House of Commons Hansard #90 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was autism.

Topics

Canada Consumer Product Safety Act
Government Orders

October 29th, 2010 / 10:05 a.m.

Nunavut
Nunavut

Conservative

Leona Aglukkaq Minister of Health

moved that Bill C-36, An Act respecting the safety of consumer products, be read the third time and passed.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand in the House for third reading of Bill C-36, An Act respecting the safety of consumer products.

I know, from discussions with my colleagues, that we all recognize the need to modernize product safety legislation in this country.

The Hazardous Products Act is 40-year-old legislation that was developed at a time when consumer product marketplaces were very different. At the time, a greater number of products were produced domestically. Today, many of the products available for sale to Canadians are imported, supply chains are complex and innovation drives rapid product change and development.

Our current legislation requires us to develop regulations and prohibitions as a basis for ensuring product safety. Because of this, Health Canada has remained focused on particular products or product classes that are reviewed through a targeted sampling and testing program. New regulations continue to be developed to address risks as they emerge.

The regulatory process is a lengthy one. It leaves us with few tools to quickly address serious product safety issues as they emerge. My department has not had the tools to act quickly to prevent product-related incidents. In Canada, we have a post-market consumer product safety regime, which means that we do not certify new products coming into the market. A post-market regime makes sense for consumer products and helps ensure a free flow of goods but it demands a modern legislative framework.

Where we have regulations in place, products must meet the requirements they describe, but there are thousands of products that are not regulated. We do not have the mandatory incident reporting in Canada. There is currently no obligation for industry to report product-related problems. We have no authority at this time to require testing or that test results be provided to ensure compliance with our legislation. When we do identify a serious risk with a product, we do not have the powers of mandatory recall.

While it is true that we have a very co-operative industry in Canada, an industry that strives to be compliant, the fact that we cannot rely on mandatory powers of recall frequently requires us to undertake lengthy negotiations for volunteer recall, even if the severity of the situation demands swift action.

My colleagues in this chamber know that this legislation is close to my heart. I have travelled throughout Canada to discuss product safety with parents and stakeholders. I have travelled internationally to promote our work on product safety with foreign jurisdictions. I am a member of a government that recognizes the need to increase funding for product safety and put our money where our mouth is with the food and consumer product safety action plan.

Through the food and consumer safety action plan, we are doubling the number of inspectors throughout Canada. We are increasing our funding for outreach to ensure that industry understands its obligations and that consumers have the information they need to make good product choices.

We are also building an efficient system to support the requirements in this legislation for mandatory reporting of serious product-related incidents and we are increasing our work in the development of standards. Standards will be an important tool in the future for ensuring product safety and for helping industry to address risk.

These tools are putting us on a strong footing for a system built on active prevention, targeted oversight and rapid response. They will support the hard work that has already been done by Health Canada in the areas of product safety and bring us up to date, not only with what is required in the modern global marketplace, but also with the product safety regimes of our major trading partners. This legislation is an important part of that plan.

What would this legislation help to achieve? The proposed act focuses on three areas: active prevention, targeted oversight, and rapid response.

I will first speak to the active prevention. The proposed consumer products safety act would introduce a general prohibition against the manufacture, importation, advertisement or sale of consumer products that pose an unreasonable danger to human health or safety. The new legislation would allow Health Canada to address consumer products in Canada that pose an unreasonable danger to the health or safety of the public.

When I appeared before the Standing Committee on Health, we discussed the emerging problem of cadmium in children's jewellery and examples of how the general prohibitions might be used right now if they were in place. Health Canada has worked hard to address product safety in Canada. The work that has been done to help ensure that children's products are safe is one of the best examples of this.

As many of my colleagues in the House know, Health Canada currently has some of the strictest limits in the world on the use of lead in children's products. It is a toxic if ingested. My department regularly enforces these lead limits, and officials are also on alert for the presence of other heavy metals in children's products. That is how we discovered the presence of cadmium in children's jewellery.

Cadmium is also toxic. Because it is cheap material, it is being used to make children's jewellery. If we could be certain that these items were only going to be worn by young people there might not be a problem. However, as many of us know from our own children, it can be a challenge to keep items out of their mouth. When swallowed, cadmium can cause a range of ill health effects.

