House of Commons Hansard #79 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was tax.

Topics

Canada Consumer Product Safety Act
Oral Questions

October 7th, 2010 / 3:10 p.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 second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to start debate on this timely piece of legislation.

Almost every day my department has asked companies to recall unsafe products. Sometimes it takes days and even weeks. Sadly, we have fallen behind most of the modern world with the current legislation.

Bill C-36, the Canada consumer product safety act, would replace the 40-year-old, outdated legislation that puts us way behind our trading partners and other countries.

By modernizing our consumer product safety law, we are seeking to better protect the public by addressing and preventing dangers to human health or safety posed by substandard or faulty consumer products.

As my fellow members are well aware, the marketplace of 40 years ago was far different from the one we know today. Forty years ago the vast majority of products on our store shelves were likely manufactured by a few companies and were much easier to monitor. Supply chains were short and simple, and the tools available to regulators were appropriate for that time. In today's global economy, there are thousands of companies and millions of products. Supply chains are long, complicated and cross multiple borders.

Right now, part I of the Hazardous Products Act is used to regulate consumer products. Any consumer product that is not specifically prohibited or regulated can be sold according to this act.

This dated legislation lacks the necessary tools to address today's challenges, and does not permit us to be on the same footing with our trading partners. It does not allow government to respond rapidly to unregulated products or hazards, and it does not provide the ability for government to recall unsafe products when a company is not co-operating with us or is slow in doing so.

We recognize the limits of our current legislation because in recent years we have seen an increasing number of dangerous consumer products. We have listened to the concerns of consumers and parents alike. Take for example the drop-side cribs, something on which my department is consulting with the industry right now.

Over the past several months I have spoken to many parents, stakeholders and industry representatives, and I have met with my colleagues from foreign governments. We have talked about our shared concerns for the safety of children's products. We have talked about the need to respond quickly to emerging dangers from consumer products. We have discussed our shared goal of building an improved product safety regime that is targeted, efficient and effective. We have worked on improving our international partnerships.

That is why we tabled the Canada consumer product safety act, to help keep Canadians safe from dangerous consumer products. The safety and security of Canadian families is a priority for us.

The proposed act would modernize and strengthen Canada's product safety legislation. It would put Canada in step with modern times. It would also bring us into step with our major trading partners like the United States and the European Union.

I think my fellow members will agree that all Canadians deserve to benefit from a level of protection comparable to that of our American and European neighbours, and this is exactly what the Canada consumer product safety act seeks to provide.

It would give the government more effective tools to identify risks and act quickly to remove unsafe consumer products from store shelves. It would introduce a general prohibition against the manufacture, importation, advertisement or sale of any consumer products that pose an unreasonable danger to human health or safety. It would require companies to report all serious incidents and defects that could lead to injury or death, including near misses.

This would provide our government with the intelligence needed to assess and take action on identified risks more quickly, more strategically and more comprehensively.

Bill C-36 would give authority for the government to order mandatory recalls.

As things stand now, upon determining that a consumer product is unsafe, and I am talking about household items such as toys and cribs, we are limited in what actions we can take. While the United States and the European Union can act fast to recall such products on their own, in Canada, we are generally limited to negotiating and gaining co-operation from companies before products are pulled from store shelves on a voluntary basis.

In many cases, companies agree to a voluntary approach. Often after further testing their products, they are proactive and inform their consumers of the details. In other cases, they are informed of incidents related to their products and offer to recall the items on their own, but in cases where they do not, we are often very limited to issuing warnings and advisories to the public to alert them of the problem.

I find it completely unacceptable that companies are allowed to get away with this, and Canadians deserve better. Under the proposed Canada consumer product safety act, the government would be able to order mandatory recalls when companies fail to co-operate. Reputable producers rightly and realistically see themselves as accountable for the safety of their products. They are conscientious and rightfully aim to safeguard their reputations. We expect they would continue to act quickly and voluntarily when a safety problem is identified with their products. This legislation seeks to make all producers accountable for the safety of their products by providing the government with the necessary tools to quickly remedy safety problems.

Compliance with the legislation would be strengthened through maximum fines of up to $5 million for serious offences, or more for offences committed knowingly or recklessly. That is a big step up from the current maximum penalty of $1 million. These fines would no longer be the cost of doing business.

In the months since the bill was last before my fellow members, we have had the opportunity to reflect upon the input we have received both in parliamentary hearings and directly from stakeholders. As a result, targeted improvements have been made to the proposed legislation. I would like to stress that these changes, while important, do not compromise the spirit of the bill, nor do they lower the level of protection it would provide to Canadians.

The first is a change to authorities for recall and other orders. Previously, these authorities would have been assigned to inspectors. Now the ministry is expressly accountable for ordering product recalls and taking other measures.

We have also made two changes to the wording around inspector powers. For example, the meaning of the word “store” has been clarified by specifying that it does not apply to goods stored for personal use. For example, the myth that an inspector could go to someone's house and take a two-year-old's favourite toy from him is just not true. We have also removed a clause for inspectors to pass over property so that the provision no longer includes the phrase "and they are not liable for doing so".

The fourth change, having listened to the committee during previous hearings on this legislation and on others, is an improvement to the wording on the provisions for an advisory body that clarifies what was meant by public advice.

Fifth, we responded to concerns on the review of orders so that the bill now sets out a 30-day review period.

Sixth, a prohibition of bisphenol A in baby bottles has been added, ensuring an ongoing high level of protection for consumers.

There are many reasons why we are seeing this legislation for the third time in this House. Throughout the history of this important bill, there have been a few important constants. One constant has been the support of my government. We have always known how important it was to update our product safety legislation.

I sincerely thank the members of the House for their past support for this legislation. I would also like to thank our stakeholders who have worked tirelessly along with me. Our work with the public listening to the concerns about product safety and discussing their desire for a modernized safety regime underlines the importance of what we are doing with this bill. It also portrays the many ways it will benefit Canadians.

