House of Commons Hansard #70 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was pension.

Topics

Pooled Registered Pension Plans Act
Government Orders

5:40 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Madam Speaker, I rise today to speak in favour of the pooled registered pension plans bill. I rise to speak for small business owners in my riding of Kitchener--Conestoga who want to provide for their own retirements and the retirement of their employees.

I will take a moment to put this into perspective because this improvement to Canada's retirement system cannot be viewed in isolation. Our government has provided tax relief for seniors by doubling the amount of income eligible for the pension income credit and through increases to the age credit. Even more significant, we have instituted pension income splitting for seniors, creating a more fair tax system for those who built this great country. As well, we have increased payments available to low income seniors by way of the guaranteed income supplement. In fact, budget 2011 announced a new guaranteed income supplement top up benefit for most vulnerable seniors. Seniors with little or no income other than old age security and the GIS will receive additional annual benefits of up to $600 for single seniors and $840 for couples.

Before that, budget 2008 increased the amount they can earn before the GIS is reduced so that recipients will be able to keep more of their hard-earned money without suffering clawbacks. Also in budget 2008, we introduced a tax free savings account, which is particularly beneficial to seniors as it helps them to meet their ongoing savings needs on a tax efficient basis after they are no longer able to contribute to an RRSP. We built a framework for federally regulated pension plans that ensures retired workers will continue to receive benefits should their plan be terminated.

We have also worked with the provinces to bring new flexibility to the Canada pension plan that makes it easier for Canadians to transition in and out of the workforce to better reflect the reality of how Canadians live, work and retire.

Despite all this progress, though, and despite the work we have done to help seniors have an easier time living through retirement, we still face challenges. More than six out of every ten Canadians do not have access to a pension plan at their place of work. On average, each Canadian has over $18,000 of unused room to contribute to an RRSP. One reason that many employers do not offer a pension plan is simple: they are too costly to administer and they impose a number of legal burdens. One reason that many Canadians do not take full advantage of their RRSPs is also simple: properly balancing the combination of risk and cost is beyond their ability.

These challenges are not new but they are growing in urgency. Clearly, a new approach is needed and pooled registered pension plans offer Canadians that new approach, that new hope.

PRPPs would offer a simpler enrolment and withdrawal process than traditional retirement plans. This would allow small and medium size enterprises, struggling to balance their books while keeping valued talent, offer a valuable incentive to their employees while keeping their own administrative burden down.

Canadians want to plan for their retirement. They want to plan for their golden years. It is not the job of government, as some hon. members would have us believe, to take away that ability. Our job as government is to facilitate their plans, not to dictate those plans. Our job is to make it easier for employers to offer retirement plans.

All employers are eager to hire highly skilled workers but there is always a challenge for those with smaller businesses. How can they compete with larger corporations who are able to not only offer attractive wages and career growth plans but also have the administrative support and the buying power to offer good pension and retirement benefits. Many Canadians can only access a pension plan if their employers offer one and many employers do not want the legal or administrative burden of offering a pension plan. The end result, as I mentioned, is that over 60% of Canadians have no workplace pension in place.

PRPPs are designed to address Canada's lack of low cost, large scale retirement savings options for the majority of Canadians. The innovative design features of the PRPP would remove many of the barriers that traditionally kept employers from offering pension plans to their employees.

A straightforward design leads to simple enrolment and management. Whereas now employers much choose hiring an expensive outside party, taking on the cost themselves, or forgoing any pension plan for their employees at all. A third party administrator would now take on the legal and administrative duties associated with running a pension plan. These costs would be spread across participating employers, allowing for an economy of scale that would keep costs down. When the costs of investment drop due to the economy of scale, the net return will increase. That is basic economics. By building a design that will function across provinces, administrative costs will be reduced even lower and an even larger economy of scale can be achieved.

Offering pooled registered pension plans would make it easier for Canadians to fund their retirement but no one on this side of the House believes that PRPPs are the last step this government will take to ensure Canadians are able to enjoy their golden years.

I think all parties could agree that improving Canadians' financial literacy would be a big step forward. I do not mean training every Canadian to be a stockbroker, but things like the bottom line benefits of selecting the best credit card, the responsible use of credit and the power of compounded returns and the damage to compounding caused by taxation. A better understanding of these issues and how they interconnect can only lead to a more prosperous Canada and better retirement living for all Canadians. That is why launching the task force on financial literacy was the right thing for our government to do.

It has often been said that there are two kinds of people: those who spend first and save what is left over and those who save first and spend what is left over. Improved financial literacy will encourage Canadians to save first and PRPPs would make it easier for them to do so.

