House of Commons Hansard #113 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was cuts.

Topics

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

Is that agreed?

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

3:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

National Defence
Privilege
Routine Proceedings

April 30th, 2012 / 3:30 p.m.

York—Simcoe
Ontario

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, as I was saying when I got up before, I listened with interest to the point of privilege raised by the Liberal House leader with regard to his stolen rocket toys, and I was tempted to say that you were being invited to boldly go where no Speaker before has gone, or perhaps that the Liberal leadership campaign is heading to the ends of the earth, to infinity and beyond.

In any event, I feel compelled to rise to respond briefly to last Tuesday's remarks from the hon. members for Scarborough—Guildwood and Malpeque in relation to the question of privilege from the hon. member for Toronto Centre relating to the Auditor General's spring 2012 report.

The hon. member for Scarborough—Guildwood suggested that there is much confusion. After reviewing his comments, I want to help him out with the clear argument I advanced.

First, both hon. members attempted to associate my comments with the notion that ministerial accountability has been dispensed with. That is, of course, patent nonsense. My comments about a distinction between officials and ministers related to the content of the Auditor General's report, and I reference the Auditor General's own publication on how his reports are prepared. As those two hon. members should recall, the issue was one of the branches of their own leader's argument.

Ministerial accountability remains a key principle in our form of government. To give just one example of this, the government's expenditures are presented to Parliament for approval through the estimates process. Expenditures on a replacement for our CF-18 fleet will, if and when such a purchase is undertaken, come to Parliament like all other government expenditures, including, I would note, our current operational costs for CF-18s.

Ministers defend estimates here in the House and at committee. Indeed, I understand, for example, that the hon. Minister of National Defence has made no less than eight committee appearances on National Defence estimates, including one right here in committee of the whole in this chamber.

Next, some of the quotations offered last Tuesday were taken badly out of context. I want to point to a couple. First, both the leader of the third party and his defence critic have quoted from a March 9, 2011, decision of Mr. Speaker Milliken. It might be worth observing that the quotation offered comes from the portion of his ruling where he was summing up the arguments that had been made. It did not come from the portion that was his actual decision. Therefore, the probative or useful content of that in terms of representing the ruling is obviously minimal.

In my opening comments a week ago, I summed up the arguments of the leader of the third party for the purpose of marshalling my own comments, which followed. However, the hon. member for Malpeque seemed to quote that back the next day, as if I were saying that Parliament was misled. No, that is the exact opposite of the conclusion of my comments. To quote me quoting the leader of the third party is hardly an instructive view of what I was representing to this House. I will not further rebut those or other comments, although I could. I simply wanted to get all of that on the record.

Mr. Speaker, I know you are taking this issue very seriously, and that you will undoubtedly be thoroughly reviewing what has been put before you.

As for the speech given by the hon. member for Toronto Centre on Thursday afternoon, I think my comments from a week ago effectively address his intervention.

Before sitting down, I do want to cut through the clutter of the debating points that were offered to remind ourselves what the substance is of a ruling on a question of privilege. Citation 117, subsection 2 of Beauchesne's Parliamentary Rules and Forms, sixth edition, advises that:

It has often been laid down that the Speaker's function in ruling on a claim of breach of privilege is limited to deciding the formal question, whether the case conforms with the conditions which alone entitle it to take precedence over the notices of motions and Orders of the Day standing on the Order Paper, and does not extend to deciding the question of substance—whether a breach of privilege has in fact been committed....

In other words, Mr. Speaker, the hon. member for Toronto Centre is seeking from you permission to give priority treatment to a motion to refer this issue to a committee to study. Curiously, he is seeking to do something that had already started when he raised this issue on April 5.

As I said last Monday, the Standing Committee on Public Accounts is now seized with the study on the Auditor General's report. While I am on my feet, perhaps it would be useful to give an update on this committee's work. At its planning meeting last Tuesday, it was agreed to have the Auditor General appear before the committee, appear one more time, I might add. Mr. Ferguson appeared on Thursday morning for the second time this month. Moreover, deputy ministers and senior officials are scheduled to attend tomorrow.

In closing, let me commend to the chair the February 25, 2004, ruling by Mr. Speaker Milliken, which I quoted from last week. As I said last week, let us let the public accounts committee get on with its important work.

