House of Commons Hansard #49 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was health.

Topics

Resignation of Member
Routine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Central Nova
Nova Scotia

Conservative

Peter MacKay Minister of National Defence and Minister for the Atlantic Gateway

Mr. Speaker, I want to take a moment to thank the member for Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley for his many years of service in this place, to Canada and certainly to his constituents.

I first came to know him not through Parliament, but through my father who had also served with the hon. member during his time in Ottawa. What he has presented here today is indicative of someone who not only holds his province, his country and his role as a parliamentarian dear, but he has demonstrated a tremendous high road human approach to what it means to be a parliamentarian.

His recognition of his family, his wife, Rosemary, his children, his recognition of other members of the House and his very heartwarming story about a health issue that he experienced and the miraculous connection he had with a prior member of the House, Chuck Cadman, demonstrates the line that connects us all.

I have other connections with the hon. member, too. We have neighbouring ridings. I know the hon. member shares a great passion for cars and has a large collection of vintage automobiles. There were a number of projects we worked very diligently on, including the Joggins Fossil museum, the female prison in his riding and the Pugwash Peace Exchange with which he is still affiliated.

I expect he will do well in his new role representing our province of Nova Scotia because of his long connection with the people and the places during the many years he has served Canada and served constituents.

I thank him for his many years of service as a parliamentarian and for his tremendous representation of the province of Nova Scotia. I was in Nova Scotia today. I am pleased to tell him it was 28° and sunny, as we made some announcements with Premier Rodney MacDonald. I know he will represent the province of Nova Scotia with the same vigour, the same enthusiasm and the same passion he has brought to this place over his many years as a parliamentarian.

I also thank him for having allowed Nancy Baker to come and work with me and continue some of the great work she did while in his office. I wish him the very best, in his health and his continued passion for being on the sea. I know he will continue to work in Ottawa, but his passion will also include spending time on his boat in Nova Scotia, back on the coast, and, first and foremost, with his family.

The very glowing tribute he paid to his wife and to his children is what really grounds us all. First and foremost, we owe a great deal of gratitude to our families that support us through what can be a very rigorous and rough place at times.

I thank the hon. member for Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley. It has been a pleasure to call him a colleague and a friend. I look forward to still working with him in the days ahead on behalf of Nova Scotians and all Canadians.

Resignation of Member
Routine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Geoff Regan Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, I want to join with my hon. colleague, the Minister of National Defence, and other members of this House in offering my best wishes to the member for Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley.

The member referred to the letter received back from the clerk thanking him for his letter of resignation. I am sure she was only being polite. I am sure it was not an expression of pleasure. I see she is acknowledging that that is the case. I know all of us are disappointed to see him go, although we are glad he will be staying nearby in his new role.

The member mentioned that Sir Charles Tupper, a predecessor, was here in 1896 and that he was very young at the time. After that, I hesitate to ask him what year it was that he graduated from StFX. However, I know that he has certainly upheld the motto of St. Francis Xavier, which is Quaecumque Sunt Vera, “Whatsoever things are true”. I congratulate him for that.

He was first elected in 1988 and has been elected a total of six times, which is a remarkable achievement.

As my hon. colleague mentioned, he is a former used car salesman. Speaking of cars and highways, there was a time when he was known as “Highway Bill”. Forgive me for using his first name in the House. Some of us can recall that the name had to do with an issue in Nova Scotia surrounding a toll highway in his riding, on which he had a lot to say. It was a topic on which he was very effective and I think that assisted in some of his elections, but that went along with the good work he did in many other areas.

I can recall, when I was on that side of the House as a minister, that he had a way sometimes of coming over after question period or after a vote to raise an issue and have a chat with the minister. The next day, sometimes we would see an article in the paper saying that he had a meeting with the minister, and it was true. The point I really want to make is that it was a clever and effective way of raising the issue, not only directly with the minister, but also getting it in the media and putting pressure on the minister to get something done on that issue for his riding. For that he is to be commended. It was, as I say, very effective.

He showed his true character, as we can all recall, when he was the only Conservative to stand up for Nova Scotia and vote against the offshore accord betrayal even though he ended being kicked out of the Conservative caucus.

I remember during his health issues last year that when he was here I would ask him why he was her. He would say that his party required him to be here, and, of course, he was his own party. He was an independent.

In a recent poll in his riding, when the Truro Daily News asked readers if he deserved his job as the new representative of Nova Scotia in Ottawa, 56% said that he deserved it and only 7% had a different view. I can only think that they must have wanted him to stay on in his present job because he has done a great job.