Because there are currently no regulated limits on the use of cadmium in children's jewellery, the department has exercised the limits of its authority under the Hazardous Products Act by releasing advisories to alert parents about these items and by asking the industry for a voluntary ban on its use.

It is worthwhile to consider how we might be managing this emerging problem with cadmium if the Canada consumer product safety act were in place. The knowledge that under certain circumstances cadmium causes an unreasonable danger would provide us with the basis to use the general prohibition that is included in this legislation. Our inspectors could be working right now to remove unsafe cadmium-filled children's jewellery from stores. The department would not necessarily have to wait up to two years for the development of regulations in order to have the ability to act. We could be issuing recalls for these products if we found that industry was not willing to act swiftly on a voluntary basis. The general prohibition is an important provision for helping to prevent consumer product incidents before they occur.

In terms of active prevention, another important provision in this legislation is the updated fines. Compliance and enforcement would be strengthened through maximum fines of up to $5 million for some of the worst offences or more for offences committed knowingly or recklessly.

The current fines under the Hazardous Products Act could easily be perceived as simply a cost of doing business. The new maximum fines are a step up from the current maximum penalty of $1 million. They will be an important deterrent and they will bring us into step with other major trading partners.

What about targeted oversight? Targeted oversight is especially important in the context of products where the risk may not yet be fully understood or that pose the greatest potential hazard to the public.

The proposed act would give the minister of health the authority to order a manufacturer or importer to conduct safety tests and to submit results to the ministry in order to verify compliance with the act. It would also require suppliers to notify Health Canada of defects and of serious product-related incidents. These would include near miss incidents where injury has been averted.

Let us consider cribs. At the moment, as many colleagues know, my officials are consulting on whether we should ban traditional drop-side cribs in this country. We have developed this proposal and we are talking to Canadians about it because we know from mandatory reporting in the United States that these cribs can cause safety risks.

Our colleagues in the United States have been very generous with information they gather through their mandatory reporting. They have worked co-operatively with us on recalls and they assisted us in determining whether problematic products have been sold in Canada. We work with them on a daily basis.

We look forward to having access to our own incident data generated as a result of the provisions for mandatory reporting. This is a provision that will be critical for us as we transition to product safety programs built on the strategic intelligence it generates.

The proposed legislation also includes measures to allow for a rapid response to problems once they are identified. We must not forget that we always hope to avoid problems and prevent injuries related to consumer products, and that is why we are investing in active prevention and targeted oversight. However, we have a post-market regime for consumer products in Canada and we have almost as many entry points for products into this country as we have products. They are coming to Canada from around the world.

Under the proposed new act, Health Canada would be able to move quickly and decisively when a problem occurs. This would be done through the ability to order recalls of unsafe consumer products and by requiring suppliers to maintain accurate records to enable quick tracking of products.

Health Canada will work closely with industry to ensure this legislation is understood and properly implemented. Workshops and other information-sharing opportunities will be used to promote awareness of the new provisions and requirements.

Through Bill C-36, our government is demonstrating its commitment to consumer product safety. We are demonstrating our desire to meet Canadians' expectations by proposing action Canadians want and need.

The bill before us today reflects a cumulative wisdom of both Houses of Parliament and extensive long-term consultation on the part of Health Canada. When it came before this House previously as Bill C-6, the standing committee heard from government witnesses and from 33 other witnesses representing over 24 organizations. In total, five separate sessions were devoted to review and discuss former Bill C-6, two of which were extended. In those sessions, all voices were heard and all opinions were closely considered. The results of the committee's hard work was an amended bill that reflected the underlying policy intent of the bill, as well as other key aspects of concern to some witnesses.

Our government's amendments included delivering on a commitment to make it crystal clear that natural health products would not be regulated by this act. The opposition amendments address two key areas: consultation and information-sharing. When the government reintroduced the bill, the Canada Consumer Product Safety Act, in June of this year, it retained those amendments.

In its previous form as Bill C-6, Canada Consumer Product Safety Act, it was subject to considerable scrutiny in other places. Our colleagues were concerned that perhaps the legislation provided too broad a scope for inspector powers. Before we reintroduced this legislation last June, we worked hard to analyze those concerns.