As the Canadian Chamber of Commerce noted on November 17 of last year:

—PRPPs--with simple and straightforward rules and processes--would give many businesses the flexibility and tools they need to help their employees save for retirement.

The chamber also noted that employers want to offer their employees retirement benefits, such as a pension plan. It went on to say, “(PRPPs) would be a great option to attract new talent to our business”.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business, the voice of small business in Canada, made the case for PRPPs even more strongly. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business noted that while a 1% increase in CPP would destroy 220,000 person years of employment and drive wages down, PRPPs would expand the retirement savings options for thousands of Canadian small businesses and their employees. Currently, it is worth noting, less than one in five small businesses that belong to the CFIB offer their employees a pension plan.

In conclusion, PRPPs present an innovative solution for Canadians to finance their retirements. PRPPs make it affordable for employers to offer retirement plans and make it possible for employees to participate. Canadians want to save for their retirements and employers desire a low cost, low administration path to helping them. I encourage all members of the House to join me in supporting Bill C-25.

Pooled Registered Pension Plans Act
Government Orders

5:45 p.m.

NDP

Malcolm Allen Welland, ON

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for his comments on this new savings scheme that the government has decided to allow workers to do with a negative billing option. I thought we did away with that with some of the other folks who used the negative billing option because new workers going into a place of employment gets registered and then they must opt out if they want out.

The idea that somehow this will be a pension at the end of the day for folks, I fail to fathom the logic of that when we know there are literally millions of Canadians across this land who cannot contribute any money to an RRSP, let alone anything else. All of a sudden, this is about to become something magical that will make it happen. It is not magical. It is called, “I don't have enough money to meet my daily needs and get to the end of the month as a worker, let alone invest in what might be my future when I do not even know if I will pay the rent at the end of the month or have to go to a food bank because I am working poor”.

My hon. colleague said that the Canadian Federation of Independent Business said that if we had a 1% increase in CPP it would eliminate all these jobs. It would be nice to know, and I wonder if the member does know, since the Canadian Federation of Independent Business thinks it is such a great deal, is it committed to match any moneys that employees put into that account on a compulsory basis and allow them to sign up as businesses, just like the member does?

Pooled Registered Pension Plans Act
Government Orders

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Madam Speaker, it is ironic that we would be here trying to support Canadians in their efforts to save and make it easier for them by having a small amount deducted from their salary into a pension plan and have the employer contribute to it.

As the member indicated, the CFIB does say that even a 1% increase in CPP would destroy 220,000 person years of employment. By making this a low cost option so that employers can pool their resources by buying the administrative and legal support to make it possible for average Canadians to access a retirement plan, this side of the House believes strongly that this is a great option.

It is unfortunate that members of the NDP and many of their colleagues on that side are really not in this to support ordinary Canadians. I am really disappointed to hear that kind of response.

Pooled Registered Pension Plans Act
Government Orders

5:50 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Madam Speaker, there is a difference between the Liberals and the Conservatives on this issue. The Liberals believe in social programs, such as the CPP, the OAS and the GIS. It was Liberal prime ministers who brought in those programs because we believe in them.

The present government's response to those programs was that it did not have the support of a majority of the provinces and that is reason it could not do anything in that area. It is unfortunate that we did not see stronger leadership from the Prime Minister to try to improve the CPP. That would have been option one. In this option, in order to make the program work we need to have the provinces onside. If the provinces are not onside, more than half the workforce will not even have the opportunity to participate.

I wonder if the minister, who has implied that he has the provinces onside, could tell us which provinces in Canada are currently onside and are committed to passing legislation that would enable all Canadians to benefit if the bill were to pass.

Pooled Registered Pension Plans Act
Government Orders

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Madam Speaker, it is important to review what led to where we are today in terms of the development of the PRPPs. A joint federal-provincial working group was established in May 2009 and it undertook this in-depth examination of the retirement income inadequacy in Canada. That research, led by the finance ministers in December 2010, agreed to pursue a framework for a pooled registered pension plan.

As I understand it, the provinces and the finance ministers from the provinces are supportive of this concept, and that point needs to be made very clear. This is not something that we are mandating top-down. This is something the provinces have bought into and is something that small business is buying into. From my experience in my dental practice for 27 years, I wish I could have offered a plan like this to my five or six employees so that at the end of their employment they would have had access to some kind of a retirement pension income.

Pooled Registered Pension Plans Act
Government Orders

5:50 p.m.

NDP

Andrew Cash Davenport, ON

Madam Speaker, it is an honour to rise today and speak to this bill, because so many Canadians do not have a pension and they are looking to the government for some kind of leadership. This is a hugely important issue and the government is offering a solution that is going to be excellent for the banks and lousy for Canadians who do not have a pension at this point.