His commitment to his constituents and to his province are an example to everyone. He has always conducted himself, not only in this House but elsewhere, with dignity, humility and honour. He has been a respected role model. I cannot recall the member going over the top, raising his voice or being nasty. Unfortunately, in this House, as we all know, sometimes that happens. Sometimes we get carried away, Mr. Speaker, despite your exhortations, but I do not recall any occasion when the member has done that and for that we should all salute him. He has been a role model for us. He will be missed.

I know we all wish him very good health. I know he will be busy in his new job but I hope he will find some time, along with spending time with his family, to visit a certain establishment in my riding run by his son and daughter-in-law, Finbar's Pub in Bedford in the Sunnyside Mall. Hopefully, we will run into one another for a bite there sometime. I do wish him every good wish to him and his wife, Rosemary. I look forward to seeing much more of him.

Resignation of Member
Routine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Bloc

Claude DeBellefeuille Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the Bloc Québécois, I would like to congratulate the member for Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley for his work as a member of Parliament for almost 17 years. We know it is a demanding job, one that takes its toll on the individual and his private life. To his credit, he gave of himself to those who voted for him and he shared his knowledge and his talents with all members in this House.

I do not know the member very well because I was only elected three and a half years ago, but I know that he is a very determined and principled man. I watched as he made choices, perhaps even difficult ones for him. But his principles, values, devotion to and love for Nova Scotia shone through and withstood the test. I applaud him for his determination and the love he bears his province.

Once again, on behalf of the Bloc Québécois caucus, I wish him good luck in his new endeavours and hope he will enjoy life and delight in having more time with his wife.

Resignation of Member
Routine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is with sadness and gratefulness that I am able to stand in the House today on behalf of the federal New Democratic Party to offer our best wishes to our hon. colleague, the great member for Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, and his family. May he have a long career, not just in representing his province but in whatever he chooses.

The hon. member and I share a distinction. In 2004, our ridings were redistributed. At that time, I had the pleasure of representing Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore. In 2004, it changed and the first thing the hon. member did was change the name of his riding from Cumberland—Colchester to Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley.

I could not believe it. In the 2000 election, there were a lot of orange signs along the Musquodoboit Valley. In 2004, there were a lot of blue signs along the Musquodoboit Valley. It showed the tremendous respect that the people, not just in the Musquodoboit Valley but in his entire riding, had for who was known at that time as “Highway Bill”.

I want to congratulate and personally thank the Premier of the Province of Nova Scotia, Mr. Rodney MacDonald, for his great choice in choosing who I thought was a fabulous candidate to represent the entire province and all politicians in the House and Senate in bringing forward the concerns and issues that face our beautiful province from day to day. However, he did make one little mistake in his presentation. He told us to come to his office for a taste of Nova Scotia. I should inform the House that he forgot to mention that the world's greatest lobster also come from the province of Nova Scotia.

That is without question, even though my colleagues from New Brunswick, P.E.I., the Gaspé and Newfoundland and Labrador may offer a slight difference of opinion. In a committee hearing in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia two weeks ago, it was said on the record that the world's finest lobsters come from the province of Nova Scotia and, if I may be more specific, from the eastern shore. However, that is something that I am sure the hon. member will be able to promote in his years of doing a great job as a sort of ambassador of Nova Scotia in this regard.

He gave a very poignant story of what it means to look at our responsibilities as members of Parliament and then to look after our own health needs. Many of us were so proud of the hon. member, Chuck Cadman's wife, for what she did in honour of her great husband, who, in many ways, also showed the same example of courage, determination, forthright honour and dignity. In many ways, the member for Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley is almost like a twin brother to the late Chuck Cadman because they were both of the same ilk. They were very dignified gentlemen who handled adversity, no matter what came their way, in a very respectful manner.

We will have many times in the future to say hello to our good friend, to his great riding association and to all the people he has met over the years. He has taught me a few things. He being six foot three and I being five foot seven, I can say that I always liked to look up to my hon. colleague.

On behalf of our leader, all the New Democrats from coast to coast to coast and, I am sure, on behalf of all my colleagues in the House of Commons, I thank my hon. colleague for his service to his country. I thank his wife and family for lending him to us so that he could do the great job of all parliamentarians. May he have a blessed future and may God bless him and his family. We thank him very much for his service to his country.

Resignation of Member
Routine Proceedings

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

On behalf of all members of Parliament, I would like to add my best wishes to the hon. member for Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley on his retirement from Parliament.