Another constant has been our commitment to continuous improvement. Essentially, before this bill is passed by the House and the Senate, we are working with the 40-year old legislation we currently have. Still, improvements have been made, and we are very proud of them.

We have prohibited BPA in baby bottles.

We are building on the excellent work already done to make cribs and cradles in Canada among the safest in the world. This includes our recent proposal to ban traditional drop-side cribs.

We continue to advance implementation of increasingly stringent and comprehensive limits on lead in various products.

We have finished the pre-consultation on an initiative to eliminate exposure to phthalates in chewable children's toys.

In addition, we continue to apply strategic compliance and enforcement approaches to our existing regulations and prohibitions. We are proposing that these regulations and prohibitions be transferred to Bill C-36 in such a way that there will be no gaps in protection, no time lags in the transfer, and no reduction in the existing level of protection that they provide.

With respect to Bill C-36 in particular, we have worked closely with stakeholders at every stage of development. When we have had opportunities to revisit the bill, we have seized them and worked to make better legislation. That is why we have made the important improvements that members see today.

That is why we have developed policy proposals for consultation and why we have invited comment since the summer, to make the best possible legislation for industry, for stakeholders, and for individual Canadians.

We are currently consulting on four elements of Bill C-36. We are also consulting on the provisions for mandatory reporting.

There is another constant that has driven our commitment to this legislation. That is the constant reminder that we need this legislation. It is the reminder that the Hazardous Products Act must be replaced by modernized authorities and that the potential hazards posed by consumer products surface daily and in ways that are increasingly difficult to predict.

My colleagues need only think of the recent Fisher-Price voluntary recall. Fisher-Price recalled more than 10 million products. I would not be surprised to learn that colleagues here in this chamber were affected by that recall, and if not the Fisher-Price recall, then perhaps it was one of the more than 245 products we have managed since the beginning of this year.

That brings us to another constant. That is our frequent dependence upon the United States for information that it receives through its system of mandatory reporting of consumer incidents. It is in part as a result of the intelligence it has gathered through that system that the Fisher-Price recall was developed. We have no such system in Canada, but this legislation would give us the authority to implement it.

We will always work closely with our neighbours to the south, and we will continue to develop and support close relations with our other major trading partners. I was pleased, for example, to be able to expand our memorandum of agreement with China when I travelled to Asia last month.

In this system of rapidly changing, globally modernized markets, such co-operation and coordination is essential. An international safety net is a smart use of resources.

But we must have the authorities that will allow us to be equal partners in these important relationships.

Bill C-36 proposes new powers requiring manufacturers and importers to provide safety test and study results for their products, for verification by Health Canada. This supports targeted oversight while keeping the accountability for safe products with industry.

If we look to the experience in the United States, where it has established similar legislation to what we are proposing today, we know that it is reasonable to expect that a voluntary approach will continue to be the preferred approach when responding to product safety incidents. In other words, we know that most industry players value their reputation.

We know and we respect the investments they have made in safety and consumer service. We want to support those in industry who put a premium on safety and are proactive to ensure their customers have the information they need to make the right product choices. But in those few cases where it falls to government to take action to protect consumers, Bill C-36 would give us the authority to do so.

I believe my colleagues will agree that we should take the same transparent and comprehensive approach to product safety whether we are dealing with a large multinational corporation or a home-based business. The issue fundamentally is one of fairness and it is also an issue of consumer expectation.

Today I have discussed many of the details of Bill C-36 and they all add up to three key elements: active prevention, targeted oversight, and rapid response. These are our goals. Canadians deserve nothing less.

This legislation offers certainty and transparency for industry. By supporting the bill, every member of the House can act to improve product safety and strengthen our ability to protect Canadians. As a mother, I can only feel comfortable knowing that our country is equipped to keep the products on our shelves safe.

I hope to count on the support of hon. members of the House for this important piece of legislation.

Canada Consumer Product Safety Act
Oral Questions

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, survey results show that the vast majority of Canadians believe that a product is safe simply because it is available on the market. Unfortunately, this is not necessarily the case as children are particularly vulnerable to product-related injuries. In fact, there are more than 18,000 annual emergency room visits for children as a result of product-related injuries.

As well, recalls on child products have significantly increased in recent years from 28 voluntary recalls in 2006 to 118 in 2008. That is a 235% increase over just three years. Just this last week, one company recalled more than 10 million tricycles, high chairs and toys over safety concerns. The trikes have a protruding key that has caused 10 reported injuries. The high chairs have seven reports of children hurt on pegs on the chairs' rear legs. The infant toys have faulty parts that pose a choking hazard.

I am pleased to rise in the House today to support Bill C-36, formerly Bill C-6, the Canada consumer product safety act, on which our health committee worked collegially for extended hours. We heard testimony from consumer product organizations, environmental defence organizations, and toy manufacturers. We struggled through challenging issues for both consumer health and well-being and for industry.

Reducing risk to human health has been a preoccupation of people, physicians and politicians for the last 5,000 years. Virtually every major advance in public health has involved the reduction or elimination of risk, with the result being that the world is a safer place today. It is safer from accidents and deadly or incurable diseases and safer from hazardous consumer goods.

Therefore, it is government's duty to do all it reasonably can to accurately assess and reduce risks, such as making sure that food, medicines and other products are safe. Although government can rarely hope to reduce risks to zero, it can aim to lower them to a more acceptable level and it should openly and transparently communicate risk and risk reduction strategies to the public.

Bill C-36 is needed as the laws on consumer safety have not been thoroughly reviewed in over 40 years, and chemicals, technology, and trade have all changed significantly.

Canadians could question why the government was slow on this bill, a bill to improve Canada's out-of-date product safety laws, given that consumer safety was to be a top priority and the bill was first introduced a few years ago. Every time there is a high-profile recall and questions arise over Health Canada's reactivity, we hear the message: if only we had our consumer product safety bill in place.