In my riding of Davenport there are hairdressers, taxi drivers, carpenters, bricklayers, web designers, women who clean offices overnight. None of these people have a pension. There is nothing in this scheme to help those people or to protect an investment that these people make in a pension. However, there are going to be some excellent returns for the banks, which is why the banks are falling over themselves with glee over this proposal. Regular workers have been left out of the pension scheme and have been abandoned by the government and by many large employers. The government, in the wake of the shedding of massive amounts of retirement savings, is inviting Canadians to roll the dice again with the market. How is this a plan that Canadians can bank on?

Many members opposite talk about their experience running small businesses, and some of them might be running small businesses as we speak. However, none of them talk about the real issues that face working people in this country who do not have a pension, do not have benefits, have no job security and no way of accessing the kind of supports they need to raise a family, pay the rent and plan for the future. This is a narrow focus, and I would venture to say it is not focused at all.

If the government really thought it had an excellent plan it would not have limited debate on this bill. Canadians really want to talk about pensions. Why would we have to limit debate on this? This is certainly an issue in my riding. On Thursday night I will be leading a public forum on pensions, on this very issue. I would be very happy to invite members opposite to come to the meeting so they can meet people who do not have the resources to risk in the market. In 2008 Canadians lost billions of dollars in pension savings. Why would we invite Canadians to roll the dice once again?

This is the very lack of care and focus on the real issues of Canadians and Canadian families. Increasingly, workers in Canada do not have a pension. Increasingly, workers are left out of our employment insurance scheme. Increasingly, workers do not have access to parental leave. Nothing the government is proposing would be an answer to the pressing issues for many Canadians. It is a failure on many levels.

Pooled Registered Pension Plans Act
Government Orders

5:55 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

Order, please. I must interrupt the hon. member. He will have five minutes remaining for his comments when this bill returns to the House.

It being 6 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members’ business as listed on today’s order paper.

The House resumed from October 31, 2011 consideration of the motion that Bill C-313, An Act to amend the Food and Drugs Act (non-corrective cosmetic contact lenses), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Food and Drugs Act
Private Members' Business

6 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to Bill C-313.

I would like to thank the member for Sarnia—Lambton for bringing forward the bill. We are in the second hour of debate Some of my colleagues already spoke to the bill in the first hour of debate and signified our support for this legislation and that certainly continues. I do not know that there is more information to add in the second hour of debate, but it is important that we have a second hour of debate.

I want to begin my remarks by speaking more generally about what the bill raises in an important sense.

The health care system in Canada is huge. We have many health care concerns, such as natural health products and the mainstream health system itself. There is no doubt that we live in an age where more and more cosmetic-type therapies, aids and assistance, whether they are in drugs or other forms, are available on the market. One only has to look at television or any form of mass media to see the incredible amount of advertising and promotion of all kinds of products. One the one hand we can say that is a good thing in that consumers have lots of choice in this country. On the other hand, as members of Parliament we hear stories from our constituents of things that have happened to people or complaints that have been made.

With that huge array of products and therapies on the market there also has to be a sense of responsibility. It speaks to the importance of why we are here, why we have government, and that is to look out for the public interest. Sometimes the marketplace does not do all it is hoped it would do. It does not necessarily assume the responsibility of safety and awareness. Although there are many instances where voluntary associations of businesses or sectors promote awareness and education, they sometimes do not go as far as they need to go.

This bill provides illumination and an example--I was going to say a lens; excuse the pun--of the enormous number of products that are available and that there is not necessarily the kind of consumer awareness, education and regulation that is needed to make sure that people are safe.

For that reason, it is an opportune time for the bill to come forward. It draws attention to the problems with cosmetic contact lenses and the fact that they are not regulated and that they have caused problems for people. Consumers may not be aware of the possible infections, irritations or allergies and other problems that these products can cause.

Bill C-313 would amend the Food and Drugs Act to classify cosmetic contact lenses as class II medical devices, which would bring them in line with what we normally see as regular contact corrective lenses. This first step would require all cosmetic lenses sold in Canada to be licensed through Health Canada. Distributors of the products would require a medical device establishment licence. People fret about bureaucracy, rules and regulations, but we have to strike that balance.

In years gone by, going back to October 2000, Health Canada actually issued warnings about coloured contact lenses. In 2003, Health Canada commissioned a third party risk assessment report, “Human Health Risk Assessment of Cosmetic Contact Lens”. There are some serious concerns. The report concluded that the available evidence suggests that the level of risk associated with the use of cosmetic contact lenses is comparable to that associated with corrective lenses and may be potentially higher. The risk assessment report recommended that cosmetic contact lenses be regulated by Health Canada, such as requiring prescriptions for their use and restricting their sale to regulated health professionals.