Of the six changes incorporated into Bill C-36 before its reintroduction in June, three spoke to concerns about the perceived scope of inspector powers and four spoke to concerns raised by opposition senators. We removed the words “and they are not liable for doing so” from the provisions that allow inspectors to pass over private property. We defined storage so that it would be clear that it would not apply to goods stored by individuals for personal use.

In Bill C-36, the minister is now made expressly accountable for the authority for recalls and other orders. And, in responding to concerns about the review of orders, the bill now sets out a 30-day review period.

The government also adjusted the legislation to improve the wording in the bill, “provisions for an advisory body”, in order to clarify what is meant by public advice. Last, the government added the prohibition on BPA and baby bottles.

We heard from colleagues in the upper chamber that these changes largely address their concerns, but after the legislation was introduced in June, they remained concerned that some of the technical amendments they had made to the bill, when it was before them as Bill C-6, had not been incorporated into Bill C-36.

We want this legislation to pass, and so we have again worked hard to address these concerns. That is why the government introduced four amendments at clause-by-clause consideration of Bill C-36.

Some colleagues have asked that the requirements of the Privacy Act be made explicit in this legislation. We have done this with the amendment to clause 15.

We have also incorporated a series of technical amendments to address and distinguish the two Houses of Parliament. Some of these amendments address the unique nature of each place and the fact that their committees are structured differently. We have amended clause 38 to address those concerns.

We have also amended clause 39 to ensure that a timely rationale is provided in cases where certain regulations are made without being laid before Parliament.

We have amended clause 60 to address the concerns raised in the other place that clause 60 lacked clarity about the role of the minister in reviewing a notice of violation. This change required a further technical amendment to subclause 56(1).

Given these changes and the committee's previous close scrutiny of this legislation, I am pleased to see the bill reported back to this House with only a small number of amendments.

It is my sincere hope that this House will pass Bill C-36, and that it will reflect the efforts many people have made to address all the concerns. As I stand at third reading today, I feel optimistic that we will soon have dramatically improved consumer product safety in this country.

As I speak today, I remain hopeful that this House, in its wisdom, will pass this legislation. I am hopeful that this legislation will rapidly become law. It is my wish that this bill be afforded a smooth passage.

I would like to address one last issue pertaining to this legislation. It is critically important to make the distinction, as this legislation does, between administrative proceedings and proceedings in the criminal courts. Under the administrative monetary penalty system, a person or supplier that has been found to be out of compliance with the act or regulations could be issued an order to take an appropriate corrective measure. If that person or supplier does not take the appropriate action, he or she may be subject to a notice of violation. If a notice is issued, the person or supplier will be subject to the monetary penalties under the administrative monetary penalty system.

This system encourages compliance and addresses non-compliance with orders for recall and other corrective measures. These measures can be an effective tool for gaining cooperation from regulated industry. Violations can result in an administrative process that is more responsive and less expensive than prosecution in the criminal courts. A criminal record would not result from a violation.

I will be watching the progress of this bill closely. I will continue to meet with parents and stakeholders to talk about the importance of having a consumer product safety regime. I set high standards on officials to develop effective, efficient, reliable systems to support the new provisions in the bill.

As I wrap up my remarks, I would like to pause to consider the hard work that has gone into this legislation and into getting it to this point in the legislative process. The parliamentary secretary, the hon. member for Oshawa, has worked tirelessly to support the goal of passing the Canada Consumer Product Safety Act. To him I extend my thanks.

I would also like to thank the members of the Standing Committee on Health for their hard work on this bill. Every member of the Standing Committee on Health voiced support for this legislation, and demonstrated this support by making the bill a priority and focusing on its swift passage.

I therefore want to thank my colleagues on the committee for their support, collaborative approach, and shared concern for the safety of consumer products in Canada. I also want to thank all the Canadians and stakeholders I have met who share my desire for new product safety legislation and the many benefits it will bring. I look forward to their ongoing support for bringing this bill through the full legislative process to full implementation.

To conclude, I want to stress that Canada's current consumer product legislation is 40 years old. We have fallen behind other jurisdictions. An update is overdue and the bill before us today benefits from a wide diversity of experts' views.

