Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise again in this House to discuss another health bill. Health is a very important subject to me. I am particularly interested in it because I know just how important and necessary health is to living with dignity.
Although Bill C-51 is very important and long overdue, although we have been calling on the government to review the whole issue of medicines, drugs and therapeutic devices for a long time, and although we have called on the government to do so a number of times, we will vote to send this bill to committee to be thoroughly examined. As my colleague said earlier, and as our other colleague who worked on the health file a long time said, this is much too important to let a few people decide the fate of thousands of human beings, Canadians and Quebeckers, who will rely on our decisions to keep them in good health.
A few things in this bill, or at least the draft we received, worry me. I am almost positive that some things worry a number of my colleagues as well. For example, the bill states that the Minister of Health would have the authority to pre-approve health products that have not yet received final approval. That worries me. It gives a lot of power to a minister, to one individual.
Bill C-28, which was passed a few years ago, had the same provisions for other products, such as pesticides. I do not know what became of that act, if the Minister of Health has had the opportunity to grant special permission to companies to put pesticides on the market before they should be. However, recently, pesticides have been found to be very hazardous to our health, to the health of our children and young people, whom we thought were safe playing outside during the summer. We thought that Health Canada had taken all the precautions to ensure the products were healthy, safe, and harmless.
If we are going to give the Minister of Health that much power, we have to make sure that we provide a strong framework for exercising that power in this bill. We have been hearing about amending the terms. These days, with so many advances in biotechnology and life sciences, we agree that we need to ensure that our health and health products legislation reflects these new realities. People with specific needs, such as those with HIV, might benefit from new experimental drugs. These drugs should be made available to them as quickly as possible, because in many cases, it is a matter of life or death.
Although we recognize the importance of reviewing the entire Food and Drugs Act, we want to be absolutely sure that the act contains provisions to ensure that the health of our fellow citizens will be taken into account responsibly.
There are some other things about this bill that bother me, and once again, I am sure that my colleagues from Québec and Verchères—Les Patriotes will see to it that these things are considered and debated by the Standing Committee on Health and that the people who have something to say about it will be invited to testify before the committee.
There is more to this than inviting experts in pharmaceuticals, doctors, parliamentarians, and departmental officials to debate this bill. The people this will affect—groups representing patients, hospitals and pharmacists—must be involved and consulted to develop the most comprehensive bill possible for health and therapeutic products.
There is something else in this bill that I am worried about. As my colleague said earlier, “therapeutic product” means
(a) a drug,
(b) a device,
(c) cells, tissues or organs that are distributed or represented for use in
(i) the diagnosis, treatment, mitigation or prevention of a disease, disorder or abnormal physical state, or its symptoms, in human beings or animals, or
(ii) restoring, correcting or modifying the body structure of human beings or animals or the functioning of parts of the bodies of human beings or animals, or
(d) a combination of two or more of the things referred to in paragraphs (a) to (c);
A few years ago, there was an epic battle over breast implants. At the time, breast implants fell into the category of specialized medical devices. Now they are in with therapeutic products. It was already very complicated and we did not have much information on the ingredients and the safety of breast implants. Now they are being put in with all therapeutic products or devices.
When they talk about cells, are they talking about stem cells? What are they talking about? When they talk about tissue, are they talking about the new grafts that can be made with one’s own tissue? There clearly need to be a lot of very apposite, very transparent rules on this.
I think that the health minister would have far too much power. The bill says that the health minister would have the power to modify the regulations. That is saying a lot because all the definitions in this bill are basically regulations. The health minister would have the ability, therefore, to change the regulations without coming before Parliament. That is very serious and we should be very worried about it.
There are also things that the minister could change not just in the regulations but also in regard to product labelling, purity standards, the way in which clinical trials are conducted, and the exemption of various products from the legislation.
I think that this means giving a tremendous amount of power to the man or woman holding the position of health minister. It means giving an awful lot of power to someone when we know we do not presently have a health minister who is very far to the left or very suited to making such decisions. After all, what is at stake here are the lives of our fellow citizens.
I am very concerned when I see a Minister of Health rise to vote against a motion asking Canada to recognize and abide by its commitment, as it has always done, to people sentenced to death in other countries. I am still very concerned about that. I thought that health ministers were supposed to be worried about the health of people and their survival.
It makes me wonder when I see that and then see a bill giving these people so much power. As a citizen, first of all, and as a user of medications and therapeutic products, I have a right and duty to wonder about these things. Do we really want to give one person the authority to approve a medication that has not been proven so that it can be marketed more quickly because it supposedly has more benefits than adverse side effects?
We saw this with Celebrex. It is still on the market because it supposedly has a greater upside than downside. However, people died of it before we knew why. We often see that. We did not use to see any advertising for drugs in Quebec and Canada. Under this legislation, though, there are some grey areas, some aspects that are incredibly hazy, and we could see more and more advertising. I am also very concerned about that.
To relax, we probably all watch television in the evening when we get home. In the course of the evening—in the space of maybe two hours—we will see at least two or three ads for Viagra or Cialis. That is what we see. To my way of thinking, these are drugs. Why is it that we see these ads when they are supposed to be prohibited? Various television stations agree to run them because Health Canada does not do any monitoring to determine whether various companies' and pharmaceutical firms' ads meet the criteria, which are, or were, clearly set out.
Now, with this new bill, the criteria would be much less clear. Pharmaceutical firms would have much more freedom and latitude to promote their products. This worries me. Many people are influenced by advertising messages. Our Conservative friends keep telling us that we are wrong, we are crazy, we are not listening, we do not understand, we will never accomplish anything, we are impotent. They know that repeating a message drives it home. In the same way, people who watch television are influenced by repeated messages: “Cialis will make you happy”, “Alesse will make you happy”, “This will make you happy”. We come to believe these statements and we ask our doctor for a prescription, even if we do not need the drug. We ask for the drug because it looks so wonderful to be able to skip down the street singing and arrive home to be greeted by our smiling wife. We want the same treatment.
We will have to be very careful about the decisions we make regarding this bill. While we agree that it should be referred to committee, I can assure the House that we will do our duty responsibly and make every effort to amend the clauses that could result in harm to the health of Quebeckers and Canadians.