Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join in the first round of debate on Bill C-51, a bill to amend, in large measure, the Food and Drugs Act.
I bring to this debate a lot of skepticism but it is a healthy dose of skepticism based on the history of this whole aspect of Health Canada and our regulatory regime in Canada.
It will be no surprise to the House to learn that this is the fifth attempt by government in the last decade to overhaul the Food and Drugs Act. Four times before the Liberals attempted to do so and each time they failed. Why? They failed because the community spoke up and demanded more accountability from government and much clearer answers around accountability and regulatory authority.
Members will recall Bill C-80, a draft piece of legislation that was supposed to do much of what we have before us today. That bill was supposedly attempting to modernize our food and drug provisions, bring us into the 21st century and bring our rules and our regulations in line with modern day science.
It did not take too long for Canadians to quickly figure out that this was a ruse. It was an attempt to make Canadians believe the government would be on their side but was in fact loosening its hold over regulations, minimizing its role and moving us away from what has been an entrenched part of our history, and that is a bill that regulates the safety of food and drugs in such a serious manner that it is part of the Criminal Code.
That legislation operated on the basis of the do no harm principle, the precautionary principle, which means that we do not allow products on the market unless there is evidence that they are safe beyond a reasonable doubt. That is the do no harm principle. It is not the buyer beware principle. It is not the risk management model that we have seen with the Liberals before and with the Conservatives today.
There is a marked difference between the do no harm principle and the risk management model. Do no harm means that we put people and safety first. The risk management model means that we can only go so far in ensuring Canadians' safety so we will allow the products on the market and then we will see what happens. It will be up to individual Canadians to determine whether or not it is worth taking the risk. It will be up to the corporations that produce the products to regulate themselves and decide if they are in line with the standards on paper.
The risk management model is not a proactive regulatory model that puts the needs and concerns of Canadians first. It is a model that puts the needs of big pharma, large corporations and global capital forces ahead of ordinary citizens. It is a model that makes guinea pigs out of Canadians.
We have had our share of offering up people as guinea pigs for large pharmaceutical corporations. I do not need to tell the House about the incidents in our past, especially when women were treated as guinea pigs. Thalidomide comes to mind as does Depo-Provera, breast implants and the list goes on.
We need to ask ourselves some questions. If we cut through all the rhetoric and tough talk about putting safety first and modernizing our system, are we better off? Are we any closer to the kind of system that Canadians thought we had and expected to have, which was abandoned by the Liberals?
It was abandoned when, in 1997, the former minister of health, Allan Rock, in his first gesture as minister of health, killed the federal drug laboratory, the only independent federal research lab in this country for testing on a post-market surveillance basis. It tested whether drugs that were on the market were safe and whether there were any negative consequences when that drug was combined with certain foods, other drugs or natural health products. It was a lab that performed a very important safety function in our country.
That was the beginning of a whole string of actions taken by the then minister of health, Allan Rock, and subsequent Liberal ministers of health to dismantle our regulatory system and move us away from the do no harm model toward a system where corporations pay for their drug approval processes. The bulk of the fees for our drug approval process comes from the corporations themselves.
Scientists at Health Canada have seen numerous incidents and they said that enough was enough. I think of Dr. Michèle Brill-Edwards who spoke up about being cornered to approve something she thought was not safe. She had to leave Health Canada to have any sense of integrity intact.
There were many others. Who can forget the whole group of veterinary scientists who stood tall about the tampering with food products and the adulteration and modification of veterinarian drugs? They were chastised, disciplined and lambasted by the Liberal government.
Whatever happened to the government being a bastion of independent, objective science that operated on the basis of the constituents it is supposed to serve? Whatever happened to government for the people, by the people and of the people? Nowhere is this more important than when it comes to the food we eat, the drugs we take because of medical conditions and the water we drink to sustain us and yet in those areas the government has abandoned us in large measure.
Today we are supposed to believe that the Conservative Government of Canada has such integrity, courage and vision that it is offering us a blueprint for a do no harm precautionary model around drugs and food. I bring to this debate a dose of healthy skepticism because I have seen nothing from the Conservatives to date that leads me to believe that the government is on the side of ordinary Canadian families and is not on the side, first and foremost, of the big corporations and their profit margins.
I have not seen that when it comes to housing, education, health care, women's equality, people with disabilities, the environment, jobs and child care. I have not yet seen the government stand up for Canadians