It is very important that this be followed up. One query which was raised by some of my NDP colleagues in the earlier part of the debate was that while we are happy that the member brought forward the bill as a private member's bill, one would have hoped, as a result of this work that goes back to 2000 and 2003, the government would have brought it forward itself. That did not happen, but it is good that it is now before us as a private member's bill.

We are in full support of the bill. We believe it is very important that the vision of Canadians be protected, that there be consumer awareness, that there be proper regulation and that there be a level of professionalism within the industry so that consumers have some measure of protection. That is the very least we should be doing.

I think the bill will pass at second reading. I look forward to it going to the health committee. I hope that we can look at the bill in more detail and that we will be able to hear some witnesses. Major organizations are supporting the bill and I am sure they will have some good recommendations for us to look at.

Again, I want to thank the member for bringing the bill forward.

I hope that we can deal with this issue. We will have taken just a little tiny step to ensure there is better safety for Canadians in terms of their vision and that we will have created a better awareness about this problem.

When people are out there in the marketplace and getting drawn in by the sometimes very persuasive advertising and marketing that goes on, there could be a counterbalance to that in terms of regulation, to ensure there are proper standards and licensing, but also in terms of making consumers and potential buyers aware of what it is they are purchasing, what are some of the risks and what needs to be done in terms of handling and using this particular product.

I will leave it at that. I look forward to the bill going to committee to be examined in greater detail, should it pass second reading.

Food and Drugs Act
Private Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Liberal

Geoff Regan Halifax West, NS

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise and take part in this debate on Bill C-313. This bill would deem a non-corrective contact lens a medical device. That is important because we do have situations where people put contact lenses in their eyes to change their colour. They are not always a proper fit and can cause all kinds of problems, and I will talk about that.

The bill would ensure as well that cosmetic contact lenses are subject to the requirements of the Food and Drugs Act and the Medical Devices Regulations. It is important that this is the case. These are things going into people's eyes and the last thing we want to do is fool around with the health of our eyes.

I am familiar with contact lenses because I used to wear them. I had laser surgery some years ago and that has worked very well for my vision. Before that, I wore contact lenses to play hockey. I have very dry eyes and they were very uncomfortable to wear longer than that, but I found they were great for playing hockey. Some would say I probably still need glasses when I play hockey, or something like that.

Food and Drugs Act
Private Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Not me.

Food and Drugs Act
Private Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Liberal

Geoff Regan Halifax West, NS

I appreciate the fact that my colleague from Winnipeg North does not feel that way. He has not seen me play hockey.

By adding non-corrective contact lenses as a medical device, we can ensure greater safety in the manufacturing and sale of these products.

The Liberal party has already shown its support for the bill. I am happy to be here to reiterate that support. The House unanimously passed a motion regarding this issue in March of 2008.

I received support from all parties in the House for my private member's bill, Bill C-278, which strives to increase public awareness about epilepsy by declaring March 26 of each year purple day to raise awareness. I know that is how important it is, and I am sure my hon. colleague whose bill this is appreciates the all party support we see for it.

These so-called cosmetic contact lenses are used to change the shape, appearance and colour of the eye. They are currently sold over the counter. That is worrisome.

In the U.S. cosmetic contact lenses are already regulated. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration:

Without a valid prescription, fitting, supervision, or regular check-ups by a qualified eye care professional, decorative contact lenses, like all contact lenses, can cause a variety of serious injuries or conditions. For example, lens wear has been associated with corneal ulcer, which can lead rapidly to internal ocular infection if left untreated. Uncontrolled infection can cause corneal scarring, which can lead to vision impairment, and in extreme cases, blindness or the loss of an eye. Other risks include...abrasion from poor lens fit; reduction in visual acuity, contrast sensitivity, and other visual complications that can interfere with driving and other activities.

We can see from this list that we are talking about a serious issue, one that can cause people serious infections and other long term problems with their eyesight and it is important we deal with this.

It is amazing what we as consumers will buy to change our appearance. Some might say I should buy a lot more, but we will not get into that. However, we would do this perhaps to enhance our looks and in some cases the risks we are prepared to accept are remarkable. Part of our job as parliamentarians is to minimize those risks where we can and to try to help ensure the health of Canadians all over the country.

Non-corrective contact lenses are designed to change the appearance or colour of a person's eyes. They should be listed as a class II medical device, just as regular contact lenses are. A class II medical device is a low risk device, such as a pregnancy test, ultrasound, scanners, endoscopes and so forth. I am not saying that contact lenses are the same as open heart surgery, but it is something that ought to be regulated in a similar way to those items I just listed.

