarding the recall management system—I just mentioned recalls—if a product is found to be faulty or hazardous, there has to be a way of determining how it will be recalled. Often, hazardous products are recalled in a rush, and there is no way of knowing whether all the products have been taken off the shelf in all shopping centres. This also applies to drugs and cosmetics. We will therefore pay attention to the recall management system.

There is one thing in the bill that we will pay close attention to: regulations. This is a flaw in the House of Commons and Parliament, not just Canada's Parliament, but parliaments in general: often, bills will give responsibility for regulations to the governor in council, in other words, the cabinet, and the minister will make recommendations to the governor in council.

I experienced that myself with a bill concerning veterans that would have seen money paid annually to widows of veterans so that they could remain in their home. In the regulations, three or four months later, we noticed that the governor in council had chosen a date on which the law would be enforced, and before which anyone else involved would be left out. We made our strong opposition known.

It is the same thing with these bills. As soon as the minister and the governor in council, meaning cabinet, get too much leeway, there are surprises. If I have time, I will speak about our concerns with this bill if the minister and the governor in council are given too much leeway in regard to the regulations.

I want to issue a caution right now. The Bloc Québécois absolutely does not want natural food products to be considered drugs or cosmetics, meaning that they would be bound by this bill.

My colleague from Quebec City explained that officials had told the committee not to worry, but we are worrying nonetheless. Just because something is raised in committee does not mean that one day—maybe because of the regulations—there will not be a problem.

Many people obtain these products without a prescription, and I think that they are still in a position to do so. These people should not fall directly under this legislation; it must not apply directly to natural food products.

As I was saying earlier, the Bloc Québécois will pay close attention to this in committee, to ensure that natural food products are not affected by this bill. Earlier I heard statistics that nearly 50% of the population uses complementary or alternative medicine, and these people should not end up being victims of this bill.

We are also concerned about encroachment because it is well known that the Bloc Québécois is very protective of Quebec's areas of jurisdiction. A certain number of inspector positions will be established pursuant to the bill. However, we notice that there will be duplication in certain areas. Therefore, we have to be careful because, at present, several duties have been delegated to Quebec inspectors. In my opinion, if more federal inspection positions are created, it is important that there not be a duplication of services in general. That runs the risk of being very expensive for taxpayers and of causing friction also. We believe that it is important to try to avoid encroachment.

With respect to this bill, we also examined the famous ban on drug advertising. I find it interesting. I love American sports and often listen to football, hockey, baseball, or basketball games on American stations. But I also have time to work. Sometimes, I listen while ironing my shirts because I have to come to Ottawa on Monday and I have no one to wash my shirts. Believe it or not I listen to the football game while ironing my shirts or sometimes while reading documents. I can chew gum and walk at the same time.

However, on the topic of an advertising ban, there is a new American dream—drugs. It is incredible. Everyone knows the ads for Cialis and Viagra. We see a very healthy looking man with his girlfriend, wife or life partner and he is always bursting with energy. That is the new American dream: a fulfilling sex life. Yes. It should not surprise us; we see it on television. That is what the ads aim for. And a few minutes later, in another ad, they are selling Celebrex. If you have a bit of joint pain, you should hurry to your doctor to get a prescription for Celebrex. It is important because it not only solves the problem, but it also reduces your chances of arthritis in the future. We can see where this ad leads. There are many more. There is Lipitor—their ad says that if your cholesterol is the least bit elevated that it is dangerous and you should go to see your doctor.

In a few years, American advertising for drugs has gone from $50 million to $1.8 billion. Pharmaceutical companies are not doing this out of the goodness of their hearts and because of their generous spirit. Investing $1.8 billion in advertising ensures that people will stock up on drugs. This causes many things, including over-consumption.

The companies do not tell us this, but the person who wants to live the American dream today, the one who watches football and wants to become Adonis, will have to take Cialis or Viagra, Celebrex to avoid any aches and Lipitor to ensure low cholesterol. That is the new American dream.

We cannot allow this to happen in Canada or in Quebec. It is extremely important to ban the advertising of drugs. Advertising leads to excessive consumption. And what does excessive consumption lead to? It not only causes side effects in people, but it also causes the price of drugs to rise.

Today, almost 40 million Americans are unable to afford the drugs they need. I have even seen busloads of people, sponsored by U.S. senators, come to my riding to buy drugs because they were affordable. The ban on advertising of drugs should continue.

Another aspect of the bill before us is progressive licensing. This is something new. Previously, Health Canada conducted studies and if all the studies were conclusive and all the clinical trials were conclusive, the drug would be released. Now there will be a new approach that could be more progressive. The drug could be released before the experiments are completed.

There are some people who may need that. When people are truly desperate, they sometimes need to resort to extreme or innovative treatment. Even though some drugs have not yet been approved by Health Canada, it is possible under certain conditions that progressive licensing of those drugs will be allowed. Nonetheless, this cannot be used as an excuse to license a drug with great haste. That is the risk we run.