I know he will be greatly missed by hon. colleagues, as has been made manifest by the statements made today following his announcement.

As a member who was elected when he was, in 1988, and who has had the privilege of serving with him in this House all the time he has been here, I want to express, on behalf of the class of '88, if I may, our appreciation for his kind words today and for his many years of participation in the activities of the House which all of us have enjoyed.

I am delighted that he is not moving away too far, that we will be able to visit him nearby in his office from time to time. I suspect that he might come up here as a former parliamentarian from time to time. In that sense at least, our association will continue into future, and I am delighted at that.

I join with all the others in passing on my congratulations to the hon. member and our best wishes for a long and enjoyable retirement from the House but additional work on behalf of his province here in Ottawa. All the very best.

Unparliamentary Language
Points of Order
Routine Proceedings

April 30th, 2009 / 3:30 p.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Mr. Speaker, after the very important words we just heard from the retiring member for Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, it reminds us how important respect is in this House and how important it is to be vigilant about respect in this House.

Yesterday, the member for Newton—North Delta stood after question period and said, in response to comments I made,

The member should not tell lies. She should tell the truth.

There are countless rulings on the use of the word “lie” and accusing a member of lying, as well as rulings addressing the suggestion of a member telling the truth.

Mr. Speaker, while you stood and pointed out that the member's words were unparliamentary, the usual practices were not followed. On page 527 of the House of Commons Procedure and Practice it states:

...the Member will be requested to withdraw the unparliamentary word or phrase. The Member must rise in his or her place to retract the words unequivocally.

The member was not asked to do that. I would request that the member for Newton—North Delta withdraw the unparliamentary remarks he made about me yesterday and apologize to the House.

Unparliamentary Language
Points of Order
Routine Proceedings

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Obviously we will not be able to deal with that at the moment. We will see what transpires in due course in respect to the point of order raised by the hon. member.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-11, An Act to promote safety and security with respect to human pathogens and toxins, be read the third time and passed.

Human Pathogens and Toxins Act
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Joe Volpe Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Mr. Speaker, like many MPs and members from the public, I listened to the various speeches on Bill C-11, An Act to promote safety and security with respect to human pathogens and toxins.

I found that some of the interventions being made by my colleagues addressed not only the substance of the bill itself, but one very important and perhaps insufficiently appreciated issue. That is the matter of the Privacy Act and the issue of the Privacy Commissioner offering her views for the benefit of the committee that studied the bill.

I had the good fortune to be associated with one of my colleagues who had a lot of the information immediately at hand. It seems to me that in a situation such as this one, where we are dealing with an extremely important bill and one that is to be viewed in the context of a potential pandemic that is afflicting the world, and I refer to the swine flu, we would take all measures necessary to ensure that we would be adequately prepared, but also that we would follow the appropriate procedures so that individuals will be protected from incursions on their privacy as we go forward.

I listened as my colleague from Winnipeg North waxed very aggressive, I might even dare say eloquent, on the importance of having this particular bill dealt with expeditiously in the House. Like every member in this place, she is of course entitled to an opinion, valid or less, according to the view. But it struck me as I was listening to her that she was making an argument for ensuring that the bill would be receiving immediate and quick attention and approval in the House, even though there were members from that committee, and I guess I can say it because they have been standing up all day on this, the members from the Bloc Québécois, who disagreed with some of the substance, but equally important, on the procedures followed, in order to ensure that the bill would reflect all the needs of Canadians everywhere.

I think she kind of regretted that the Bloc Québécois members were employing a tactic that had in fact been used by her own party on other bills, specifically on safety management systems, a bill that suggested that we would impose a particular ethic, a culture of checks, balances and due diligence on the people who are providing a service.

In this instance, perhaps we would say that this is even more serious. As the safety management systems involve the aviation industry and those who provide carriers and other vehicles for air transportation, whether it be passenger or cargo, of course it involves the potential for putting human life at risk. This is no less so, and perhaps some would argue, much more so.

I found it really interesting that the arguments to rush forward on the bill ignored a letter sent by a member of the government side, who is in fact the chair of the committee dealing with the bill, the Standing Committee on Health, to the Privacy Commissioner asking for her input on the bill.

Note that I said the Privacy Commissioner sent a letter inviting reaction. She did not say that she was invited to appear before the committee to offer her opinion to address issues that might be raised by members of the various parties, including the government party, to address those issues that related not only to the substance that was being discussed but to the procedures that lead to the consideration of the substance and the consequences of that process.