Manufacturers for these kinds of devices require a Health Canada licence before they can sell or advertise them and annual licence renewals are required. It is important that we know that these manufacturers are being overseen and that they are doing the job properly and if there are problems, those licences can be revoked.

Moving in that direction makes a lot of sense. I know that my colleagues in this corner of the House, and I think throughout the House, share this view.

As my colleague for Vancouver Centre said when she spoke to the bill, most young people are not always aware of the potential problems associated with these non-corrective cosmetic contact lenses.

She said, “They treat them like cosmetics and tend not to handle them properly”. She is a doctor, so she would know about this. She went on to say:

If people want to use them on Halloween, for example, they are going to look for the cheapest products and will probably buy products that are made from substandard materials which are to be used once and thrown away.

Aside from issues of quality, we also need to ensure that Canadians are educated about the use of these cosmetic lenses and that our young people in particular know that there are obvious risks to wearing these lenses if they are not properly used, not properly fitted and if people do not know how to handle and care for them.

When I wore contact lenses, I certainly learned how important it was to keep them very clean, use saline solution and ensure my hands were washed very carefully before touching them. I can certainly recall the frustration of trying to get one into my eye when I was in the middle of putting my hockey gear on ready to play hockey and having a hard time, fighting with it and killing time when I wanted to get out on the ice. It would drive me crazy sometimes. However, it is important to learn how to handle them properly.

My colleagues and I, as we have said on a number of issues, believe in evidence-based policy. We recognize that this measure has been promoted by other groups like the American Academy of Ophthalmology, Prevent Blindness America and The Canadian Association of Optometrists, which have called upon Parliament to “enact it with haste”.

I know this issue is important everywhere, including in Halifax West where in fact I was contacted by a licensed optician and certified lens fitter who asked me to support this bill. He said, “Non-prescription contact lenses should have the same classification as prescription lenses. Due to public safety, these devices should only be dispensed by licensed eye care professionals”. I could not agree more and I cannot think of a better way to end my comments.

Food and Drugs Act
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Newmarket—Aurora
Ontario

Conservative

Lois Brown Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Cooperation

Madam Speaker, I would like to take this opportunity to commend and express appreciation to the member for tabling this bill and drawing attention to this important issue.

The member has been advocating for this issue since 2008, first by tabling a private member's motion and now with the introduction of this private member's bill. Bill C-313 proposes an amendment to the Food and Drugs Act, which would see cosmetic contact lenses classified and regulated as medical devices.

In Canada the authority to determine whether a medical device is subject to dispensing by prescription rests with the provinces and territories. Currently Canadian consumers wishing to purchase corrective contact lenses require a prescription, however, non-corrective contact lenses can be purchases without a prescription at retail establishments such as costume and party stores or over the Internet.

Cosmetic contact lenses are coloured lenses that, like corrective contact lenses, are inserted directly into the eye. However, unlike corrective lenses, cosmetic contact lenses are used only to change the normal appearance of the eye. They are not used to correct vision.

These lenses, which are sometimes referred as theatrical contact lenses, are often worn by actors in movies or TV shows. For example, in July 2010, CTV reported that Lady Gaga used cosmetic contacts to enlarge her eyes during the filming of her video Bad Romance.

Members will be interested to learn that the same news report cites Dr. Desmond Fonn of the Centre for Contact Lens Research at the University of Waterloo, saying that he finds it worrying that the lenses are so very cheap:

We don't know what these lenses are made of. We assume they're regular soft contact lenses, but because of the way in which they're sold, they must be made less expensively to make them marketable.

CTV reported that the doctor's biggest concern was that “the majority of the young kids who use these lenses buy them but have no education about them”.

Today, on special occasions like Halloween, many young people wear dramatic cosmetic contact lenses to go with their costumes. What many Canadian consumers may not be aware of are the risks associated with wearing these lenses.

Wearing cosmetic contact lenses can pose all of the same risks as wearing corrective contact lenses. This can include eye irritation, itching and burning, sensitivity to light, dryness, blurry vision and infections. In the most serious cases, these infections can lead to blindness.

In the case of cosmetic contact lenses, these risks are escalated due to the fact that there is no labelling requirement to warn consumers about potential risks and safety issues associated with wearing cosmetic contact lenses. There is also no requirement to include information or instructions relating to the proper use and care of these lenses. This means that after buying cosmetic contact lenses in stores or on the Internet, a consumer may not be well-informed about the potential risks and how to use and care for these products safely.

