House of Commons Hansard #72 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was products.

Topics

Canada Consumer Product Safety Act
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I believe the hon. member brought up two issues. One was labelling and the other was enforcement.

Labelling was a key discussion throughout the committee hearings. We have to decide which chemicals are important. There was tremendous discussion around carcinogens, neurotoxins and other chemicals. What lists would we use? Would we use IARC? There was difficulty coming to agreement on this. What is important is we have started those conversations and I think those conversations will continue.

On the hon. member's second point, enforcement is key in any bill. Part of this enforcement is requiring that business self-identify. The government has increased the penalties to up to $5 million.

Canada Consumer Product Safety Act
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to touch on labelling as well. I understand that it was discussed extensively at committee. In fact, the member for Winnipeg North had proposed some amendments that would deal with a comprehensive system of labelling consumer products. It was defeated at the committee, but the government did indicate that labelling would be the priority of the new advisory panel expected to be set up through a government amendment.

Could the member comment specifically on whether this advisory panel will do the work for which Canadians have asked?

Canadians want appropriate consumer labelling on consumer products. They want to know what they are purchasing. They want to know what the impact will be to their families. I know in this case we are talking about hazardous products, but when I was on the health committee in the past, we were also talked about labelling genetically modified organisms, for example.

Could the member comment on what she thinks is critical for this advisory panel and whether she thinks this is a good first step?

Canada Consumer Product Safety Act
Government Orders

June 10th, 2009 / 4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is very encouraging that we have an advisory panel for the bill. We recently passed Bill C-11, which is around biosafety and biosecurity. At that time, we also called for a scientific advisory group, experts in the field who would have the best judgment to suggest which viruses and bacteria belonged in what schedules. Having the advisory panel go forward on this bill will allow the experts to continue this good work.

On her second point, yes, Canadians are very interested in labelling. Recent studies suggested 90% to 95% would like to see labelling and right to know.

Canada Consumer Product Safety Act
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4:30 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask my colleague a question with regard to children's products. A couple of amendments that would have provided more consumer choice were brought forward in committee, but they were defeated.

As a parent, I have discovered that some of the toys I have purchased for my children were made with inappropriate chemicals and substances, which were supposed to be banned in the first place. Would specific amendments have been more appropriate?

Canada Consumer Product Safety Act
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, child safety has to be paramount. Children cannot buy their own products, so we have to provide safe consumer products for them. As an example, Canada was the first country to remove BPA.

Recently we had problems with 1,600 products from China. Child safety was certainly a key point of discussion in committee. There was strong support from children's safety organizations. It is important we continue to push to do better. Chemicals need to be banned from children's products.

Canada Consumer Product Safety Act
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

It is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation; the hon. member for Winnipeg South Centre, Aboriginal Affairs; the hon. member for Random—Burin—St. George's, Employment Insurance.

Canada Consumer Product Safety Act
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

Bloc

Nicolas Dufour Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank and congratulate all members of the Standing Committee on Health, on which I sit, for all their work on this bill.

I believe this is proof that, when we have a good bill, one that is well drafted and one we can work on, when the amendments proposed by the opposition are adopted by the majority, and when the committee operates under good discipline, all of these elements move things along even more quickly and solid common sense always prevails. That is what has led to the bill we have before us which will have the support of the Bloc Québécois, the NDP, the Liberal Party and the government, or so I understand. That same solid common sense is what makes me a sovereignist.

Getting back to Bill C-6, according to an Auditor General's report, the government had known since at least 2006 that the current legislation, the legislation amended by Bill C-6, did not protect the public properly.

It was not until the incident in the summer of 2007, when toys containing lead were recalled, that the government indicated its intention to amend this legislation. Three months later, it made the official announcement of its action plan to ensure food and consumer product safety.

At that time, the Bloc Québécois had called on the minister to tighten up safety requirements for dangerous products so the manufacturing, promotion and marketing of any product that might present an unacceptable risk or be harmful to health could be banned.

We also called upon Ottawa to put the burden on manufacturers to inspect their products and prove that they are not hazardous to consumer health and safety. This is included in the amended Bill C-6.

We also insisted that the approach taken by the government should not put the industry wholly in charge of the safety of consumer products, thereby leaving the public's health in their hands.

One of the amendments I proposed called for beefed-up financial and human resources in order to ensure there would be enough inspectors to enforce the law that Bill C-6 will eventually become.

This bill is a good one and is based on fine principles. We all agree with this bill in principle. However, the problem we come up against every time is the number of inspectors. The Bloc Québécois often raised this issue in committee, because if we implement this bill without having the necessary inspectors or the financial and human resources that are needed, it could quickly become useless.