Canadians can be assured that the government—

Canada Consumer Product Safety Act
Government Orders

10:20 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Order, please. I am reluctant to interrupt the minister, but the time allotted for her remarks has expired.

Questions and comments, the hon. member for Verchères—Les Patriotes.

Canada Consumer Product Safety Act
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

Bloc

Luc Malo Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

Mr. Speaker, I could start by teasing the minister and saying that the two previous incarnations of this bill never made it through, one because the Prime Minister decided to trigger an election, and the other because he decided to prorogue the House. But I will not do that, because we are finally at the point of getting this bill past third reading in the House, once again.

I would like to come back to clause 37, which deals with regulations. This is an important clause that gives rather extensive discretionary powers to the minister.

How will the minister use these discretionary powers, and does she plan on determining whether or not a product is dangerous? What criteria will she set for recalling one item rather than another? How will she decide not to recall a product for some reason? I would like the minister herself to provide more clarification on these points.

Canada Consumer Product Safety Act
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

Leona Aglukkaq Nunavut, NU

Mr. Speaker, on the first point the member raised, there was plenty of opportunity to pass this legislation in December, before prorogation.

On the question related to the section that he identified, as I stated in committee, the decision to carry out mandatory recalls of a product would have to be evidence-based. It would have to be based on reported incidents. Through this legislation, with mandatory reporting, we would be able to respond quickly and investigate whether a product is safe or not in the market.

So, recalls would have to be evidence-based. They would have to be based on investigations by inspectors and on consultation with the industry. When a mandatory recall is decided upon, a recommendation would be made to the minister, at which time the minister would use the legislative provision covering mandatory recalls, which we do not currently have.

Canada Consumer Product Safety Act
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett St. Paul's, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the minister, seeing that this bill was of such huge priority, why did the government prorogue Parliament last December after the minister had said that without this bill people would die, and why did the minister fail to reintroduce the bill until June of this year?

Canada Consumer Product Safety Act
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

Leona Aglukkaq Nunavut, NU

Mr. Speaker, we are looking at modernizing a 40-year-old piece of legislation, which is now before the House for the third time.

As I stated before, there was plenty of opportunity for the Liberal senators to pass this legislation before prorogation last year. The amendments opposed in the Senate at that stage, in my view, compromised the intent of the legislation. When we re-introduced the legislation in June, we were able to address some of their other concerns as well.

As the member knows very well, we have been dealing with a global economic downturn, and we have been focusing on trying to address it. It is equally important to respond to the global economic situation.

We introduced legislation in June. I am asking the member for her support in passing this legislation, so that we can have consumer product legislation that would protect the health and safety of Canadians.

On a final note, in response to her shot with regard to injuries, injuries have occurred. There were incidents in Canada where children died in an unsafe crib. There has been an incident where a child lost a finger. These are real incidents that have occurred in Canada. That is why it is so important to update our 40-year-old legislation so that Canada will be at the same level as other trading countries such as the United States.

Canada Consumer Product Safety Act
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia
Manitoba

Conservative

Steven Fletcher Minister of State (Democratic Reform)

Mr. Speaker, the bill is obviously important to parents and people who are concerned about the quality of products on the shelves.

I wonder if the minister could comment again, emphasizing how this bill will benefit families and empower government to deal with products on the shelves that are deemed unsafe.

Canada Consumer Product Safety Act
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

Leona Aglukkaq Nunavut, NU

Mr. Speaker, the legislation that we have right now is 40 years old.

We are not able to get a good sense of what products in Canada have caused harm, because we do not have mandatory reporting of incidents by industry or by consumers.

This legislation would allow us to create a mechanism for receiving information to monitor what is occurring in our own jurisdiction. This mechanism would give us the information necessary to investigate possible incidents to determine whether a product is safe or not.

If it is determined that a product is unsafe, we would work with industry to remove that unsafe product from the market. As it is right now, industry lacks a mechanism for co-operating with us and we do not have the mandatory provisions required to remove unsafe products from the market.

Cadmium is an example that we recently dealt with. At present, all we can do is tell Canadians that cadmium is in the market. I think as parents and consumers we often make the assumption that the products on our shelves are safe. For me as a parent, it was really an eye-opener to find out that this is not always the case.