The chair wrote a letter, and in a letter dated March 11, 2009, received a response. The response said:

We would be pleased to appear before you to discuss the comments we make in this letter....

The Privacy Commissioner did not get a response to appear.

The Privacy Commissioner is responsible for two federal privacy laws: the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, otherwise known as PIPEDA; and of course the Privacy Act itself. The issue here is that it applies to government institutions, agencies and crown corporations, as well as the lab in Winnipeg.

This is not designed to in any way diminish or take away from any of the great work that is being done in that lab or in fact in other places that are concerned with people's health.

That letter is available to everybody in that committee, because it was distributed to everybody in the committee. I do not think there is any need for me to table it. It is already a public document, and certainly everybody who wishes can get it from the committee and from the Hansard.

Let me just quote this one little item. The Privacy Commissioner says, “Our suggestions for improvements”, which according to some of the interveners were not even considered, because they were not accepted as amendments even though they were proposed by other members, “are aimed at ensuring the appropriate balance of privacy rights and regulatory powers as well as transparency, notice and accountability to those officials subject to the legislation and to the public”. It is as simple as that.

I do not serve on that committee. It is not for every member of this place to serve on every committee, but when we come into this House and get the benefit of the deliberations of the various members who do serve on these committees, we need to take that into consideration. If there is a vacuum, if there is a lapse, if there is something missing in the consideration or something left out, that is why we have report stage and third reading considerations.

So in this third reading consideration, I, like some of the other members, would like the House to reflect on what was left out of the deliberations or at least put over to one side.

The Privacy Commissioner, remember, is responding to a written request by the chair of that committee and said, “We had hoped to see a privacy impact assessment (PIA) to understand how any privacy risks in this Bill had been mitigated”, and as of March 11, she adds, “we have not yet received one”.

If one is going to consider legislation that deals with toxins, human pathogens and their impact on the public health of all Canadian citizens no matter where they are, certainly one needs to consider as well how that information is gathered, the impact on the individuals from whom that information is derived, and what are some of the other considerations that flow from it.

The Privacy Commissioner, an officer of this House, established to help members of Parliament in their deliberations in the public interest, then goes on to say, “Our Office should be seeking PIAs”, or privacy impact assessments, “well before the decisions have been implemented so we can provide feedback early in the process”.

It seems reasonable. Yet she says, “Without having met with the officials,” and I might add from a personal perspective, without apparently being provided the opportunity to meet with officials, “who developed this Bill and without having received a PIA, it is challenging for us to understand the full privacy implications of Bill C-11, such as the scope of the application of this proposed legislation to patient information”.

If the Privacy Commissioner, with all the resources at the disposal of that office in order to provide members of Parliament with that advice, is unable and unwilling, perhaps, to provide speculative observations, why should a member of Parliament rush to make a decision in the absence of such information? In fact, the Privacy Commissioner goes further and says, “We would appreciate participating in a consultation process”, but that has not happened.

She addresses clause 38, which gives the minister certain powers in order to derive the information required, obviously through his or her officials, and she observes that subclause 38(1) could be improved. Again, without having had the benefit of the consultation and without having had access to public health officials, she says this is a concern, so please address it.

Some of the members from the Bloc party today gave us an indication that it had not been addressed, or when it was, it was put over to one side, regrettably, because the Privacy Commissioner says, “We would suggest that reasonableness should inform the Minister's opinion and that the personal information should be 'directly relevant'”, and not refer specifically to personal information. In fact, she says that information should be made anonymous in order to accomplish a stated goal.

The Privacy Commissioner went even further than that. She took the trouble to provide additional input and observations on clause 41, which offers to an inspector the kinds of powers that we think reside only with the minister. However, even if it is in the effort to amass information that may be used for the public good, we do not know because we do not have the cause and effect consequential action of some of those decisions.

For example, she says:

the inspector's powers to collect documents, materials and information, may well extend to the examination and collection of personal information and personal health information of individuals and patients.

That might serve a purpose, but she says:

We are concerned about the protection of patient information and transparency around this process to the public.

We have left out an individual who has the expertise and the resources to define for members of Parliament the shortfalls of the legislation, the potential pitfalls, and at the same time, of course, to suggest whether they are going in the right direction.

She goes further to say that clause 67 of the bill presents a problem with respect to interim orders for the minister. She says, “this mechanism is of concern as it could diminish controls over personal information”. In other words, once that information is out, it is out in the public domain and individuals from whom it has been derived no longer have the safety and security afforded to them under the Privacy Act and under PIPEDA.