However, parents need to be confident that the products they buy will be safe for them and their children.

It is important to note that the government has been in power for four years, has tabled the bill three times, and enjoys unanimous support from opposition parties, as well as strong support of major Canadian children's organizations, consumer advocacy groups, and other key stakeholders who share the conviction that Canadians need better protection from unsafe consumer products.

The bill overhauls existing legislation that proved inadequate to deal with high-profile safety scandals in 2007 and 2008 involving lead paint in children's toys and melamine in infant formula. The new proposed Canada consumer product safety act would improve consumer product safety with actions that would include the following.

It would prohibit the manufacturing, importing, marketing, or selling of any consumer product deemed or proven unsafe to human health or safety.

It would require industries to quickly inform the government when they discover one of their products is linked to a serious incident, death, or product safety issue.

It would require manufacturers and importers to provide test or study results on products when asked.

It would empower Health Canada to recall unreasonably dangerous consumer products.

As well, it would make it an offence to package or label consumer products that make false or deceptive health or safety claims.

The proposed Canada consumer products safety act builds on Bill C-6, which the government previously introduced,and takes into account concerns raised by stakeholders and parliamentarians through specific amendments.

The amendments include the following. The term “storing” has been defined in order to clarify that Health Canada inspectors' authorities would not extend to products that individuals store for their personal use.

The original bill stated that product safety inspectors could pass through or over private property while carrying out their functions without being liable for doing so. The amendment to the trespass provision addresses concerns by removing the phrase and they are not liable for doing so.

An amendment has been made so that the Minister of Health and not a product safety inspector would be accountable for ordering product recalls and other related measures.

An amendment has also been made to further define the timeframe for the review of orders. Under the previous bill, a review officer was required to complete the review within a reasonable time. This has now been further defined to say “no later than 30 days after the day on which the request is provided to the minister”.

I think it is important to mention a concern raised by one of Canada's leading law firms this week, namely, that the proposed legislation would place a major burden on Canadian businesses and is likely to lead to a surge in class action lawsuits.

One law partner warns that, “while the proposals have the support of consumer groups and political parties, they are likely to have a dramatic impact on many players in the chain, including suppliers, importers and retailers”.

“Bill C-36 will introduce a revolutionary upheaval in product regulation in Canada”, the partner reports. “For the first 140 years of Canadian history, these things have not existed from a regulatory perspective”.

It would give Health Canada the power to order a recall or carry out a recall itself, as well as dole out penalties. These include a fine of up to $5 million, two years in prison or both for indictable offences. This is up from $1 million. It would no longer be the cost of doing business. The partner warns that this could result in more litigation, including class action lawsuits that tend to follow recalls.

Suppliers and manufacturers may need to start thinking about organizing their businesses to ensure that people responsible for dealing with safety monitoring reporting to Health Canada and offering legal advice.

The legislation is important and has backing across Canada. We are, however, once again at the early stages of the parliamentary approval process and we must hope that this does not fall by the wayside as was the case when Parliament was prorogued.

Finally, Bill C-36 would significantly improve the product safety regime in Canada which would translate into improved health and safety for Canadians. Product safety is in everyone's best interest and everyone has a role to play: Canadians, government and industry.

Canada Consumer Product Safety Act
Oral Questions

3:35 p.m.

Bloc

Luc Malo Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

Mr. Speaker, as most hon. members here know, when a government bill is introduced, the same member cannot deliver a speech more than once at each stage. Therefore, at second reading stage, like today, it would normally not be possible to speak more than once to this bill, an act respecting the safety of consumer products. In the present case, it will be possible because this is the third time this bill is being introduced by this same government. Why is this so? Because the Prime Minister said so. He decided, through various manoeuvres, to draw out the debate on this much anticipated and necessary bill.

That is why, when I read the Minister of Health's press release that was printed and distributed on June 7, 2010, I could not help but laugh. I will read an excerpt:

“The safety and well-being of Canadian families and children remain a top priority for our government,” said [the Minister of Health]. “Canada's current product safety law is now over 40 years old and we need to do more to update and improve this law to help protect our families from harmful products.”

About four years ago today, the Auditor General pointed out the problem and emphasized that we should redouble our efforts to modernize this old legislation going back 40 years. She submitted a report in November 2006 that showed the Government of Canada was aware of the risks that consumers were running as a result of the lack of funding for the product safety program and knew that managers could not comply with their mandates. That was in November 2006. So what happened after that? Let me summarize the period of time since November 2006.

In the summer of 2007, thousands of toys made in China were recalled by their manufacturers because of the lead they contained. The Bloc Québécois said at the time that the minister should act without delay to tighten the safety requirements for dangerous products in order to prohibit the manufacture, promotion and marketing of any product entailing an unacceptable risk of harmful effects to health.

Although the Auditor General made her determination in November 2006, it was not until December 2007 that the government announced—not that a bill was being introduced—but that an action plan had been created to ensure the safety of food and consumer products. The government promised a bill in the days or weeks or months to come. It finally appeared in April 2008. A year and a half had passed, therefore, between the Auditor General’s findings and Bill C-52.

You know something about this, Mr. Speaker, because you were affected like all of us. The bill was prevented from continuing through all the stages of the legislative process and becoming much-needed legislation because in September 2008—despite the fine fixed-date election bill the Prime Minister had decided to introduce and get passed—he decided, because he was the Prime Minister and could use his prerogative, to call a general election and slam the doors on Parliament. Never mind the very necessary and important bills that are pending, let us have an election. That was in September 2008. So the process for passing this bill on the safety of consumer products was dragged out even longer.

In January 2009, once the election campaign and the Christmas holidays were over, C-6, essentially a carbon copy of Bill C-52, was introduced.