The Bloc Québécois succeeded in getting an amendment through calling for beefed-up human and financial resources so that the law is properly enforced.

We cannot leave it up to the industry to regulate and manage itself. That could create problems. It is not that we assume that any industry is acting in bad faith, but a company could unfortunately make a mistake in its data or in its research on toys, food or something else.

We want to ensure that the government makes good on a promise it has made many times but unfortunately never kept. It was to ensure that it had enough inspectors.

In committee, we heard from Mr. Burns, vice-president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada. He told us essentially the same thing: if we do not have enough inspectors to enforce the law, the bill will do absolutely nothing.

The Auditor General had also pointed out that Health Canada did not have enough inspectors to do the work properly. Her findings were consistent with what Mr. Burns said and the questions I repeatedly asked in committee.

Even though the bill requires that companies ensure that products are harmless, the government will have to ensure that there are enough inspectors, as I said.

We support Bill C-6 as amended. I would like to provide some background. This bill is the old Bill C-52, which was tabled on April 8, 2008, and passed at second reading in May 2008. It is part of the food and consumer safety action plan, which the Conservative government announced on December 17, 2007. Budget 2008 allocated $113 million over two years to implement the plan. We have yet to see what kind of structure will be put in place and whether more people will be hired to ensure consumer product safety.

Currently, the federal government's primary legislative instrument regulating consumer product safety is the Hazardous Products Act, which was enacted in 1969. Over the past 40 years, technology and inspection systems have advanced tremendously in the industry, Health Canada and the federal government. The new Bill C-6 has come not a moment too soon and may in fact be a little too late. The government could have done a course correction a long time ago. Unfortunately, frequent elections have killed various bills, including Bill C-52, which was at second reading.

Part I of the Hazardous Products Act deals with regulated consumer products or those prohibited from being advertised, sold or imported into Canada. Some 30 products and categories of products are regulated, including toys, chemical products and about 25 other prohibited products, such as baby walkers, lawn darts with elongated tips, and products containing toxic materials, such as jequirity beans, which contain a resin-like toxin. The manufacture, import and sale of these products may also be regulated and restricted by other laws.

Bill C-6 repeals Part I of the Hazardous Products Act and replaces it with:

At present, in the event that a consumer product that is not regulated or prohibited poses a health or safety risk, it is up to industry to voluntarily issue and manage a product recall. The federal government’s authority in this regard is limited to issuing a public warning and, in the event that it is deemed necessary, subsequently taking steps to regulate or prohibit the product under the HPA.

Bill C-6 appears to tighten up the safety requirements for hazardous products. It creates prohibitions with respect to the manufacturing, importing, selling, advertising, packaging and labelling of consumer products, including those that are a danger to human safety. It also makes manufacturers and importers accountable, and requires them to ensure that their product is not a danger to human health and safety.

However, although clauses 7 and 8 are more strict concerning the responsibilities of manufacturers, importers and anyone selling similar consumer products, clause 6 refers to requirements set out in the regulations. Clause 6 states:

No person shall manufacture, import, advertise or sell a consumer product that does not meet the requirements set out in the regulations.

So, just how some of the requirements for consumer products will be tightened up will be stipulated in the regulations, but the committee will not have any details.

Still, we believe that the government is acting in good faith, and as proof we have the creation of an advisory committee on labelling, for example. It is now in the hands of the government, which plans on discussing with the opposition parties how the issues of labelling and potentially hazardous products will be referred to the committee. We are putting our faith in the government on this. It is very rare, but in the case of the advisory committee on Bill C-6, we are going to give them a chance.

The bill defines an “article” as a consumer product, which is a product, including its components, parts or accessories that may reasonably be expected to be used for non-commercial purposes, including for domestic, recreational and sports purposes. This definition naturally also includes its packaging, any object used to manufacture, import, package, sell, label, test or transport a consumer product or advertise it, or the documents pertaining to these activities or any consumer product.

The bill contains five measures to reverse the burden of proof regarding safety. First, let us examine the safety of consumer products. At present, there is no constraint whatsoever imposed upon manufacturers or importers. They do not have to demonstrate that their products pose no danger or threat to consumer safety. Bill C-6 proposes to reverse this burden of proof and to impose it on manufacturers in future, under the supervision of federal inspectors from Health Canada and other departments.