She says the externally produced documents that flow from this “could result in a reduced level of control over extremely personal information”.

She did all of this on March 11, underscoring, underlining and emphasizing that she and her office would be prepared to be engaged in the public consultation process, in the consultation process being conducted by the Standing Committee on Health, and offered those services.

She said in that letter, thank you for calling us; here are our first thoughts, but let us sit down and discuss this, because we have not had a chance to speak with public health officials or with officials mandated to address this issue.

The chair wrote again and received a response on March 30. That is exactly one month ago today. In that letter, the assistant privacy commissioner said she wanted to follow up on the chair's letter concerning Bill C-11, the Human Pathogens and Toxins Act. In order to avoid confusion, she further said, “Regarding the confusion as to prior consultation”, because obviously she herself was very clear, “there seems to have been a preliminary exchange of emails between the Public Health Agency of Canada, PHAC, officials and some of my officials in May 2008”.

There was an exchange of emails. She went on to say, “Even though I have offered you my expertise and my resources now”. Subsequent to May 2008, guess what:

Overall, however, we did not have many details and did not receive materials, other than what was then Bill C-54, at that time.

In other words, “You have not availed yourselves of the opportunity to engage us deliberately in consultations as a committee or as a department”. The letter says, “get us engaged”. Did the committee get them engaged? We know the committee deliberated on the bill, entertained some amendments, rejected some, unhappily according to the Bloc members, happily according to the government members, expediently happily for the NDP members and we ask why.

The assistant privacy commissioner took the trouble to say, “We also learned that the main objective would be to collect information about people who work in laboratories to ensure that they meet security requirements,” which is all good, “and that the security screening will be consistent with the processes that are already in place”.

These are assurances that they are given verbally or that they read are to be provided. She went on to say something that I think should cause every member in this place some concern:

We recognize that the intent of the legislation is to deal with the personal information of laboratory workers; however, we still have concerns that there is nothing in the Bill to restrict the collection of ancillary personal information, such as patient information.

Another ancillary collection would be the personal information about laboratory workers' family members, should they come into contact with a regulated pathogen or toxin. A member of a patient's family has no privacy protection under this act. She went on to say, “As well, we are aware of the potential for function creep,” a term that was made popular in the House by what was then an opposition party that talked about taxation creep, “and would therefore prefer to limit”. I want to repeat that part. She said:

We would therefore prefer to limit the collection of personal information. We look forward to these issues being addressed in the privacy risk assessment work to come.

I am sure those who are following the debate today, as I was following it from the lobby and from my seat in this place, are asking themselves, has that privacy risk assessment been done? She repeated for emphasis, “We believe that clause 67...may diminish controls over personal information,” and that a reasonable grounds test would be helpful in this situation. Did it take place?

She went on to say that the agency, in her view, “currently has sufficient information to engage in a high-level privacy risk assessment in anticipation of the more formal privacy impact assessment process”. So what has been holding everything up? Her closing words, in a little bit of frustration, were that she looked forward to meeting with public health officials in order to address these issues.

I can only add that addressing those issues would enhance the views of members of Parliament about how to deal with this legislation at this stage of its progress through Parliament, and I hope we get it.

Human Pathogens and Toxins Act
Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Bruce Stanton Simcoe North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the comments and suggestions from the member for Eglinton—Lawrence in his intervention this afternoon.

He will know, certainly as a member who has been around this place for a considerable time, that committees have the ability to make determinations as to which witnesses they will hear. Members from both sides of the committee make those determinations.

I apologize, Mr. Speaker, I am late coming to the proceedings here this afternoon, but I was given to understand that two of the amendments at least were put forward to address concerns by the Privacy Commissioner. Those were amendments that the committee supported. The report of the committee was supported by the committee in its entirety.

I would say to the member that given the committee has made these determinations, these full considerations, clearly the committee must have known or at least been satisfied that the concerns of the Privacy Commissioner were addressed.

Human Pathogens and Toxins Act
Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Joe Volpe Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for reflecting on the quality of time that I have spent in this place. That quality of time has given me an opportunity to witness how many committees operate. All colleagues on these committees, whether they deliberate on legislation or whether they try to do something else, always try to do their best.

I suppose the issue is whether the committee actually brought in officers of the House. In my time in this place, we did not always have these officers of Parliament at our disposal. That is why those offices were created. There are several of them that serve parliamentarians. The best way to serve them is the way we serve each other, sometimes in an adversarial fashion, by being present as we challenge some of their perceptions and some of their expertise and then make decisions.