This legislation would modernize us. It would give us the ability to respond quickly, remove products from the market, and monitor incidents in Canada. I believe it is also in industry's interest to ensure that their products are safe. They will be able to do safety testing and will be allowed to share that information with us to determine what products are safe.

Once this bill is adopted, our legislation is going to be much improved.

Canada Consumer Product Safety Act
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, members in this House, over the summer and even before, received a lot of communication about this bill. I think there is a lot of misinformation out there.

I would like to ask the minister if she could answer the question about whether or not natural health products are regulated under this new Canada Consumer Product Safety Act.

There is also misinformation about the ability to issue warrants. I would like to ask the minister if it is true that for the first time in Canadian history the proposed Canada Consumer Product Safety Act would allow warrants to be issued to search private homes without evidence of criminal wrongdoing.

Canada Consumer Product Safety Act
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

Leona Aglukkaq Nunavut, NU

Mr. Speaker, on the first question, because of concerns that were raised by the natural health products community, there is now a clause explaining that this legislation does not apply to natural health products.

The previous legislation raised some concerns about going into people's homes for personal storage. We have clarified that in this legislation: storage of personal items is not subject to this legislation. To be perfectly clear, we cannot go into a home without a warrant. People need to understand that the law still applies. It has to be based on evidence and in working with individuals to deal with unsafe products.

I want to reassure members that all the issues raised in the previous bills have been clarified in this legislation.

Canada Consumer Product Safety Act
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett St. Paul's, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am here today in support of C-36, An Act respecting the safety of consumer products.

It is an honour for me to speak on behalf of my party, since the government has finally listened to the questions raised by the stakeholders and by parliamentarians and has created a bill that will protect Canadian consumers without causing harm to Canadian companies.

The point I want to focus on today is that, by taking a quick look at the evolution of Bill C-36, Bill C-6 and others, we can see that in some cases the government said one thing and did another. I wanted to point out some of the flaws we encountered in the development of this bill. The Minister of Health was publicly outraged at the end of last year, and assumed that this bill, then called C-6, would held up by the Senate. I completely disagree with that claim, since I think that many of the suggestions made by the Senate to amend Bill C-6 were incorporated into Bill C-36. That seems a bit odd to me.

As Liberals, we recognize the value of the Senate, which acts as a chamber of sober second thought. We appreciate the Senate's analysis of this bill.

I too recognize that the senators' due diligence identified some problems with the legislation that we in the House of Commons had missed. Again, I believe it is important for the government to recognize that indeed in this second, Bill C-36, they have incorporated virtually all of the problems that were identified in the Senate and that we will perceive.

It is very rare that one is provided, as a member of Parliament, exactly the discourse, the content that one wants to be able to deliver, and it is on that basis that I am pleased to read to the House today the letter sent to the hon. minister on October 6, 2010, by our leader in the Senate, Senator Jim Cowan:

Dear Minister [of Health]:

I am writing concerning several comments that you made on Thursday, September 30, during an interview with Evan Solomon on the CBC Newsworld program, Power & Politics.

That interview concerned the cross-border recall of more than 10 million Fisher-Price toys. Mr. Solomon asked why your Government has not moved faster with legislation to protect Canadians. You replied:

“As it is right now, we don't have the right tools to do massive recalls of this nature, which is what we've been saying for the last year, two years, that we need the tools to respond.... This has been an issue for us in terms of recalls of cribs even last year. That was held up at the Senate. And so in this -- in this sitting I am working with the House Leader to move this legislation forward.”

I was surprised to hear you blame the Senate for your Government's slow action to protect Canadians, and especially Canadian children, from dangerous consumer products.

In fact, Bill C-6, the Canada Consumer Product Safety Act, was not “held up” at the Senate. It was studied in each of the House of Commons and the Senate for almost exactly the same amount of time: six months. It was amended and received third reading in the Senate on December 15, 2009. There has been ample time between December 15 and today for those amendments to have been dealt with and the legislation brought into force. However, on December 30, 2009, [the] Prime Minister...chose to prorogue Parliament, killing the bill.