Unlike cosmetic contact lenses, corrective contact lenses are medical devices under the Food and Drugs Act and must comply with the medical devices regulations.

Cosmetic contact lenses are not considered medical devices because they are only used to alter appearance. As a result, they are not subject to the same level of regulatory oversight for safety and quality. Bill C-313 would help us address this discrepancy.

In the U.S. cosmetic contact lenses have been regulated as medical devices since 2005. Bill C-313 would enable us to align our regulatory approach on these products with our neighbours south of the border. It would also contribute to Canada's commitment to regulatory co-operation to better align the regulatory approaches on both sides of the border.

The use of cosmetic contact lenses is not a new issue. Eye care professionals have been concerned for a long time about the health risks of cosmetic contact lenses. They have called on our government to increase regulatory oversight of these products. In fact, on October 5, 2011, the Canadian Association of Optometrists, the Opticians Association of Canada and the Canadian Ophthalmological Society issued a joint press release welcoming the introduction of this bill.

That press release quoted Dr. Lillian Linton, president of the Canadian Association of Optometrists, as stating the following about the regulation of cosmetic contact lenses:

[It is] an important vision health issue and the optometrists, opticians and ophthalmologists of Canada are asking for unanimous support from the House, Senate and Health Canada to adopt this amendment and enact it with haste.

Health Canada has long acknowledged the risks associated with the use of cosmetic contact lenses. Over the past decade, Health Canada has communicated the risks of cosmetic contact lenses and has provided safety information for contact lens wearers. In 2000, Health Canada issued a public notice warning of the dangers of wearing cosmetic contact lenses.

Health Canada has in the past and continues to recommend that cosmetic lenses be used only under the supervision of an eye care professional. In addition, the wear time should be limited to the shortest duration possible. Cosmetic contact lenses must never be worn while asleep and should not be shared with others.

Our government's support for this private member's bill is not our first attempt to strengthen oversight. In 2008, there were two opportunities to enhance the safety and quality of cosmetic contact lenses. First, this House supported a motion by the member for Sarnia—Lambton calling for cosmetic contact lenses to be regulated as medical devices. Later that same year, this government tabled Bill C-51, An Act to amend the Food and Drugs Act, which would have resulted in cosmetic contact lenses being defined as medical devices. When the election was called, Bill C-51 died on the order paper.

This government moved to help protect the health and safety of Canadians with modernized consumer product legislation through the Canada Consumer Products Safety Act, which came into force in June of this year. While the act may provide protection for Canadians who use cosmetic contact lenses, we feel that cosmetic contact lenses would be more appropriately regulated as medical devices under the Food and Drugs Act. It would be clearer for consumers and industry alike.

With the exception of the respective functions of corrective and cosmetic contact lenses, the two products are essentially identical. They have similar manufacturing processes, they are used in the same manner and they pose the same health risks. When put this way, it only makes sense that both products be subject to the same level of regulatory oversight for safety and quality.

If cosmetic contact lenses were regulated by medical devices regulations, manufacturers would be required to attest to the safety and quality of their products before they were sold in Canada. Cosmetic contact lenses would also be subject to the same labelling, consumer instruction, licensing and inspection requirements as corrective contact lenses.

Bill C-313 would permit the pre-market safety and quality requirements for medical devices to be applied to cosmetic contact lenses. This would mean that Canadians would have access to clear consumer information about the risks associated with wearing cosmetic contact lenses and the proper and safe use and care of the product.

I will conclude by saying that Bill C-313 would allow for a consistent regulatory approach for similar products with comparable risks.

It is clear to Canadians that the risks associated with wearing cosmetic contact lenses are no lower than the risks associated with wearing corrective lenses and that it is important to be familiar with and follow the directions for using and maintaining both products. One of the most important measures that consumers can take is to consult an eye care professional before wearing either corrective or cosmetic contact lenses.

The government is committed to protecting the health and safety of Canadians. We should support Bill C-313 to help us attain this goal.

Food and Drugs Act
Private Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

NDP

Djaouida Sellah Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Madam Speaker, I would first like to congratulate the member for Sarnia—Lambton on her bill. I thank her for her tenacity on this issue, which seems to be very important to her. She has persevered for several years now, in an effort to protect cosmetic contact lens consumers.

I have to admit that my first reaction, when I read the title of the bill, was not entirely positive. I read the title and thought it was a joke. When I did a little research, I realized that this was a health issue that had to be addressed. I was stunned to learn that we are only at this stage. Health Canada issued a warning in 2000 recommending that cosmetic contact lenses be used only under the supervision of an eye care professional. Health Canada also recommended in 2003 that the government regulate cosmetic contact lenses, meaning that it has already been 12 years since the first warning.