From my perspective, I wanted to understand what happened in that committee, given the way that the debate has developed in the House today. Most members, I think, and I am one of them, say that if the committee has dealt with the issue, then we can make the appropriate decision when it comes before the House. We borrow from the expertise the committee has developed during the consultation process.

The two letters from which I read from the Office of the Privacy Commissioner, suggest that that consultation was not as ample as the members of the House might have wanted. I could be wrong, because members of Parliament may already have made up their minds and this would already, in their view, have been given its due weight, but if that is the case, I do not understand why there is contrasting opinion from members of that same committee from different parties. The parties that have objected to this thing not being given immediate attention are ones who have, to their merit, objected in the past that the full complexity of the dynamics have not been considered to their satisfaction.

If members of this place are satisfied that the complexities--

Human Pathogens and Toxins Act
Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

Questions and comments. Resuming debate, the hon. member for Shefford.

Human Pathogens and Toxins Act
Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

Bloc

Robert Vincent Shefford, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to address Bill C-11, which seeks to promote safety and security with respect to human pathogens and toxins.

I want to begin by pointing out that there are four categories of risk, namely risk groups 1 to 4. Risk groups 3 and 4 are already covered by the legislation. I am going to provide some explanations on these groups.

Schedule 3 — Risk Group 3: human pathogens

means a category of human pathogens that pose a high risk to the health of individuals and a low risk to public health...

Schedule 4 — Risk Group 4:

means a category of human pathogens that pose a high risk to the health of individuals and a high risk to public health...

Only those major labs working with human pathogens must comply with the Laboratory Biosafety Guidelines. Labs dealing with risk groups 3 and 4, which pose a high risk to the health of individuals and either a low or a high risk to public health, are already covered by these guidelines.

What are these guidelines? They are a specialized document produced by the Office of Laboratory Security of the Public Health Agency of Canada. That document was written for those individuals who are responsible for designing or operating labs in which anthropopathogens are handled for diagnosis, research or development purposes. Labs or individuals who do not use these pathogens in Canada are not subjected to these guidelines.

We can understand the government's concerns regarding risk groups 3 and 4, and the precautions put forward. However, are labs 3 and 4 not already complying with the safety measures set in the guidelines and proposed in this legislation?

Bill C-11 would apply to risk groups 1 and 2, which pose a moderate risk to the health of individuals and a low risk to public health, and for which effective treatment is available. The idea behind this change is to better protect public health.

We can see where we are headed. The idea is to monitor risk groups 1 and 2. What do groups 1 and 2 include? Group 1 includes toxins, while group 2 deals with human pathogens. However, these groups only pose a moderate risk to the health of individuals. As I mentioned earlier, they pose a low risk to public health and they would rarely cause serious disease in a human being. Even if this were the case, such disease could easily be prevented or treated, and the risk of that disease spreading is low.

In addition, Bill C-11—and this is where the dynamic of this bill the other parties cannot understand lies—would impose the obligation to have a licence—meaning that all laboratories will have to have one—for the following “controlled activities” related to a human pathogen or toxin; possessing, handling, using, producing, storing, permitting any person access, transferring,importing or exporting, releasing or otherwise abandoning or disposing.

This bill requires any person carrying out activities involving a human pathogen or toxin to take all reasonable precautions to protect public health and safety.

The federal government justifies this bill by its jurisdiction over criminal law. Speaking of criminal law, we must understand that the Conservatives are champions as far as introducing such laws is concerned, and that from that point on there is no point in any other parties getting involved in a system which is, I will state it clearly, exaggerated. Here again we see the Conservative desire to control everything.

In short, the purpose of Bill C-11 is to make the Laboratory Biosafety Guidelines mandatory.

The second intention is to make it mandatory for licences to be obtained for the activities it covers in order to trace existing agents, determine where they are and with whom.

The third intention is to put in place a system of offences and fines. In the backgrounder to Bill C-54, introduced by the government during the last Parliament, and the ancestor of C-11, it was stated:

The risk to Canadians posed by the presence of human pathogens and toxins in labs is low.

Why was it low then, and different now? Why is the government trying to control everyone and everything everywhere in Canada? I do not get it. The text continues:

Safety guidelines exist and the laboratory community is committed to the safe handling and management of human pathogens and toxins as a part of their regular work. Nevertheless, we must be sure the appropriate legislation, protocols and practices are in place to protect Canadians from this risk.