National Defence
Privilege
Routine Proceedings

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

I would like to thank the hon. government House leader for his further intervention.

I would like to remind all members that it is unusual for interventions on questions of privilege or even on points of order to be made as they have in this particular case and on other recent occasions.

The Speaker takes every question of privilege very seriously. I appreciate information being brought to my attention. However, normally allowances are made only to accommodate members who perhaps were not present or who had not had adequate time to prepare their interventions when a matter was first raised.

The Chair's indulgence in this regard, as we have seen over the past few days, should not be interpreted as a licence to rebut or counter every argument made, nor is it intended to allow a debate going over several weeks perhaps. Members are expected to be brief in bringing new information to the matter at hand.

I thank all hon. members for their co-operation. At this point I have heard all I need to hear on this particular case and, unless pertinent new information is to be brought to my attention, I will take the matter under review and come back to the House as early as possible.

The hon. member for Scarborough—Guildwood is rising.

National Defence
Privilege
Routine Proceedings

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

John McKay Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, I take your advice and your admonition. It is true that we do not want to perpetuate this debate forever.

However, the Parliamentary Budget Officer's observation over the weekend that there were in effect two sets of books being run, while it may not be entirely new information, is certainly information that I would respectfully suggest is of relevance and goes to the very heart of the issue of ministerial accountability, ministerial transparency and ministerial responsibility.

It may be that the issue has been brought out over the past few days. However, I would respectfully crave your indulgence, Mr. Speaker, with respect to whether, if I have an opportunity to review both the House leader's remarks and other interventions, that observation has received sufficient emphasis so that, when you do make your ultimate ruling as to whether the House was mislead, the Parliamentary Budget Officer's observation gets sufficiently taken into account.

National Defence
Privilege
Routine Proceedings

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

I appreciate the hon. member raising that point. If he has something new that he wishes me to consider I would urge him to do so very quickly and also make sure it is very relevant to the question that the Speaker is being asked to rule on.

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Opposition Motion—Health and safety of Canadians
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

There were six minutes left in questions and comments when the hon. member for Etobicoke North last had the floor. I am not sure which party had the last question. I see two members rising and I will try to get both of them in.

The hon. member for Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel.

Opposition Motion—Health and safety of Canadians
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Massimo Pacetti Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel, QC

Mr. Speaker, we are debating another good topic by the Liberal Party on the health and safety of Canadians, but the member's speech was focused on the environment and the war on the environment. The economic situation of this country does not make the war on environment any less important or any less pertinent these days.

The government has failed in quite a few areas, but does the member have any other examples of where the Conservative government has failed on the environment file? The member is our environment critic and she is doing a great job.

Opposition Motion—Health and safety of Canadians
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, there absolutely is a war on the environment. Last summer the government announced that 700 positions could be cut; then we had cuts of 43% to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency. The government then wanted to cut ozone monitoring. Ozone is critical to life on earth.

The questions should be: Should the government streamline upper atmosphere ozone monitoring a year after the discovery of a two million square kilometre ozone hole over the Arctic? What does streamline actually mean? It means gutting. Will the government maintain the integrity of the ozone monitoring program? Will it maintain Canadian contributions to the global observing system for climate in support of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change?

Another area where the government is cutting is water. Water is essential to our health, sustaining our ecosystems and growing our economy. On World Water Day the government gave .7% of what is needed to clean up the Great Lakes.

Opposition Motion—Health and safety of Canadians
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Oshawa
Ontario

Conservative

Colin Carrie Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, it is curious that we are actually debating this poorly worded motion by the member for Toronto Centre. One of the things that it says is:

...the House condemn the government for introducing a budget that will repeat the mistakes of the past and put Canadians in danger by reducing food inspection...

et cetera.

If we remember back to the decade of darkness when the Liberal government was in charge of things, it actually cut $25 billion just in transfers to the provinces. That was among all the other cuts that it made

We have decided not to cut the transfers to the provinces. We have actually increased them to record amounts.

I wonder if the member would stand on her feet today and condemn her previous government for those horrific cuts that went out to the provinces and territories under the Martin and Chrétien regime?

Opposition Motion—Health and safety of Canadians
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, we should not be playing politics with the motion regarding a tragedy that took place in Walkerton when 2,300 people fell ill.

The actual report said the contributions to that tragedy were the Conservative cutbacks of the Ontario Ministry of the Environment.