Bill C-6 was highly controversial legislation. As you are well aware, a number of Canadians were deeply concerned about certain provisions contained in the bill as passed by the House of Commons. They considered that the bill went too far, for example in granting relatively low-level government officials the power to enter any private home where a consumer product is “stored”...in order to “verify compliance” with the Act or regulations--which could include verifying compliance with labelling requirements. There was concern that the bill allowed inspectors to enter or pass over private property without any liability for damage they negligently caused.

These provisions seem particularly strange in view of your Government's recent position on the supposedly intrusive nature of the mandatory long-form census. I suspect most Canadians would consider an inspector demanding the right to enter their home more intrusive than completing a census form.

The Senate did its constitutionally mandated job. We closely scrutinized the provisions of the bill, listened to the views of those experts and other interested Canadians who took the time to come before our Committee to testify about the bill, and considered various amendments to address the concerns and improve the bill. In the end, the Senate voted to pass the bill with several amendments.

The amendments were serious, honest efforts to make the bill the best it could be for Canadians. Under our parliamentary system, the bill was returned to the House of Commons with a message about our amendments. We fully expected the House to consider our amendments on their merits, and then accept or reject them, in whole or in part.

It was well within the Government's power to recall the House of Commons for this--in the past, these kinds of messages have even been addressed in one day. The bill could have been passed by both Houses and brought into force well before Christmas.

The imminent holiday season was an issue you yourself had raised. When the bill was still before the Senate, you told Canadians in a press conference--

This is a letter I am reading. It is not you, Mr. Speaker.

--that the bill was needed before Christmas if Canadian children were to be protected against potentially dangerous toys. You said, “Canadian mothers and parents should be worried. They should be worried that this legislation is not there to protect them.” Yet your Government did not recall the House of Commons to consider the Senate’s amendments before Christmas. As a result, nothing further happened, and Canadians remained without the added protections of the bill.

As we all know, [the Prime Minister] chose to prorogue Parliament on December 30, 2009, causing this bill--along with many others--to die on the Order Paper. Evidently the Prime Minister did not see the need to protect Canadian children as the priority issue that you had expressed in your press conferences.

I was then completely surprised when you failed to move promptly upon Parliament’s return to reintroduce any bill to address this serious issue. Indeed, you waited until June 9, 2010 even to table new Bill C-36 in Parliament--and that is where this matter has sat, at first reading. To date, you have not even brought the bill forward for debate.

This is, again, a letter dated October 6.

As a result of these actions by your Government, it has now been almost ten months since the Senate passed Bill C-6, and the bill remains at first reading in the House of Commons. Let us be clear and honest: your Government’s inaction has delayed the bill longer than the study in either the House of Commons or the Senate. Yet you continue to tell Canadians that it is the Senate that held up this legislation.

Such false assertions are surely beneath the dignity of your high office.

That would be the Minister of Health.

The letter goes on:

Once again your Government has sought to avoid responsibility for its actions--in this case, the serious failure to position the Government to be able to protect Canadians from threats to the safety of Canadian children.

In the interview with Evan Solomon, you even tried to avoid responsibility for your department’s failure to adequately inform Canadians about the recalled toys. Mr. Solomon told you of the problems he encountered when trying to find the necessary information on the Health Canada website. He contrasted the United States Government’s website, which listed the recall as breaking news in a banner headline. He asked you why, when you know about recalls of consumer products like the children’s toys, your Government does not get the information right out to consumers. You replied:

“We have an outdated legislation. We have difficulty getting the information to investigate when incidents do happen. But, you know, we're hoping with the passing of this legislation that we'll be able to make--implement the new legislation to make the necessary improvements to protect the health and safety of Canadians.”

In fact, the poor quality of information alerts on the Health Canada website relating to this recall had nothing to do with Bill C-36. Indeed, when my office checked the website on Monday, several days after the Solomon interview, the website had been changed. The recall notice was now prominently displayed on a banner headline, on the home page, with ready access provided to more information. Legislatively, nothing had changed since your interview; the outdated legislation proved no constraint on more effective use of the Internet. Why, then, did you tell Canadians that the fault lay with the outdated legislation (whose timely amendment had been “held up” by the Senate)?