Since the guidelines were introduced over 15 years ago, there have been no incidents in Canada, regardless of whether labs have been following those guidelines.

Nevertheless, the researchers have certain reservations, not about the safety of their research, but rather about government control over everyday research. Not only does the government want to control journalists and information, but it also wants to control laboratories and people. Has the government conducted studies to determine the impact this new legislation would have on university courses, on how our hospitals operate and on the research industry in Quebec and Canada? No.

The government is asking for carte blanche concerning regulations that will not be examined by Parliament. The bill establishes a legislative framework that imposes certain requirements on research done on pathogens and toxins, as well as criminal sanctions and fines for non-compliance.

We must ask ourselves certain questions about these regulations. How is it that a bill, now in third reading, has no regulations? No one knows what will happen with this bill. They are bringing something to a vote before the House, something that will happen at a later date, but we do not yet know what these regulations will be based on. It makes no sense.

According to the universities we consulted—unlike other parties in this House, we conducted a consultation—Bill C-11 will demand huge investments in universities that have laboratories.

These investments will not be used to update laboratories for group 3 and 4 pathogens; these will be new provisions concerning group 1 and 2. Those are the only categories that are not problematic. Also according to the universities, billions of dollars will have to be invested across the country, at the universities' expense. Did the government assess the kind of impact this will have on university teaching and research, on health care institutions and on private laboratories? Once again, the answer is no.

It is important to point out that all laboratories, including universities, hospitals and other government institutions, can be forced to pay fines. This government has a tendency to impose fines and prison sentences. It constantly focuses on those two points. Does the government really want to impose fines on universities and hospitals, when they are already desperately short of funding? It makes no sense.

The bill also establishes penalties and fines for anyone who shows wanton or reckless disregard concerning pathogens and toxins.

Clause 55 reads as follows:

Every person who contravenes section 6 and who shows wanton or reckless disregard for the health or safety of other persons and, as a result, creates a risk to the health or safety of the public is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term of not more than five years.

We are talking about students, not researchers who wear protective clothing. We are talking about people in a university or hospital. We are talking about viruses, which are not very big. This is the smallest category in existence that the government is going to try to control. It wants to control people, control information, control those who have these groups of pathogens. This is terrible. But there is more. And it is even worse.

Clause 56 reads as follows:

Every person who contravenes subsection 7(1) or 18(7) is guilty of an offence and liable

(a) on conviction on indictment, for a first offence, to a fine of not more than $500,000 or to imprisonment for a term of not more than six months, or to both, and, for a subsequent offence, to a fine of not more than $1,000,000 or to imprisonment for a term of not more than two years, or to both;

Think about the student who, as a joke, touches something and is fined half a million dollars. It makes no sense.

The Bloc Québécois wonders why it is necessary to introduce new measures and new penalties when they could be part of existing laws. These laws already exist, and the government is trying to add more. It is piling on more laws. Once again, it is hard to follow these parties here in the House. They pay no attention to the bills we discuss here, and they are ready to vote on anything. Are the measures in this bill on breach of duty, wanton or reckless breach of duty and intentional release not already included in the Criminal Code and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act? Yes, they are. Are the measures to prohibit intentional misuse of pathogens not already included in the Anti-Terrorism Act?

We already have plenty of laws. The government is trying to create more fines. It is talking about imprisoning these people. I cannot see how we can think about these things and decide what falls into groups 1 and 2. Everything the party in power is proposing is already covered by existing legislation. I cannot understand why we need to go any further than what we have now. Even worse, the government does not know where it wants to go with this bill because it has not consulted anyone.

When we asked departmental officials about the consequences, it was clear that the government had not studied the impact of Bill C-11. When we asked them about how it would affect universities and hospitals, they candidly told us that they did not know because there had been no impact study. They had no idea what might happen because there had been no study. However, it seemed that everyone was quite happy to have new laws, new fines and new prison sentences. That is the only thing we were able to find out. The only answer we got was that the government planned to take experts' and researchers' concerns into consideration while drafting regulations so as to minimize potential negative impacts. That is not saying much. They will consult experts, but will they take their comments into consideration? They might, or they might not. They might decide to accept the recommendations they like because the bill was passed anyway. We have no idea how the regulations will deal with risk groups 1 and 2. We still have no idea.