The risks to Canadians’ health are known and have been demonstrated by the research. A number of potential dangers are associated with misuse of cosmetic contact lenses without specialist supervision. Some were listed by other members who spoke to the bill earlier, but I am nevertheless going to quickly list a few of them.

The rate of lesions and complications, such as infection, inflammation or ulceration, is much higher among cosmetic contact lens users than among people who use prescription contact lenses. Lenses that are poorly fitted to the eye can affect vision and cause damage. The lenses can cause serious injury to the eye for people who wear them, such as allergic reaction, bacterial infection, inflammation of the cornea, and scratching or even ulceration of the cornea. Some of these lesions occur in less than 24 hours. They can be very difficult to treat, and in some cases they can be permanent.

These consequences could easily be avoided if the product were regulated.

I am aware that this is not the first attempt in this House to find a solution to this regulatory vacuum. I have seen the history: a motion was made in 2008 by the member for Sarnia—Lambton and was unanimously adopted by the House.

I hope this government will be more diplomatic in negotiating a complete regulatory framework with the provinces and territories if this bill is passed. I am not prepared to call the government’s negotiations in the health transfers case a success.

It is high time that a bill like this was passed.

I think my colleagues will have understood that I support this bill. I will nevertheless take advantage of the platform given to me by the residents of Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert in order to have their voices heard. Health is a priority for them, as it is for all of us.

I remind the House that several health advocacy groups are calling for tougher regulations on the sale of energy drinks. The evidence is clear and this government is refusing to take action, opting instead to ignore its expert panel on the issue.

This government has also refused to listen to experts who called for tougher regulations regarding sodium in food.

These are measures that can be taken today to improve the health and quality of life of Canadians. This government's current approach, which is to allow industry to self-regulate before the government steps in, does not work.

I would like to know how the contact lens industry has self-regulated. I think that we have the answer to this given that we have a bill before us that will force the industry to act.

There are many examples I could give to demonstrate that this government must pay more attention to health. There needs to be a comprehensive and complete plan that starts by mitigating risks, wherever possible, particularly through bills like this one, but also with tougher legislation to control sodium in food.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation estimates that an 1,800 mg reduction in the daily consumption of sodium would help to avoid approximately 23,500 events tied to cardiovascular diseases per year, which amounts to a drop of 13%. The economic consequences for health care would amount to approximately $3 billion a year. This is a logical, simple and responsible way of controlling health care costs. I hope that the Minister of Finance is listening. It is time to listen to the experts.

Although I acknowledge that this bill deals with a real problem, I would nevertheless have preferred that the government find a way of addressing the problem well before today. The reaction of a lot of people when I tell them about this bill is similar to mine: do they not have more urgent matters to address? Once again, I recognize that action needs to be taken. But had the current and previous governments taken action over the past 12 years, after the investments made by experts and Health Canada, we could be, at this very moment, talking about pensions, the future of the health care system or even job creation.

I hope that I am mistaken, but I am afraid that history will repeat itself and that this House will be discussing energy drinks, sodium in food, and sugary drinks in 10 years time, when the issue could be addressed now. I hope that the past 10 years’ inaction does not end up damaging Canadians too much.

Food and Drugs Act
Private Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière
Québec

Conservative

Jacques Gourde Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Works and Government Services

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-313. This bill would have non-corrective cosmetic contact lenses covered by the same regulations as medical devices, under the Food and Drug Act and the Medical Devices Regulations.

Cosmetic contact lenses are also known as theatrical, decorative or non-corrective contact lenses. These products are sold in a wide range of colours and styles and are easy to purchase. Consumers can buy them in stores and on the Internet. Research reports show that the use of these products is growing, especially among adolescents and young adults.

There is every indication that the use of cosmetic lenses will increase and that they will be worn for all types of occasions. These contact lenses are called cosmetic because they do not correct vision. They change the colour or the appearance of eyes purely for aesthetic reasons.

You may be asking why we are considering such a frivolous item as a costume or fashion accessory. In response, I will say that they are not just costume or fashion accessories. As the sponsor of the bill, the member for Sarnia—Lambton, has said, this is about people's eyesight.

Users of cosmetic contact lenses place them directly on the cornea. I am convinced that you will agree with me that placing a contact lens directly on the cornea poses health risks, even though the product is especially designed and manufactured for the eye.

The consumer who buys this product over the counter is not always aware of the risks. We are interested in introducing simple and practical measures to mitigate this very real risk to health.