In stark contrast, in 2011 the Ontario environment minister, John Wilkinson, said the government is still paying heed to the lessons from the Walkerton tragedy. Wilkinson noted that Premier Dalton McGuinty's Liberals had implemented 121 recommendations from Mr. Justice Dennis O'Connor's 692-page report. Mr. Wilkinson said, “We didn't gut the resources that were there to protect people”, noting that the government has spent $30 million on the Walkerton Clean Water Centre and has trained more than 23,000 people.

Opposition Motion—Health and safety of Canadians
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. friend from Etobicoke North. I want to say publicly what a pleasure it is to serve with her in the House of Commons. She is consistently well prepared. She works extremely hard, as a former scientist, in bringing that knowledge to us in the House.

My concern with one of the things she mentioned, though, was that we might see fewer environmental assessments take place at the federal level as they get hived off to the provinces.

Now that I read the new definition of what will be examined in a federal review—namely that just fish and just migratory birds are the only things the current Conservative Party believes are federal—I think it is almost better that we have no further federal assessments, because they will have so degraded and destroyed the notion of environmental review.

Opposition Motion—Health and safety of Canadians
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my hon. colleague and friend. We have had the privilege of working together for over 20 years.

One of the things we are most concerned about in this budget is the gutting of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. In fact, it is being repealed. Those laws are in place in order to protect the health and safety of Canadians, our environment, our economy and our livelihoods.

Opposition Motion—Health and safety of Canadians
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Oshawa
Ontario

Conservative

Colin Carrie Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, I want to inform you that I will be splitting my time with the member for Kildonan—St. Paul.

I am pleased to rise in the House today to talk about the important work that this government has promised to do to ensure and protect food safety.

The health and safety of Canadians have always been a priority for our government. This is reflected in the work that we do to protect and promote our health. It is also reflected in our investments in food safety. These investments were done with the intention of strengthening our ability to reduce food safety risks. That means better surveillance and early detection and improved emergency response.

As a government, we have acted on all 57 recommendations in the Weatherill report and have funded improvements to the food safety of Canadians. Budget 2012 contains a commitment of more than $50 million to be invested over the next two years. As a result, Health Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada and CFIA will continue their ongoing support to strengthen and make more effective our food safety system.

I would like to inform members of this House of the role that Health Canada plays in food safety.

Our government recognizes that a safe food supply is a major contributing factor to the health of Canadians. We all know that safe food and good nutrition are important to all Canadians and their families.

For that reason, Health Canada works closely with the Public Health Agency of Canada, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the provincial and territorial health departments to ensure food safety in Canada. It is important that we all co-operate in order for the work to continue.

Together with our partners, industry and consumers, Health Canada works to establish policies, regulations and standards related to the safety and nutritional quality of all foods sold in Canada. Today I will speak about some of the key changes that our government is making to food regulation in Canada while continuing to protect the health and safety of Canadians.

Health Canada's food scientists conduct detailed and rigorous evaluations that focus on safety. Our safety assessment of food is internationally recognized. In fact, our government scientists are leaders and regular contributors in international discussions related to food safety and standards.

Underpinning all this work is the Food and Drugs Act. This is our primary legislative framework for foods, drugs and cosmetics, and it has served us well. Its solid foundation has helped to protect the health and safety of Canadians for over 50 years, but we recognize that modernization is needed if we are to continue to protect the health and safety of Canadians.

Specifically, our food regulations need to keep up with the advances made in science and technology. We need to keep up with consumers' interests now and in the future.

Finally, we need to be able to respond quickly, efficiently and effectively to current and emerging food safety challenges. Modernization is needed to respond to these changes. In particular, updating the tools available to implement food safety decisions has been identified in the Red Tape Reduction Commission's work. As part of our ongoing discussion with stakeholders, the need for updated tools has also been identified as a priority area for modernization.

I would like to explain how these changes will maintain the scientific rigour with which our government approaches its work while making key changes to reduce red tape.

Currently, once Health Canada scientists have made a safety decision, be it about the safety of a new food or additive, setting the limit for a chemical contaminant or approving a new health claim on a food, it can take many months and sometimes years to implement that decision through a change in the regulations. The current lengthy and cumbersome process causes long delays in the approval of some products that are scientifically proven to be safe. Many of these scientifically proven products have a potential beneficial impact on the health and safety of Canadians. These delays affect our ability to update food safety standards quickly when new science emerges. For consumers, these delays limit their access to innovative and safe products.