I do not understand why, in 2009, the government has introduced a bill without regulations in the House of Commons, where laws are made, nor why we should vote for a bill without knowing the regulations that are to be part of it. Moreover, the government says that even if it consults experts, it will make its own decisions about what to do anyway. Regulations will not be submitted to the House of Commons.

How can we vote on regulations if we never see them? How are we supposed to propose amendments if the regulations are not defined? It makes no sense.

I do not know where we are going with this. Nor do I know how this is in Quebeckers' and Canadians' best interest. We cannot protect them from risk group 1 and 2 pathogens because, in Bill C-54, this government said that these two categories were not a problem.

Why study risk groups 1 and 2 if they were not a problem? I still have not heard an answer to that question.

The Bloc Québécois would have preferred that the government had acted responsibly instead of blindly charging ahead with the implementation of Bill C-11. That would have meant conducting an impact study and consulting properly with stakeholders in each province, including researchers and private health laboratories. As far as the regulatory framework and cooperation with the provinces go, those are other matters.

Certainly, the Bloc Québécois endorses the idea that the government should consult with stakeholders affected by the bill before preparing regulations. We have no choice because the other political parties are in favour of adopting this bill without regulations.

However, we had proposed, during clause-by-clause study in committee, that the government consult the provinces before amending the schedules. When we questioned officials about the effects of this amendment, they indicated there would be no consultation with the provinces before preparing the amendments. Did anyone think of that? They do not even consult the provinces and they are going to make regulations without any consultation with people in each of the provinces.

Those officials also said that the experts and researchers were found in research laboratories and within the federal government, while ignoring the expertise within the public service of Quebec or the other provinces. We have expertise as well, but the Conservatives do not want to recognize it. They just want to listen to their own experts; and they will only take into account what they like.

They also pointed out that British Columbia had serious reservations about the bill, and these were the same officials who had reassured the province by promising to consult B.C. on the scope of the bill. They will do the consultation later.

The Bloc amendment called for consultation with Quebec and the provinces before any modification of the schedules; that is, before adding a pathogen or revising its classification. The purpose of this amendment was to ensure that the federal government properly evaluated the impact of any such changes.

It must be said that the Conservatives and the Liberals decided that amendment was not necessary, and in doing so dismissed the expertise of Quebec and other provinces on the subject.

The Liberals, who cried wolf in committee because of a failure to respect British Columbia’s jurisdiction and the repercussions of the bill on the people of British Columbia, put their trust entirely in the regulations under the Act, and make no provision for British Columbia to give its views on the classification of pathogens.

In a news release on April 29, 2008, announcing the introduction of Bill C-54, the minister insisted that there were no risks. Yet, today, suddenly, there are many risks.

The Bloc Québécois calls for in-depth study of Bill C-11. We want to put questions to experts to ensure that the details of Bill C-11 will not adversely affect the research community in Quebec.

Human Pathogens and Toxins Act
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

Bloc

Nicolas Dufour Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague, the member for Shefford. He has a deep knowledge of this issue and he clearly demonstrated that during his remarks.

He spoke earlier about the attitude of the Conservatives. I would like to have his opinion about the attitude of the Conservatives. In the beginning, they thought Kyoto was a socialist plot. Next, they made cuts in education and university research. Then, they brought forward Bill C-11, another slap in the face to universities. One could say that the government has a desire to attack the scientific community. They cut $160 million in the area of scientific research.

I would like my colleague from Shefford to tell me how he feels when he sees the Conservatives acting in this dogmatic way.

Human Pathogens and Toxins Act
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

Bloc

Robert Vincent Shefford, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his pertinent question.

I am pleased to answer him since I did not have an opportunity, in the time allowed me, to talk briefly about the legislation of the Conservative government. Do you know why the government wants to include risk groups 1 and 2? It is not complicated.

At first, it did not want any consultation. Moreover, the government never stops advancing the spectre of a bioterrorism attack; very nearly casting researchers as potential terrorists. We have heard about the flu virus, which presents no problem in risk groups 1 and 2. There is not even a risk. Even if there were a low risk and the virus were to spread, we already have all the science necessary to control it and medical care to deal with it.

Once again, the government wants to frighten people by trying to exercise control and by saying there could be a risk of terrorism. Terrorists are not going to steal pathogens of some flu strain and send them to British Columbia. That makes no sense. The government, however, wants to control the students who will practice medicine. It tells them not to touch that area because there is a risk. Does it think, perhaps there is a student who would take the flu virus and spread it within a school? Moreover, if a student did such a thing, he or she could be put in prison for six months and fined half a million dollars. At some point this is stranger than fiction.