There are real differences between cosmetic and corrective contact lenses. Corrective contact lenses improve eyesight; cosmetic contact lenses only change the appearance of the eye. In Canada, the authority to determine whether a medical device is distributed by prescription rests with the provinces and the territories. At present, Canadian consumers who want to purchase corrective contact lenses must have a prescription.

However, non-corrective contact lenses can be purchased without a prescription in retail outlets, such as costume shops, or on the Internet. In fact, cosmetic lenses and corrective lenses are similar in many respects. Both are made with the same materials using similar production methods. Both are applied directly to the eye and both pose health and safety risks to those who wear them.

Some of the health and safety risks associated with wearing contact lenses include lacrimation, tingling and dry eyes. In extreme cases, these problems can lead to blindness.

For a number of years now, we have heard warnings about wearing contact lenses. As far back as 2000, Health Canada warned the public of the potential risks associated with wearing cosmetic contact lenses and recommended that these products be used only under the supervision of an eye care professional.

In addition to the information published by Health Canada, there have been many public communications regarding cosmetic contact lenses. Many Canadian associations for eye care professionals provide consumers with information on the risks associated with wearing cosmetic and corrective contact lenses and how to prevent these problems.

These professional associations adopted the position that the potential risks associated with wearing cosmetic contact lenses are equal to or greater than those associated with wearing corrective contact lenses.

The United States Food and Drug Administration also issued consumer warnings about the risks associated with wearing cosmetic contact lenses.

In 2008, our government introduced Bill C-51, An Act to amend the Food and Drugs Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, under which all contact lenses would be regulated as medical devices. However, Bill C-51 died on the order paper when Parliament was dissolved and the election was called.

Cosmetic contact lenses are currently not classified as a medical device since they do not provide any therapeutic benefits. That means that cosmetic contact lenses fall under the general prohibitions of the Canada Consumer Product Safety Act, which was passed in this House and came into effect in 2011.

This act is a solid piece of legislation that requires suppliers of consumer goods to report any safety-related incidents, recalls or other regulatory action in other jurisdictions.

The Canada Consumer Product Safety Act gives the government broad powers to take corrective measures, such as recalls and product corrections. It therefore authorizes the government to adopt corrective measures in all cases where a consumer product presents an unreasonable danger to people’s health and safety. Under this legislation, products must be assessed one by one in order to determine whether they represent an unreasonable danger, but only once they have been put on the market.

I would now like to reassure Canadian consumers that the Canada Consumer Product Safety Act provides greater protection than before when it comes to cosmetic contact lenses. As medical devices, cosmetic contact lenses fall under the Food and Drugs Act and the medical devices regulations. Companies would be obligated to ensure that their cosmetic contact lenses meet safety and quality requirements in order to be able to sell their products in Canada.

Health Canada may also request additional information regarding safety and quality before or after a decision concerning their sale in Canada. Therefore, as medical devices, cosmetic contact lenses would be subject to the same labelling requirements and consumer information standards as corrective contact lenses, before they are put on the market.

Moreover, the medical devices regulations contain permit issuance and inspection requirements to which importers and distributors are subject, in addition to a mandatory declaration by companies concerning any serious incidents that may have occurred. Many contact lenses are sold directly to consumers over the Internet and are subject to minimal or no safety and quality oversight measures. It is not mandatory to consult an eye care professional.

Bill C-313 does not address any obligation to obtain a prescription in order to purchase cosmetic contact lenses, nor any obligation on the part of consumers to consult an eye care professional to obtain a prescription. The regulatory authority of the medical devices regulations does not address these concerns. The onus would be on the provinces and territories to make decisions and implement measures, since the authority to set regulations forcing consumers to obtain a prescription to purchase this kind of contact lens falls under provincial jurisdiction.

I am, however, firmly convinced that Bill C-313 is better for Canadians because it will mandate greater oversight over the safety and quality of these products than is currently the case both before and after they are put on the market.

As a regulatory body, Health Canada will continue to provide health care professionals and the public with product safety information, and will continue to promote industry compliance with rules and regulations. Industry will be obliged to meet the requirements of the Medical Devices Regulations. A large number of companies that sell contact lenses in Canada also sell them in the United States where all contact lenses, whether corrective or cosmetic, have been regulated as medical devices since 2005.

It is our government's priority to harmonize these regulations with those of its foreign counterparts and to promote Canada-American co-operation in the regulatory sphere. Bill C-313 is an important step in this process. Support for Bill C-313 will also enable our government to meet its commitment to ensure Canadians' safety. This bill gives us the opportunity to address an important health risk. It comes in response to the concerns expressed by health care professionals.

In closing, Bill C-313 will make two similar products with comparable risks subject to a single regulatory mechanism.