The only thing that happened at the end of January was that the bill was introduced. Actual debate began only in April 2009. Once again, there were delays. I can tell you that the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health was not where the process was dragged out, because in five meetings we were able to hear all the people involved and all the people with an interest in the issue. Amendments were presented and we managed to find common ground among all the parliamentarians on the committee. However, we did not make it to the end of the legislative process for the bill, because in December 2009, Parliament was prorogued. The Prime Minister, again because he is the Prime Minister and he has the power to do it, decided to shut down Parliament, to leave us in our constituencies and not to allow the House of Commons to complete the entire legislative process then underway, and in particular the process of passing the consumer products safety bill, a bill that, I repeat, is necessary and one that people are waiting for.

In March 2010, Parliament returned. But did the government introduce the bill? No, it waited a few months. In June 2010, Bill C-36 was introduced, the one we have before us and that we will be debating today and in the days that follow. And since June, have we been debating this bill, a bill that is needed and that people are waiting for? No, we have been waiting, we let the summer go by, and here we are on October 7, debating it at second reading.

It is somewhat odd that we had to wait four years and still not have passed it, and be starting, once again, to consider passing the bill, a bill that has, in general, the agreement of the parliamentarians in this House. This is cause for concern, to say the least. That is why I smiled a little when I read this paragraph from the minister. A little farther on in the same news release, the minister tells us that she looks forward to speaking with us about the bill in greater detail in the coming days. We have had to wait until October for her to address the subject in this House.

Furthermore, we are falling behind, and everyone knows it. Earlier, the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons had to rise and ask for unanimous consent to have only one round of speeches. Everyone knows that we are behind, but if the government, headed by the Prime Minister, truly—

Canada Consumer Product Safety Act
Oral Questions

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Thomas Mulcair Outremont, QC

The Prime Minister is stubborn.

Canada Consumer Product Safety Act
Oral Questions

3:40 p.m.

Bloc

Luc Malo Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

Yes, as the member for Outremont said, the Prime Minister is quite stubborn. He always wants his own way, and does not want to get to the bottom of things or find an efficient way of adopting bills that are deemed important, as the minister herself said in her speech earlier today.

Now we have Bill C-36. As I said earlier, this bill is essentially a carbon copy of Bill C-6, but they have already incorporated—and it would have been silly not to—the amendments already made in parliamentary committee when Bill C-6 was being studied. Members will recall that Bill C-6 was itself a carbon copy of Bill C-52. The only difference—people will perhaps remember—was that when the government introduced Bill C-52, a number of our constituents had a problem with the fact that natural health products would be subject to this bill.

However, there was a proposal to amend and modify the bill so that natural health products would be exempt. I would like to read subclause 4(3) of the bill:

For greater certainty, this Act does not apply to natural health products as defined in subsection 1(1) of the Natural Health Products Regulations made under the Food and Drugs Act.

This clarification having been made, I would, for the benefit of the House, like to raise some questions and ideas that would be interesting to study during the meetings of the Standing Committee on Health that will be dedicated to studying Bill C-36.

First of all, the preamble to the bill proposes a definition that approaches the precautionary principle:

Whereas

the Parliament of Canada recognizes...

that a lack of full scientific certainty is not to be used as a reason for postponing measures that prevent adverse effects on human health if those effects could be serious or irreversible;

After having read the preamble, we would really like to study compliance with this bill in more detail. What does the government mean by this statement? That is the question we will try to answer during the committee meetings that focus on studying Bill C-36.

The second point I would like to make is about the complementary system regarding the environment. The preamble also gives an overview of consumer products and the environment:

...recognizes that, given the impact activities with respect to consumer products may have on the environment, there is a need to create a regulatory system regarding consumer products that is complementary to the regulatory system regarding the environment;

That is only found in clauses 16 and 17. The Fertilizers Act and the Seeds Act are excluded from this bill. There is one link with the environment in this bill and it deals with disclosure of personal information. We could ask the government if it intends to develop environmental requirements as part of the regulations.

The third aspect, which is fundamental, is self-regulation of the industry. Following the many cases of unsafe food products on our supermarket shelves, the media have exposed some worrisome phenomena, namely the lack of quality control and insufficient labelling on food products imported into Canada. On April 1, a number of newspaper articles reported that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency was inspecting barely 2% to 5% of food products and that this low percentage represented nearly 98% of the risk. These statements opened the debate on deficiencies in the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's tracking system and on the labelling and food inspection regulations.

When Canada's new food and consumer safety action plan is being reviewed, the Bloc Québécois will ensure that the federal government does not delegate food inspection entirely to the industry and that the federal government fulfils its mandate to ensure the safety of food, therapeutic and consumer products.

The recent listeriosis outbreak that has shaken consumer confidence is another example. We have to rectify this immediately for everyone's sake. The Bloc Québécois is urging the federal government to implement stricter food safety standards in order to restore people's confidence in the food they eat. The same standards should apply to consumer product safety.

We completely reject the notion that the industry should regulate itself entirely when it comes to food inspection, as we saw last summer with the listeriosis crisis that resulted from a self-regulation pilot project. We do not want the industry to be wholly in charge of consumer product safety. That goes without saying. Health Canada must continue playing a role in ensuring public health, for instance, by making sure it has enough inspectors to fulfill its mandate.

On that last point, back in 2006, the Auditor General indicated that Health Canada did not have sufficient financial and human resources to carry out its inspection duties. We can have the best possible bill, the best legislation to prevent the public from purchasing products that could be unsafe for themselves or their loved ones, but we still need to take every possible action to ensure that the law is obeyed. We must not allow the industry to be both purveyor and inspector of the same goods. That would be absurd, although, I must admit, no company wants to see its name in huge bold letters splashed across the front pages of newspapers, saying that it put unsafe products on store shelves.

Clearly, all stakeholders know that for everyone's sake, consumer products that pose a risk to public health must not find their way onto our store shelves. The fact remains that we need ways to ensure compliance with the law and to make sure that the industry does not put the people who provide consumer products to the public in charge of overseeing the safety and security of those products.