I have a minute or two left. I just want to come back to some of the regulations that could be risky. Clause 30, which addresses the regulations, very clearly states that the minister may make regulations for carrying the purposes and provisions of this act into effect. Potentially, the minister can act in various areas, including product labelling, purity standards, the way in which clinical trials are conducted and the exemption of products from the legislation.

If we open the door to concepts as basic as those and put them in the hands of the minister, we run the risk that the government will take advantage and that the provisions of a bill will go too far or not far enough at the discretion of the minister and the Governor in Council.

These questions are extremely important. I would like to reiterate the Bloc Québécois' position. The Bloc Québécois has been waiting for this bill. We have waited long enough for this bill, so we will take the time needed to study it carefully at the Standing Committee on Health. In that regard, I trust my colleagues on that committee. They will do an excellent job.

The position I just mentioned is the Bloc Québécois' position. We reserve the right to vote against it at third reading. At second reading, we will vote in favour of the bill. In committee, we will do our job and, depending on the gains we make, we will dispose of this bill at third reading.

Food and Drugs Act
Government Orders

1:55 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I am glad the member mentioned advertising, because I do not want to see more advertising either.

A constituent, Brian, wrote in an email:

Bill C-51 was brought to my attention by a person who has successfully controlled the symptoms of his diabetes, arthritis and bipolar depression with diet and supplements. He is afraid he will lose his right and ability to do this under Bill C-51. He will then have a choice to go back on Big Pharma's anti-psychotics and other drugs, which did not work well and caused intolerable side effects, or to sink into psychosis and eventual death. That's an example how loss of choice will affect an individual.

I want to make sure that does not happen. I hope the member would agree.

Food and Drugs Act
Government Orders

1:55 p.m.

Bloc

Claude Bachand Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, clearly, natural health products are an important issue. Unfortunately, pharmaceutical companies do not see things the same way. If there is a chance we might try to control pharmaceutical companies and to control natural food products, that could negatively affect the latter products.

I would like to tell my hon. colleague from Yukon that we have thought of that. For many people, I think the use of natural health products often prevents them from falling into the trap of pharmaceutical products and side effects. So, yes, we will look into that question at the Standing Committee on Health.

Food and Drugs Act
Government Orders

1:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

The hon. member will have eight minutes remaining for questions and comments following oral question period.

We will now move on to statements by members. The hon. member for Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River.

Saskatchewan Forest Fire
Statements By Members

June 9th, 2008 / 1:55 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Clarke Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

Mr. Speaker, I was in the riding over the weekend and learned there was a large forest fire near Uranium City, a town in the most northern area of Saskatchewan. I was then informed that the residents of the city have been evacuated because the fire is dangerously close.

My thoughts and prayers are with the residents who have been evacuated and their families and the lives they have had to temporarily leave behind.

I would like to personally thank each and every one of the people who have stayed behind to fight the fire for their personal dedication and sacrifice. I would ask the entire House to wish for their continued safety.

I thank the authorities who are managing the forest fighting in Saskatchewan for all their continued help and efforts. Everyone appreciates the work and dedication they bring to their positions.

I will be visiting Uranium City later this month. I look forward to seeing everyone and their families safe back in their homes, enjoying everything that northern Saskatchewan offers each and every one of us. My thanks to all.

Agriculture and Agri-Food
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Liberal

Ken Boshcoff Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Speaker, the agriculture committee has been studying the product of Canada labelling issue since early April and is currently finalizing a report that will be presented to Parliament on Wednesday, June 11. With no regard for the study that is under way, on May 21 the Prime Minister announced the onset of new consultations with many of the same stakeholders who were witnesses to the committee study.

The Prime Minister's announcement is an affront to the work of all members of the agriculture committee and to the contributions of the stakeholders who appeared as witnesses to the study. As a result, in an unusual measure, the agriculture committee passed the following motion at its last meeting:

That the Prime Minister recognize and respect the work of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food and ensure that the work of the Committee will not be sub voted and that the recommendations based on input from Canadian Stakeholders will be implemented and that the Prime Minister confirm his willingness to accept the work of the Committee.

The members of all committees deserve--

Agriculture and Agri-Food
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

The hon. member for Saint-Maurice—Champlain.

Western Festival in Saint-Tite
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-Yves Laforest Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, on May 9, at the national gala of the Quebec tourism awards, the Festival Western de Saint-Tite won the prestigious gold medal in the category for festivals and tourism events with an operating budget of $1 million or more. It is a great honour to be recognized by the entire Quebec tourism industry, and certainly a huge reward for the citizens, volunteers and businesspeople of Saint-Tite.

In 2007, this international event celebrated its 40th anniversary in great style, and shattered an attendance record with more than 725,000 festival-goers. It also generated some $50 million in economic spinoffs. Such great success over the years would never have been possible without the invaluable contribution of its 550 volunteers.