I should perhaps not be surprised. In a press conference on December 3, 2009, you said that under the amendments that had been passed by the Senate Committee that studied the bill, “a child, a baby has to die before we can do a recall”. Minister, this too was a false statement. No amendment passed by the Senate Committee required any Canadian – baby or adult – to die before there could be a recall. I suspect that this was little more than fear-mongering, designed solely to pressure the Senate. Yet you were prepared to strike fear in the hearts of Canadians with a false allegation of this magnitude. As a Parliamentarian and as a parent, I must tell you that I was shocked by what I consider to be a flagrantly inappropriate use of your office.

As Minister of Health, you have a heavy burden of responsibility. Canadians have entrusted you with powers and duties to safeguard their health and safety. Partisan politics and gamesmanship have no place when speaking to Canadians about potential threats to their infants and children.

I noted with interest that your new bill, Bill C-36, in fact incorporates several of the changes that were the subject of Senate amendments in December. I was happy to see that despite your voracious attacks on our amendments, upon reflection you agreed that the concerns we raised indeed had merit, and changed your bill accordingly.

However, I was surprised that your new bill did not incorporate any of the so-called “technical” amendments to the bill that were passed by the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology. These amendments corrected a number of errors that Committee members found in the bill.

For example, the bill contained a number of provisions that required the Minister to table documents in both the House of Commons and the Senate. This is a technical impossibility, as no Minister is simultaneously a member of both Houses. The Senate Committee corrected this mistake. To my surprise, your new bill, Bill C-36, contains the same error. I assume that amendments will be required once again to correct this mistake which unfortunately will no doubt further delay the legislation.

Canadians need a new Consumer Product Safety Act. This legislation has been in preparation for a number years, beginning under the Liberal government. This should not be a partisan issue, but rather, a matter of parliamentarians of all political parties and both Houses working together constructively to ensure the best law for Canadians. This is the best of our Canadian parliamentary tradition. We in the Senate sought to do our part, working to improve your proposed legislation for the benefit of all Canadians. Evidently you agreed with some of the flaws we discovered, and your latest bill incorporates changes to address them.

I look forward to your correcting the record, and finally accepting responsibility, as a senior Cabinet Minister in the [Conservative] Government, for your actions. The real reason Canadians still have outdated legislation on consumer product safety is not because your government's bill was “held up” by the Senate. Rather, it is because your Government has failed to place the necessary priority on this bill.

I hope that with the recent massive recall of children's toys, your Government will realize the importance of this issue and bring C-36 forward for second reading debate and scrutiny. If amendments are proposed, whether in the House of Commons or the Senate, I hope you will now consider them seriously and on their merits. The best interests of Canadian children is the goal we all share. The health and safety of Canadian children is surely too important to use as a pawn in a political chess game.

Since the minister has received this letter, we now have this urgent debate to bring this forward.

I thank Senator Cowan for his extraordinarily important letter, which I have now read into record of the House of Commons. As the critic for democratic renewal, the Conservative government's ongoing reluctance and contempt for any proper consultation on any bill and its continued track record of a so-called consultation being an information session with one-way information going out to people who can take it or leave it has again delayed much needed legislation.

We need the government to understand that consultation can prevent all of these problems and that means not writing people off as contempt for special interest groups. Civil society has huge expertise in these matters and it would be very much more efficacious to go and talk to those people before the Conservatives present such shoddy legislation.

The other embarrassing piece of information is that, although the government said this bill was a useful part of its product safety strategy, it took the government six months to reinstate the bill after prorogation. Once again, it appears that the process the government described does not make sense. The other thing that seems strange to me is the fact that this bill would make an unprecedented change to the state's powers over citizens.

This bill would authorize searches of private property with no prior evidence of criminal wrongdoing and includes the power to seize property without a court ruling. This measure could only come from a government that ignored virtually all stakeholder recommendations and repeatedly opposed the long form census, claiming that it wanted to protect individual privacy.

The government's refusal to use the long form census is all the more embarrassing given some of the provisions in this bill. Liberals believe that the existing legislation to protect Canadians from dangerous imported goods is no longer appropriate. I am pleased to note that the Minister of Health finally has the power to unilaterally recall products that pose a risk to Canadians' health and safety.

Yet again, it is so sad that the government continues to campaign instead of govern. This week it has come to our attention that yet another huge hole in the protection of Canadians has been left totally not dealt with by the government.