The fourth point I would like to discuss, and which we will address in committee, pertains to the regulations. Bill C-36 frequently refers to measures that the minister may take with respect to regulations. Broad regulatory powers are also mentioned in clause 6, as well as clause 37. The Bloc Québécois has questions about several aspects of the regulations provided for in the bill.

We must ask some important questions. Given the minister's discretionary power, how would the recall be carried out and for what reasons could she decide to not recall a product in certain cases? How will the minister decide that a product is dangerous? It is a matter of common sense, and we must have an answer before the bill is brought into force. On a few occasions when considering a bill, the members of the Standing Committee on Health agreed that the minister would have to provide a certain number of regulations to convey how she intended to interpret, through the regulations, the bill to be passed by Parliament.

Also, what parameters would the minister use in deciding to recall one product but not another? In this regard, we still have questions, and we hope that the minister or the officials will explain their intentions to the committee, and that the officials will also be able to provide more information about the pending regulations.

It is clear that this bill will receive quick passage through second reading since we have unanimously agreed to it. My colleagues on the Standing Committee on Health and I are looking forward to a more in-depth study of Bill C-36 in the days to come.

Canada Consumer Product Safety Act
Oral Questions

3:55 p.m.

NDP

Megan Leslie Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to have the opportunity to speak to this legislation at second reading.

My colleague from Verchères—Les Patriotes mentioned that this was the third time he was able to speak to this bill in the House. I have to say I am just so happy to be able to speak to a bill that is not about locking people up and putting them in jail for crimes that have been unreported.

We have been waiting a long time for this bill, as we have heard. As we have also heard, previous versions of this bill have been killed twice by prorogation. Frankly there has been an inordinate delay getting it through first and second reading here in the House since we returned from prorogation in March.

Considering it is the government's own legislation, one has to ask why we have waited so long. Again this week, yet again, we saw another recall of children's products, this time a recall of 11 million toys by Mattel. This follows recalls on children's drugs, cribs and drinking glasses, and the list goes on and on.

Each time this happens, consumer advocates call for reliable product safety information and a law that gets these unsafe products off the shelves. Ideally, dangerous products would not actually get on the shelves in the first place.

My colleague from Verchères—Les Patriotes mentioned that the minister has been silent on this issue, not even speaking about this issue in the House until October, but actually I would like to correct that record because we have been asking questions in question period, waiting, asking when this will happen, asking when we will get to actually move this forward to committee. She has answered those questions, although I do not think she said the words “Bill C-36”.

We are happy we are here. Finally we are here. I do think it also needs mentioning that the Liberals have been asleep at the switch for 12 years on this issue. By 2005-06, at the end of the Liberals' decade of missed opportunity to improve product safety in Canada, more than 40% of recalls were ordered as a direct result not of us but of U.S.-initiated action. The Liberals were happy to promote and applaud corporate trade but not to police it.

The legislation this bill replaces is part I of the Hazardous Products Act that was enacted in 1969. I will say that again, 1969. To say that this bill is a long time in coming is an understatement. In 41 years technologies have of course changed. The nature of business has changed. The ethics of production have advanced. We need legislation that reflects the realties of a globalized world, which aims to be health conscious and also to establish a more equitable society.

It goes without saying that dangerous products touch the lives of people who are socio-economically disadvantaged more than the rest of society. Cheap products rely on cheaper manufacturing processes, and they are wreaking havoc in the lives of people who cannot afford to make better choices, who are poorly positioned to deal with the health consequences and potentially the lost wages that are due to time off work to care for loved ones who are hurt.

Product safety should not be the right of the rich. It goes very much to equality principles and it is a central piece of moving towards economic justice.

Unsurprisingly, plans to revamp product safety legislation have developed some resistance from industry and from importers due to high costs and the perceived intrusion into their design and manufacturing processes. However, the onus should be on them. Consumer product safety is the cost of doing business in Canada.

The safety of Canadians and particularly the safety of children cannot be balanced against corporate costs. Manufacturers and importers must prove that their products are safe. It is unacceptable to allow products to be negligently introduced onto the market in the absence of much-needed and precise enforcement tools.

We cannot allow tort law to be the enforcement tool, because court remedies may come too late, as consumers or their family members will have already been injured. There may not be an adequate compensation system through tort law that is available for the injuries suffered, and certainly not for the emotional trauma that arises in the worst case scenarios.

We need to catch things before they happen. In reality, strong product safety laws are good for companies because they dissuade them from going down a path that may have widespread consequences to them later.

Product safety laws protect both the health of the nation and the economy. Therefore, I am happy to note that Bill C-36 in its current form contains many of the amendments the NDP pushed for in its predecessor, Bill C-6. For example, the bill would exempt natural health products from its purview. The NDP was proud to support the natural health product industry by advocating for an exemption with Bill C-6. Natural health products contribute to the health and well-being of Canadians and play an important role in Canada's health care system.

I note that other NDP concerns have been addressed. For example, a clause that indicated inspectors were not liable for entering private property has been removed and the inspectors can no longer order a person to take measures for non-compliance. Only the minister can do that.

There are some improvements that can be made to this bill and the NDP looks forward to addressing these concerns at committee. The NDP consumer advocate, the member for Sudbury, has been working hard to identify potential improvements to product safety in Canada and I will outline some of these proposals for the House.

It is worth mentioning that protection is given to tobacco products under Bill C-36. These products have been given a permanent statutory exemption and only the propensity for ignition is included in the act's regulatory framework.

Many stakeholders, including the Canadian Cancer Society and Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada, have pointed out that this is a major failing in the legislation. In April 2009, when the bill was known as Bill C-6, the Canadian Cancer Society submitted a formal request that the permanent exclusion of tobacco products from the act be deleted in order to improve the overall health of Canadians.