I am very pleased to invite all Quebeckers to the 41st edition of the festival, which will be held from September 5 to 14, 2008, and which promises to be just as fantastic as the last.

Gang Crime
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

NDP

Penny Priddy Surrey North, BC

Mr. Speaker, a serious threat is growing on our streets as gangs get bigger and more sophisticated each day. Innocent people are being killed.

In my riding of Surrey North, Chris Mohan, a young man with a bright future, was gunned down as he was leaving home to play basketball. Another man, Ed Schellenberg, who was doing maintenance work across the hall, was killed. Two families have been left empty and grieving.

Last weekend our community came together to remember what should have been Chris Mohan's 23rd birthday. His mother, Eileen, echoed a call the NDP made in the last election. She wants a federal program for young gang members who want a safe way out of the gang lifestyle. The witness protection program does not meet these needs.

Last November I held a press conference demanding urgent action from the Conservatives, a national strategy to fight gangs. So far, my call has fallen on deaf ears. How many deaths will it take for the government to listen?

Carbon Tax Proposal
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Storseth Westlock—St. Paul, AB

Mr. Speaker, the Liberal leader's carbon tax has no friends, certainly not among Canadian premiers. Even Ontario Liberal Premier McGuinty has spoken out against this punitive tax. Last week Saskatchewan Premier Wall said this tax would “knee cap” Saskatchewan's economy. Premier Stelmach perhaps said it best, “The western provinces are really supporting Canada's economy right now, so why would we want to move further and diminish our competitiveness and hurt the Canadian economy”?

Why indeed? Why does the Liberal leader want to raise the price of gasoline? Why does he want to raise the price of home heating fuels? Why does he want to raise the price of electricity? Why does the Liberal leader want to endanger manufacturing jobs in Ontario and cripple more than 500,000 jobs in Canada? Why does the Liberal leader want to raise input prices on our grains and oil seeds farmers just when they are starting to turn the corner and make a profit? How can taxing Canadians out of their jobs and their livelihoods be revenue neutral?

Paul and Thérèse Abud
Statements By Members

2:05 p.m.

Liberal

Jean-Claude D'Amours Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Mr. Speaker, today I would like to salute Paul and Thérèse Abud, who were honoured yesterday evening by the Cercle culturel historique Hilarion Cyr in Saint-Léonard.

Mr. Abud immigrated to Canada from Lebanon in 1957 and became a full citizen not long after that. Mrs. Abud was born in Canada to Lebanese immigrants. With their family, they moved from their first home in Dalhousie to the Saint-Léonard region, bringing with them a degree of diversity and a desire to help the community's economy.

In addition to being a businessman, Paul Abud also became actively involved in his community. Among other things, he was a member of the municipal council and president of the chamber of commerce. He was also involved in Louis Robichaud's equal opportunity program.

Mrs. Abud was also active in business and was, among other things, chair of the board of directors of Foyer Notre-Dame and a member of the library board.

I would like to thank Mr. and Mrs. Abud for everything they have done for their community. They can be proud of their accomplishments, and we are proud of them.

The Environment
Statements By Members

2:05 p.m.

Conservative

Jeff Watson Essex, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is not even Halloween, but the Liberal leader is offering Canadians a major trick, a big, fat, permanent carbon tax. Never mind he vehemently opposed a carbon tax when running for leader. Never mind he recently called it bad public policy. Never mind he said “there will be no carbon tax”. He has now given it a green disguise.

The Liberal leader has made tens of billions of dollars in non-budgeted spending promises and he has stuck Canadians with the devastating tax bill.

The Liberal tax trick will only treat Canadians to higher gas prices, higher electricity bills and higher food costs, punishing seniors on fixed incomes, punishing rural Canadians and punishing young families. The Liberal tax trick means permanent job losses for auto workers and skyrocketing input costs for farmers.

The Liberal leader will make himself sound green by taking plenty of green from the wallets of Canadians. Canadians, do not fall for this punitive Liberal tax trick. They should treat themselves to a Conservative government.

Marie-Pier Boudreau Gagnon
Statements By Members

2:05 p.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate Marie-Pier Boudreau Gagnon on qualifying for the Olympic Games in Beijing. She will compete in solo, duet and 8-person team synchronized swimming.

Courageous and determined, this young, 25-year-old athlete left the family home at the age of 13 to train, first in Quebec City, then in Montreal. Marie-Pier trains for 42 hours a week to reach her Olympic dream. She is the pride of the Rivière-du-Loup area, and will soon be the pride of all of Quebec and Canada.

After her Olympic career, she hopes to study business administration at university. She would like to go into international law. She is a wonderful example of perseverance.

The Bloc Québécois and I want to warmly congratulate you, Marie-Pier, for qualifying, and we wish her good luck in her present and future endeavours.