That being said, all Liberals believe that we must ask the Conservative government to do extraordinary things and close the loopholes in the system. This week, our thoughts are with Olivia Pratten and her mother, Shirley, who are fighting to end sperm donor anonymity and prevent the destruction of records.

Since 2004, Assisted Human Reproduction Canada, an organization whose mandate is to apply regulations that do not even exist, has been in control.

Section 2 of the act has principles that are hugely important in terms of the health and well-being of children born as a result of AHR technologies, ensuring that the women who are significantly affected by these technologies have free and informed consent.

It is absolutely unacceptable that the government continues to leave these huge holes in the protection of the health and safety of Canadians and their children, particularly women. It is inexcusable that the government has wasted huge amounts of money on the reproductive technology agency in Vancouver, which has no law, no regulations to enforce, and that women are left completely unprotected because the government refuses to govern. It refuses to deal with the tough issues and hides behind a Supreme Court appeal for one tiny part of the law, one tiny part of the protection of Canadian women and their children. It has refused to act.

The federal government's excuse in response to the Province of Quebec and the Supreme Court is ridiculous. It cited only a tiny part of the regulations. In fact, the government did not review the bill within three years, as required. The Conservative government must acknowledge that, even though an issue may be controversial, that is no excuse for failing to act.

Today, we will finally get work on consumer protection with the all party agreement on Bill C-36. However, we now call upon the government to act on so many other issues, where it wraps itself in a constitutional cocoon, pretends that the health and safety of Canadians is not its issue and sits and does nothing, while Canadians, particularly women and children, are left without protection.

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10:55 a.m.

Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia
Manitoba

Conservative

Steven Fletcher Minister of State (Democratic Reform)

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the member's comments and I am reflecting upon the 13 long years of the Liberal government, when it cut moneys to the health care programs to the provinces.

The member referred to our current health minister. Let me just clarify the record. This government has done extraordinarily positive things for the health of the country. I reflect upon the hepatitis C compensation. The previous Liberal government, in which the member was a minister, denied hepatitis C victims compensation for years. Our government, within six months of forming office, found the moneys and moved forward. That demonstrates how this government is compassionate and caring and does things in a timely manner.

The member opposite has raised a lot of issues that are really of a partisan nature. What we should focus on is moving forward with this legislation to ensure the safety of Canadians.

The health minister mentioned that it had been 40 years since this legislation was adopted. Our government has been in office for 5 years. We had 13 long years of a Liberal government, and she was a member of that government. If the legislation is so essential, why does she not vote for it now and reflect upon why, during 13 long years, the Liberal government did nothing on this issue?

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10:55 a.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett St. Paul's, ON

Mr. Speaker, the day I was sworn in as minister of state for public health, we immediately went to work with the minister of justice, the member for Mount Royal, and the minister of health. We began the negotiations on the amendment from the member for Mount Royal on the hepatitis C compensation.

The Conservative government had the good fortune to sign what had been negotiated by the Liberal government. All the work had been done, and the Conservatives should be very grateful that we handed it over to them.

The same can be said for the credit the minister takes for the 6% rise in transfer payments every year. That was negotiated by Paul Martin, as the prime minister, in 2004. That is now signed by all the provinces and territories. Therefore, every day in the House the minister rises to take credit for what was done by a previous Liberal government.

The Prime Minister has said that nothing was done on home care. In that 2004 accord, there was an agreement on home care, which, again, was put in place by the Liberal government. The Conservative government has chosen to abdicate from the terms of that 2004 accord.

From health human resources to home care to not even appointing a federal co-chair for the national pharmaceutical strategy, the Conservative government has completely abdicated all roles on health and health care. In spite of being the fifth biggest provider of health care, aboriginals, military, veterans, corrections, the RCMP and members of the public service have some of the worst health care in the country, yet the government refuses to act on any of them.

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10:55 a.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for her very calm approach to this subject. I totally agree with her—

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10:55 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I am sorry, but I am going to ask that the hon. member not proceed. I think it is time we moved on to statements by members, but there will be five and one-half minutes remaining for questions and comments when we resume debate. If we go on now, I can tell that we will go well past 11 o'clock. Tempting as it is to hear the hon. member at the moment, we will put this off until later this day.

We will now proceed with statements by members. The hon. member for Macleod will lead off in this today.