There is also an issue of whether there will be adequate resources to enforce the legislation. We cannot allow the bill to exist without the adequate tools for enforcement. The bill implies a more proactive and aggressive approach to product safety, which is completely out of character with past government performance. Therefore, the NDP is considering an amendment to the bill to hold the government responsible for maintaining an adequate inspection capacity and staff to process, investigate and respond to complaints.

Tied to this is the need for stiffer punitive financial penalties. Industry monitoring shows that stiffer penalties improve product safety. Unfortunately, while the Hazardous Products Safety Act already contains fines of up to $1 million for violating its provisions, these fines are rarely imposed, something that we really need to work on at the enforcement end. It is essential that the government change this trend and adequately and consistently enforce the act.

The government also has to get serious about establishing clear and consistent rules for what constitutes a danger. This cannot be allowed to remain as a subjective judgment. We really need a test about what is a danger and how we will decide what is a danger. It is important not just for consumers, but for the industry as well. We need to ensure that industry understands what its obligations are.

Also in the world of enforcement, we need a better system for filing public complaints and the creation of a database that will track product safety issues. This is what the U.S. is moving toward and we need to follow suit. We have an opportunity now not just to make the Hazardous Products Safety Act better, but to be bold, visionary and move forward, not just catch up to our friends around world but maybe even surpass them when it comes to product safety. Right now a product can sometimes be on the market for more than 10 years before a recall happens.

As an example of that kind of delay, the most recent Fisher-Price recall involves products that were on the market for five years. The longer the delay, the less these products will be able to be recalled. In fact, only 10% to 15% of recalled products are ever recovered. That is a shockingly low statistic. This means we need to ensure that the public gets the information when a product poses a danger to people's health through regular announcements that a recall is in effect and to the widest possible audience.

Bill C-36 also focuses on the back end of production, mostly manufacturing, but the vast majority of product safety issues are at the front end with design. Product safety issues result because of design flaws. We need the tools that will catch these flaws before a product goes to a manufacturing plant. Design is so important. Better design leads to fewer accidents and fewer injuries. One way to improve the entire production process is to ensure that third party testing is mandatory, that it is consistent and that it is utilized throughout the entire production process.

We have also heard concerns that Bill C-36 lacks a formal independent review board. An appeal to the board of review under the hazardous products safety act is like an appeal to court. Bill C-36 does not have a review board and these kinds of procedural safeguards.

Currently the wording of the act suggests that reviews of decisions would be made by other Health Canada officers who were not part of the original investigation. Frankly, that is not quite far enough removed. There needs to be some indication of independence. The reviews really need to be done by third parties when a property owner asks for a review of an inspector's order. However, that review is not conducted by a board of review with court powers to ensure a fair hearing. It is only fair to think about it that way and to have those sorts of arm's-length procedures put in place.

In summary, we are pleased that the government has finally introduced this bill. I am getting some smiles from my colleagues on this side of the House. We are pleased that it has been moved for debate, I will note finally. We are also very happy to support it so it gets to committee. The NDP is very much looking forward to discussion of the bill at committee.

Canada Consumer Product Safety Act
Oral Questions

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

There being no questions and comments, pursuant to an order made earlier today, Bill C-36, An Act respecting the safety of consumer products is deemed read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Health. Accordingly the bill stands referred to the Standing Committee on Health.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the second time and referred to a committee)

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-47, A second Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 4, 2010 and other measures, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Sustaining Canada's Economic Recovery Act
Oral Questions

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

Just before question period the hon. member for Scarborough Centre had started his speech. He has 18 minutes left to conclude his remarks.

Sustaining Canada's Economic Recovery Act
Oral Questions

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

John Cannis Scarborough Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, as I started saying before question period, for me and my constituents, and I believe many Canadians, this boils down to a matter of trust in the government, trust in what it says it will do.

For example, during an election period, we make certain commitments. People either vote for us based on those commitments or they do not. In this specific case, the Prime Minister, at that time a candidate for prime minister, campaigned in Newfoundland and Labrador. Some of his campaign literature and the Conservative Party campaign literature made several commitments. One of those commitments was not to touch income trusts.

Many people, especially seniors, believed that commitment and they voted in support of the Prime Minister because they trusted him. The key words are “believed” and “trusted” him. Seniors believed he would not touch income trusts. Decades ago these people invested in a certain venue, so come retirement they could assure themselves of an X amount of money on a monthly basis for their golden years.

The Prime Minister has won two minority governments. This shows that Canadians were not fully comfortable with electing a Conservative government. In fact, three out of five Canadians did not vote for the Conservatives. Nevertheless, they had enough numbers to form a minority government.

What was one of the first things the Prime Minister did? He reneged. He went back on his word. He chose to go after income trusts and increase taxes 31.5%, the highest in Canadian history. These people were disillusioned. They were going to lose income.

We have to understand that seniors are not income generators. They are income dependents. They depend on the fixed income they had planned decades ago. All of a sudden, that income became less by x%. They had to adjust their lifestyle downward, and that was totally unfair. That was the result of the Prime Minister going back on a commitment he made. The Prime Minister's literature stated “There is no greater fraud than a promise not kept”. In the Prime Minister's own words, he committed, in essence, fraud, because he did not keep his promise.

Commenting on the Prime Minister's words about no greater fraud than a promise not kept, Progressive Conservative, and I emphasize those words, Premier Danny Williams of the beautiful province of Newfoundland said in one of his speeches:

He used these words as he successfully attempted to woo voters from this province to not vote for the opposing party. Naively we trusted him. He rewarded that trust with a broken promise. According to his own brochure—he is a fraud.

The theme of my presentation is all about trust. Canadians trusted the Prime Minister to keep his word, and he did not.

I will quote again from the speech of Danny Williams. He said:

His own candidates and MPs admit that the promise was broken, but we should forgive and forget. Well folks, forgiveness may be a virtue; but forgetting is just plain fool hardy.

A year ago the Prime Minister's own candidate in St. John's East said, “Given his handling of equalization, who can trust the Prime Minister anyway?” Again, this is what I have been saying all along. It is a matter of trust.