That is why our government introduced targeted amendments to the Food and Drugs Act to reduce these delays and cut red tape while protecting the health and safety of Canadians. The targeted amendments to the Food and Drugs Act are included in the jobs, growth and long-term prosperity act, which was tabled just last week. Including these amendments, the act will allow us to move forward quickly to address these delays while maintaining the science related to this very important work.

Specifically, targeted amendments to the Food and Drugs Act include a new authority for making authorizations and a broader authority for incorporation by reference. These changes will shorten the time it takes for some safe food products to be put onto the Canadian market.

I will take a few minutes to describe each of these new authorities and how they will work together to continue to protect the health and safety of Canadians.

I will start by describing marketing authorizations. Marketing authorizations will be regulations made by the Minister of Health. They will exempt products from specific prohibitions in the Food and Drugs Act and the Food and Drug Regulations.

The marketing authorization will give the Minister of Health an improved ability to act on certain food safety decisions—for example, the approval of some serious health claims for foods or setting safe levels of substances used in food production, such as food additives. The minister will be able to set conditions on the approval of a product or substance, providing more flexibility to address particular risks. This will allow Canada to make these safety decisions at a pace similar to that of our major international partners.

Marketing authorizations must follow an open and transparent process. They will also be subject to the same provisions as other regulations under the Statutory Instruments Act, ensuring such things as review by the Department of Justice and publication by the Clerk of the Privy Council.

It is also important to note that the marketing authorization does not change the scientific process or review. This will be done with the same rigour as our scientists have always used and with the priority to safeguard the health and safety of Canadians.

The marketing authorization only changes the way the decision is implemented after the scientific assessment is completed. By using marketing authorization for these decisions, the government will be able to continue to focus its efforts on safety, while reducing delays in implementing those safety decisions once they are made.

There will also be a second authority, which will allow more flexibility in the use of incorporation by reference. Currently tables such as approved food additives or authorized food health claims must be written word for word into the Food and Drug Regulations. Consequently, if a change to the list is needed, a regulatory amendment is required, a time-consuming and resource-consuming process that adds no benefit to the safety of Canadians. This regulatory process does not allow Health Canada to respond quickly to updates and advances in science and technology, market trends and/or emerging food safety risks.

This authority will allow Health Canada to incorporate by reference standards and methods, guidelines or other documents into the food and drug regulations, including documents developed by the government.

This could include a list of permitted food additives, certain substantiated health claims or testing methods that were proven to be effective in detecting harmful pathogens in food. Changes will be able to be adopted as soon as the scientific assessment and related comment periods and notifications have been completed.

In addition to continuing to protect food safety, these amendments will also help address the recommendations of the final report of the independent investigator into the 2008 listeriosis outbreak. In the report, Sheila Weatherill noted the need to expedite approvals of food additives when appropriate. These two new authorities respond to Ms. Weatherill's recommendations.

Let me illustrate the importance of these changes by providing an example. Health Canada received an application for a new food additive that could be used in certain processed meat and poultry products to help control the growth of harmful listeria. Health Canada undertook a scientific assessment and determined back in December 2007 that this additive could be safely used.

However, it took another 36 months for the required regulatory changes and approvals to enable this product to be used in Canada. Under the proposed new process, which will include a period for public comment, approvals could take as little as six months after the safety decision is made.

We have a solid foundation that will help protect Canadians' health and safety, but the tools needed to support this foundation are outdated and rigid.

The targeted amendments to the Food and Drugs Act introduced last week through the jobs, growth and long-term prosperity act will help update the tools we need to help protect the health and safety of Canadians.

These changes demonstrate the commitment that our government has made and continues to make to protect the health and safety of Canadians. The changes put forward will help the government to maintain our high level of scientific rigour but will allow our decisions to be implemented faster, cutting the red tape and delays for the approval process and providing Canadians with safe products.

We will continue to engage and consult stakeholders during the decision-making process. The government's commitment to consultation, transparency and openness will remain. Ultimately these amendments will help the government to respond more rapidly to the pace of change in science and innovation and to play its role in continuing to protect the health and safety of Canadians.