The bill suggests that manufacturers and importers of consumer products will be required to test their products for safety on a regular basis and, significantly, to disclose the results of these tests. As I mentioned earlier, we cannot allow only the manufacturers to examine these tests. Far be it from me to doubt their good faith, but independent government inspectors should conduct surprise tests from time to time. It is extremely important to me that we ensure that the studies are conducted properly and that there are no irregularities in these reports. I would have to say that, in the committee proceedings, based on what I heard and the questions I asked of Option consommateurs representatives—who were very well received and kindly answered our questions—and businesses or groups of businesses, having surprise inspections did not pose a problem. Many companies encouraged us to do so and to have enough inspectors, as did Mr. Burns, the vice-president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada.

Inspectors need to be given greater authority. As I have already indicated, the Auditor General stated in a report that in order to ensure that this bill is implemented and effective, inspectors on the ground will have more powers when Bill C-6 comes into force. For that to happen, consumer products will have to be subject to recall or a licensing amendment. These inspectors will be the means to enforce this bill's most important provisions. However, such an increase of duties and responsibilities can raise a certain number of concerns and questions, which is why we hope to pass an amendment to ensure more human and financial resources

Bill C-6 also gives the minister new powers concerning recalls. At this time, health authorities do not have the power to recall consumer products found to be dangerous. Recalls are issued on a voluntary basis by manufacturers and importers themselves. Bill C-6 corrects the inadequacy in the current legislation. That is why we want this bill to pass quickly, since at this time, industries recall products on a voluntary basis, and that goes for toys and all other consumer products. We must ensure that the minister has the means to recall products herself, instead of simply leaving it in the hands of the companies.

Bill C-6 would give the minister the power to recall any products that are defective or endanger consumer safety. However, the regulations will stipulate the requirements and the conditions under which the minister can act.

Stricter punitive measures will also provide a greater deterrence. The fines imposed on manufacturers were usually around $5,000. Now, with Bill C-6, an offence could lead to a fine of up to $5 million and the guilty party could face up to two years in prison.

Issuing a $5,000 fine to a company that might make millions or billions of dollars a year is rather laughable, especially when we are talking about safety, and we could jeopardize the safety or even the lives of the youngest members of society: our children.

We have already seen extremely hazardous products with lead toys. A simple $5,000 fine means nothing to these large and multinational companies. I think that it is an excellent idea to make the fines higher.

With a fine of $5 million and the possibility of imprisonment, at least companies will pay much more attention during their research, to ensure that products will not cause problems, as well as during recalls.

Bill C-6 proposes the creation of a system for preparing and maintaining documents, similar to a product traceability system. The bill states:

13. (1) Any person who manufactures, imports, advertises, sells or tests a consumer product for commercial purposes shall prepare and maintain

(a) documents that indicate

(i) in the case of a retailer, the name and address of the person from whom they obtained the product and the location where and the period during which they sold the product, and

ii) in the case of any other person, the name and address of the person from whom they obtained the product or to whom they sold it, or both, as applicable.

(b) the prescribed documents.

(2) The person shall keep the documents at their place of business in Canada or at any prescribed place and shall, on written request, provide the Minister with them.

(3) The Minister may, subject to any terms and conditions that he or she may specify, exempt a person from the requirement to keep documents in Canada if the Minister considers it unnecessary or impractical for the person to keep them in Canada.

This requirement to keep the product provenance documents for a set period as determined by our studies in committee will make it possible to quickly trace merchants who are in possession of the product, as well as its origin. What is more, should an incident arise concerning this product, in Canada or anywhere else in the world, the manufacturer or importer has an obligation to notify the minister.

Returning to the text of the bill:

14(2) A person who manufactures, imports or sells a consumer product for commercial purposes shall provide the Minister and, if applicable, the person from whom they received the consumer product with all the information in their control regarding any incident related to the product within two days after the day on which they become aware of the incident.

I am getting the two minute signal, but I could have gone on for hours. I will just say quickly that we examined similar legislation on the international level. We checked with companies in committee. So we did a good job.

I would like to congratulate the chair of our committee for her extraordinary job of keeping us on track. Not that the members of the Liberal Party, the Bloc Québécois and the NDP are an unruly lot, far from it. She did, however, do an excellent job of making sure everything moved quickly and in an orderly manner. Once again, my congratulations to her on that.

I also wanted to point out that we have worked extremely hard, we listened to both consumers and businesses, and I believe we have here an excellent bill, which, as amended, will receive the assent of the entire House.

Canada Consumer Product Safety Act
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4:50 p.m.