The Conservatives stand and give us different figures. All Canadians need to do is look at the records. They can google things. The technology of today permits people to do research and come up with stats for themselves. The Conservatives have neglected, over and over, to point out that when they took office in 2006, they were left with a surplus of $13.2 billion and there was a zero deficit. The unemployment rate was at 6.1% or 6.2%. Today we all know where it is. It has skyrocketed, according to the national figures, and when we plug in youth unemployment and the unofficial numbers, I believe it is well over 12%.

I will refer to the government's own action plan, “Leading the Way on Jobs and Growth” and use the figures from its budget book, because if I were to say something, the Conservatives would say that I was a bit biased and that I will say it the way I want to.

On employment insurance, the figures in its own graph, going back to 2000 and right up to 2010, show is that under a Liberal government, we started lowering the EI premiums going back to 1997. After we balanced the books, year after year, EI premiums were being lowered. At the time when we took office, it was $3.05 per $100. When we left office, it was $1.75 or $1.76, and then it was frozen.

I will use a quote, as I did earlier, from the current finance minister who said, “It's one of those job-killing taxes, a direct tax on employers and employees”. We agree with him. What happened pre-1993 is that employers told us that they would like to hire and if payroll taxes were lower they would invest in hiring. We listened very carefully, we implemented such a program and we saw job creation unfold.

I would point out that these figures are Liberal figures, not Conservative figures. What was one of the first things the Conservatives did when they took over government? They started to jack up the payroll taxes. As a matter of fact, technically speaking, they were going to jack them up so much and then they lowered them and said that they were lowering taxes. For example, instead of paying $90, people will pay $30, but that is still a tax increase. Instead of hitting them with a $17 billion increase, the government will only hit them with a $6.5 billion increase. Nevertheless, it is still an increase.

I would just like to quote some comments here on payroll taxes that the Prime Minister and the finance minister have said. For example, in January of 2009, the finance minister said, “For many businesses, an increase in payroll taxes would make it harder to sustain existing jobs”. We agree with him. The question is: why is he increasing taxes?

On March 29, 2009, in the Toronto Star, the Prime Minister said:

So there is no need in Canada to raise taxes. We have not got the structural budgetary deficit that exists in the United States and obviously limits the administration's options.

Here is another declaration from the Conservative election policy declaration of 2008:

We believe that payroll taxes should not exceed the amount necessary to properly fund Employment Insurance because unnecessarily high payroll taxes are a tax on job creation. Lower payroll taxes encourage hiring and business expansion.

We agree, and that is why, if we look at the Liberal record, year after year after year, those payroll taxes were consistently coming down, until of course now, where it is a repeat of what Brian Mulroney did. When unemployment was going up, he was increasing the payroll taxes.

Twenty years down the road and we are back to the future. The Conservatives are now repeating exactly what the Brian Mulroney administration did. We are encouraging them not to do it.

The business community has made some positive statements. Of course, when they were going to jack it up by 15% and now they are lowering it down and saying that they are not increasing it by yea much, that they are giving us a break, of course the business community is happy. That is why some statements are coming back from the business community sounding positive.

They talk about research and development and investing in the economy. We agree. When we took office, one of the areas that we invested in was in the knowledge-based economy. However, in order to move ahead in that new area, we need to make investments.

On page 86 of the Conservatives' own book, it states:

Canada invests more directly in public R and D than any other G7 country.

What figures are they using? The figures end in 2006, which has Canada, indeed, first. That was from our budget of 2005-06. It states here that the data is for 2007, which is the latest year for which they are available for all G7 countries. What happened after 2007? We have become the lowest.

China, for example, as was mentioned earlier by the critic for finance, the member for Kings—Hants, has invested much more than we have. The United States has done so as well and it is moving forward with the green economy and bringing forth new jobs.

On the debt side, there is an interesting graph on page 167 of their literature which shows the debt to GDP ratio in 2004-05 and then their projection of 2013-14 brings it back to the same level as it was in 2004-05. That is taking us a decade back, according to their figures.

The graph very clearly outlines the debt to GDP ratio. It starts from 2008. I will admit that when they took office they took all that surplus money that was left over from our government and just plunged it into debt retirement. Was that a good move? As it turns out today, it was not a good move because, if members will recall, at that time we also had a contingency plan of $3 billion. If we did not use that money for an emergency, it went right to debt retirement.

I have often used the finances of the nation to draw a parallel with the average home. When the paycheque comes home every week, we do not put it all toward the mortgage. We need to put some toward groceries, some toward gas, some toward clothes, some toward the mortgage and maybe a little aside for a rainy day. At the end of the year, if we do not use that money, it is wise to pay down that mortgage as quickly as possible, as the Liberal administration did. Slowly, we ended up saving, according to the figures then, almost $3 billion in interest payments. So, Canadians were benefiting from that $3 billion because the money was going into programs such as health care, post-secondary education, the military, et cetera.

In this graph, I would like to point out that the debt to GDP ratio in 2008-09 was 29%. It goes up to 33.9% and 35.4%. Then, in 2012-13, it starts to decline to 35.2% and levels off. Hopefully, in 2014-15 it will drop to 31.9%.

However, we cannot trust those figures because, according to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, the finance department is quoting one figure and the Parliamentary Budget Officer is quoting different figures.

We all know that the Parliamentary Budget Officer is Mr. Kevin Page and that he is not someone we Liberals appointed. He is an appointee of the Prime Minister and the Conservative government. He was supposed to be someone who would be kind. He is a fair person and he called it as he saw it.

The moment he made statements about these figures I am about to bring forth, the Prime Minister and the Conservative government were not happy so they started to eliminate his budget. They started to take away the tools that he needed to do his work and, of course, he was not able to bring forth the information, not that we needed to have but that Canadians needed to have.