Conservative

Joy Smith Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank all the members of the committee and certainly the member for Repentigny. He contributed in a major way to the success of this bill, and I want to thank him for that.

Clearly, by raising the strength of our product safety system up to the level of our major trading partners, we are safeguarding the marketplace against the risk of becoming a dumping ground for substandard products.

In his speech, the member for Repentigny pointed out some very important aspects of the bill that strengthened what the committee was trying to find out.

I believe that we have created an ideal package of consumer protection by combining measures to improve prevention, monitor high-risk products, and act swiftly if a dangerous product enters the country.

Would the member for Repentigny please outline some of the very important aspects of the bill that would very greatly improve the safety of our products here on Canadian soil?

Canada Consumer Product Safety Act
Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

Bloc

Nicolas Dufour Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, as I said earlier in the debate, this bill is extremely important, in that it puts us on an equal footing with our trading partners, to prevent dumping in Canada. Before I conclude, I looked at the regulations in other countries, including European Union countries that had laws similar to Bill C-6, although it is one of the most advanced pieces of consumer product safety legislation in the world, and we are proud of that.

It is therefore extremely important, as my Conservative colleague said, that we be on a more or less equal footing and that our regulations be consistent with international regulations so that Canada is not used as a dumping ground.

Canada Consumer Product Safety Act
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4:55 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, it seems to me that we are simply deluding ourselves if we think that the free market is going to self-regulate. Clearly, voluntary measures do not work. The banks in the United States could not regulate themselves. The financial services sector in the United States went through a whole deregulation process and we saw what happened when regulations are stripped away and supposedly have a free market operate to the benefit of the public.

Just two years ago the government, for example, passed legislation requiring all-inclusive pricing by the airlines in Canada, meaning that rather than advertising a price of $99 for a flight from Vancouver to Montreal, the full cost had to be provided. Parliament passed that legislation over two years ago and still the Conservative government has not implemented that legislation.

Last September the airlines agreed in Canada to the flights rights proposals of the former minister of transport. They voluntarily limited tarmac delays to 90 minutes. Guess what? Only three months later, they were holding passengers hostage for eight hours on the tarmac.

Why does the member think that without proper labelling legislation in this bill and other tough requirements--

Canada Consumer Product Safety Act
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

The hon. member for Repentigny.

Canada Consumer Product Safety Act
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4:55 p.m.

Bloc

Nicolas Dufour Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am surprised that my colleague still feels so strongly about the bill on air travel that he introduced in this House during the session. I can honestly say that I agree completely with what my NDP colleague said. As I mentioned several times during my speech, we cannot let companies regulate themselves. Even with no bad faith or ill will on the part of the companies, having independent government inspectors would ensure that the studies conducted by these companies are valid.

That is the main reason I fought in committee to ask questions of the Professional Institute of the Public Service, companies, Option consommateurs, lobbies and consumer advocacy groups, so that the government understood the message that we have a serious shortage of inspectors. That is why we succeeded in getting through an amendment to the bill, with the government's support, calling for beefed up financial and human resources. I hope that the government will comply with this act and not do as it has done in the case of most of its legislation, which is fail to comply with it.

Canada Consumer Product Safety Act
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4:55 p.m.

Bloc

Christian Ouellet Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by congratulating my colleague from Repentigny for sharing his knowledge of Bill C-6 and for his hard work on this file. I have a question for him.

Other countries have similar laws, but inspectors from other countries go to countries of origin to inspect products before they are exported. Does Bill C-6 provide for the same kind of inspection before consumer goods leave the countries in which they were made? After all, if products are found to be unacceptable and polluting after they arrive here, they will end up in our landfills, where they will continue to pollute our water tables, among other things. Is there some way to conduct inspections before these products are exported, before foods leave their countries of origin?

Canada Consumer Product Safety Act
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5 p.m.

Bloc

Nicolas Dufour Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from Brome—Missisquoi. It is clear that he cares about the environment, like all other Bloc Québécois members. I would like to thank him for all the good work he has done on this file over the years.

Unfortunately, I have to say that there is no mechanism to institute inspections in countries where products are made. My colleague's concern is absolutely justified. I completely agree with him. It will now be up to the government and the advisory committee to take aggressive action to ensure that we will not be importing troublesome products that will pollute our water tables and harm our wildlife.

Canada Consumer Product Safety Act
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5 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, one of the issues over disclosure by the minister was reintroduced. There was an NDP and a Bloc motion that brought that back. Perhaps the member could briefly discuss the issue of ministerial disclosure and why it is important. It was part of Bill C-52, the precursor to this bill, and is now part of this bill.