For example, “Budget predictions for 2012-13, $17.5 billion deficit”. The Parliamentary Budget Officer's prediction was a $20.6 billion deficit. For 2013-14, the government says that it will be a $8.5 billion deficit. The Parliamentary Budget Officer says that it will be a $16.3 billion deficit. For 2014-15, the current government says that it will be a $1.8 billion deficit. The Parliamentary Budget Officer says that it will be a $12.3 billion deficit. It goes on, which is why I keep referring to the word “trust”. It is a matter of trust.

Given the statement I made, which I chose not to repeat during the campaign, we cannot trust the Prime Minister and the government. We cannot trust their figures. It is not something that we are saying. It is something the figures show.

When I am out there speaking to my constituents, they tell me that they have great concerns because of what is happening in the world economy. Earlier today, government members were comparing the crisis in different countries. I was shocked to learn that the average debt-load per household in Canada is about $42,000. We know Greece is having some difficulties and the average debt-load there is just over $30,000. Who is worse off, I ask?

The Conservatives have mortgaged our future, our children's future and our grandchildren's future. All I am saying is that if they want to recapture the trust of Canadians, they need to come out with figures that can be substantiated, figures that are accurate and figures that we can talk about and realistically work with the international community. The OECD, for example, this is their figures, not ours. It is an embarrassment for us to go on the international stage and say how wonderful we are when, in essence, beneath that thin membrane things are not looking good.

Sustaining Canada's Economic Recovery Act
Oral Questions

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

Before we go on to questions and comments, 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 Cape Breton—Canso, Sydney Harbour; the hon. member for Malpeque, The Economy.

Questions and comments. The hon. member for Elmwood—Transcona.

Sustaining Canada's Economic Recovery Act
Oral Questions

4:25 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his comments regarding Bill C-47. However, I think he neglected to point out that in terms of debt to GDP, which is a very important measure in terms of debt to GDP, Canada is in a much better position than the other countries he is talking about in Europe, such as Greece, Ireland and Spain, regardless of the fact that their household debt figures, which he mentioned, are somewhat comparable.

I have a question for him. As far as e-government is concerned, the g-tech annual conference just finished up today here in Ottawa. Since the new Conservative government came into office five years ago, we have found a dumbing down of government online programs. When Reg Alcock was in this House and Paul Martin was the prime minister, we saw a lot of activity in the federal government in those days trying to get government programs online, transactional and usable to the citizens of Canada. This was particularly helpful for people in far-flung rural areas who had to drive or fly into cities to do their government business. Now they can simply do it online with a credit card.

There was some sort of a vision, some sort of a direction that was similar to what they have in England, the United States and Australia. However, since the present government came to office five and a half years ago, there has been absolutely no talk of any government online programs or any sort of measurement of any kind of success, no targets in fact. One would think that for a government that prides itself on wanting to make itself more efficient and provide its services to the public online and transactional, that would be one of the areas that it would prioritize and put some effort toward.

Why does the member think the government has not seized on this opportunity to make services more broadly available to the taxpayers of Canada and, in fact, save the government money in the process by making the government more efficient? Why would it be neglecting that area?

Sustaining Canada's Economic Recovery Act
Oral Questions

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

John Cannis Scarborough Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for that most important question.

I do not think he was looking at my notes, but I will refer to page 8 again of the action plan. The Conservative government states that it will invest $1.9 billion to create the economy of tomorrow. That is a drop in the bucket compared to what other nations are investing.

I can compare that to a decade before, when we invested $2 billion in research chairs, for example. I remember at that time I had the honour and the privilege of being Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry, John Manley, and then Brian Tobin.

We rolled out this program and not only were we investing in the new economy, the new tools, but we were retaining and attracting brains for Canada, which allowed us to not just make our government an e-government or make our country more efficient but we made our country more competitive. In addition, we had created an export product for Canada.

We invested $2 billion then and the Conservatives, 12 years later, were so kind as to invest $1.9 billion. That is really progress.

Sustaining Canada's Economic Recovery Act
Oral Questions

4:30 p.m.

Macleod
Alberta

Conservative

Ted Menzies Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, I thank my friend from Scarborough Centre for a most compelling speech from history.

There was not a lot in his speech that talked about where Canada is going or the direction we are taking Canada in. The fact is that the member spent most of his speech talking down Canada, talking down our economy. Perhaps he should cheer up.

We are in the best position in the G7, fiscally and financially far ahead of many of the other countries. It is because of the leadership we had in place that paid down debt to put us in a good, solid position.

I have two questions. The member was suggesting that we were actually not helping unemployed Canadians when we changed what was recommended and reduced the recommended increase in EI for workers, to encourage our employers to hire more Canadians, when the day before that announcement was made, the Liberals, the Bloc and the NDP actually stood in the House and voted to raise EI premiums by 35% at a cost of $7 billion per year.

Then the member criticizes our prudent measure of making sure that we did not hurt industries.

Also could the member enlighten us as to where he was in government when the $58 billion that was in the EI fund disappeared into general revenues? I wonder if he could give a little insight into whether he had any idea where that went.

Sustaining Canada's Economic Recovery Act
Oral Questions

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

John Cannis Scarborough Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be very glad to.

My good friend misunderstood. I was not talking down the country. I was pointing out facts.

I would like to point out one other fact, but before I do that, I want to say that we voted as we did the other day to provide immediate relief to those in need today. When a family is hurting, that is when we have to be there. When a person is unemployed, he needs to put food on the table. We have to support that.

On the accumulated federal debt, it is not my words; it is the Conservatives graph here that I will point out. I first of all acknowledge that they retired a portion of the debt with a tremendous payment. I personally think it was wrong to do it the way they did it. They could have done it gradually.

However in 2008-09, after that lump sum payment, it was $463 billion. We had brought it down to just over $500 billion, and it had been over $600 billion when we took over. In 2014-15 it continues to rise. It will be $622.1 billion of debt. That is $122 billion, according to their figures, not ours. And we left them a clean slate.

Tell me then how our country is better off.