Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today on Bill C-42, An Act to amend the Quarantine Act. This is an opportunity for us to look at a bit of history at the same time, since the Quarantine Act is probably one of the oldest pieces of public health legislation in North America. We are very aware of this in Quebec. In 2008, we will be celebrating the 400th anniversary of Quebec City. Today, we have a sign: our health critic is in fact the member for Quebec City, and I want to recognize her. Her work on the Standing Committee on Health is outstanding.
This is an opportunity to see the work that we can do in this House: today we are dealing with the text of a law that was first enacted in 1872—and it is important that we remember this.
Public health, like health, has changed considerably over the years. I will offer a little history here. You know that health is a matter within the exclusive jurisdiction of the provinces. Over the decades, the federal government has encroached on this jurisdiction, as a matter of political choice. Remember that the universal health care system we have today was set up during the 1960s, at the initiative of a premier of Saskatchewan. This produced the health care system we have today, with all its ups and downs. In the 1960s, even though health was still within the exclusive jurisdiction of the provinces, the costs were split. So when the universal health care system we have today was created, the federal government was supposed to foot 50% of the bill. That was the agreement in the beginning.
You understand that because this is a privilege of the provinces, or a matter under their exclusive jurisdiction, the federal government made its contribution by way of transfer payments. That has indeed changed over the years, as successive federal governments, particularly Conservative governments during the 1990s, built up deficits. The Liberals in Pierre Elliott Trudeau's time, however, had also done their bit to increase the deficit.
Consequently, in the beginning, the federal government paid 50% of the bill for our universal health care system, which is under the exclusive jurisdiction of the provinces. This federal-provincial agreement, with the transfer payments, had been properly negotiated. In 1993, in the middle of the big Liberal budget cuts, the federal government's share of health care, through transfer payments, was 13%.
So we have a system, one that was created during the 1960s. In Quebec, it was the time of the Quiet Revolution. It was when the Quebec that we know today emerged. We got on board with the universal health care system, based on one premise: that the federal government, under the agreements signed, would pay for 50% of it. We thought that it was always going to pay 50% of the bill, but as I explained, since this was within the exclusive jurisdiction of the provinces, the federal government used that to withdraw gradually from paying the bill, as its deficits rose. Little by little, we arrived at an agreement whereby in 2010 the federal government should be paying the percentage it was paying in the 1990s. That is the hard reality.
The latest agreement negotiated between the provinces and the federal government aims to re-establish or rebalance its percentage of the bill to what it was paying in 1990. This is one reason why Canadian federalism does not always work—at least in Quebec. Quebeckers learned very quickly that, any time we are dealing with Ottawa, Quebeckers are always the big losers. That is what happened with our health care.
Today we are debating Bill C-42, An Act to amend the Quarantine Act. From a health perspective, it is probably the only file that is truly a federal jurisdiction. A few years ago, we suffered a SARS outbreak, that is, severe acute respiratory syndrome. This disease from outside the country made the entire community, both the provincial and federal health networks, aware of the need to intervene.
In 2005, we therefore decided to make an important amendment to the Quarantine Act, in order to adapt it to the risk of epidemics from outside our borders or epidemics that we might export.
This still surprises me. Many decisions are made in this House and many discussions take place, but all the while, certain realities elude us and manage to slip through all the policies adopted here in Parliament or elsewhere.
At the WTO, discussions are currently underway concerning the agriculture file, which is not yet resolved. In this vast, global free trade system, the agriculture file is one of the most recent issues that the WTO is resolving.
The longer we wait, the more we will see that, theoretically, the only way a person can protect their health is by producing themselves what they eat.
I listened to my colleagues talk earlier about chemicals. The best way a person can protect their health is by one day successfully producing at home everything they put on their table. That is how it will be.
I am always shocked when I see the Liberals and the Conservatives trying to set aside the supply management system put in place by farmers in Quebec and the rest of Canada for dairy products, poultry and eggs. This system balances supply and demand within the provinces and Canada. Yet the Liberals and the Conservatives are tempted to set aside this system, which allows us to meet our own needs for products as important as milk, eggs and butter. These are things we eat every day. They are tempted to set aside this system, because some countries would like to sell us their milk and other products over which we have no control. We have no control over what other countries produce.
Today, we are talking about a bill on quarantine, epidemics and freight movement.
At the same time, we are letting our WTO negotiators set aside supply management, which would allow us to provide for our own needs and produce milk, butter, eggs and chicken, things we eat regularly. We need to be able to self-regulate in this area. Yet the system will probably be set aside one day. The Liberals were prepared to set it aside, and the Conservatives are tempted to do so in order to negotiate with other countries that want to sell us their products. One day, we will no longer be able to produce what we need, and we will have to buy consumer products from other countries, products over which we have no control. We do not know how animals are fed or what is used in producing these products.
This concerns me a great deal. Today, we are discussing a bill on quarantine, a public health bill. As I said earlier, it has been in existence since 1872.
Things were simpler back then. I realize that we must make sweeping changes today because, at the time, people and goods travelled by ship. When there was a quarantine, the ship would raise the quarantine flag. A law had to be adopted to deal with the people and goods on the quarantined ship. Thus, a bill was passed in 1872.
Today, over one hundred years later, we must revise the Quarantine Act. Section 34 establishes what kind of transportation will be covered by this Quarantine Act. It has taken us several years and that is understandable.
Today, this section applies to the operator of any of the following conveyances: a watercraft or aircraft that is used in the business of carrying persons or cargo. We have broadened the scope of the legislation to more than just ships. This had to be done.
In a few centuries from now, we will not be able to accuse the Conservatives of having looked too far into the future. Usually, they look in the rear-view mirror to see what lies ahead. We are recognizing new technologies for transporting goods. That is perfect.
That is why the Bloc Québécois will support Bill C-42, which has the merit of involving operators and, as I was saying, “applies to the operator of any of the following conveyances: a watercraft or aircraft that is used in the business of carrying...or cargo”. This makes these carriers and operators take responsibility for their obligation to declare possible quarantines, illnesses or all manner of viruses that may be contained in their cargo, if they are carrying merchandise, or among the human beings travelling on board. This allows us to make adjustments.
However, as I was saying, it also requires us to take a look at our collective conscience. It is all well and good to pass quarantine bills. SARS showed us that despite all the good intentions of our health care systems, we are not sheltered from an epidemic or all sorts of unpredictable diseases. These are things that can happen. The severe acute respiratory syndrome or SARS epidemic that happened in 2003, was a sad event that showed us the flaws in our health care system. In my opinion, it was time for Canada to adopt a public health policy together with the provinces. I believe that the Standing Committee on Health did good work in implementing a public health coordination service that is able to intervene and help provinces deal with situations like the one Ontario experienced in 2003. This is good for public health and a good investment for our collective environment.
In the meantime, we never wonder what causes these epidemics. There were others that just fizzled out. Avian flu does not affect people, just animals, and we do not know whether it will affect humans one day or not. The same is true for mad cow disease. It affects animals, but we do not know whether it will affect humans one day. We have to be careful what we import and put on our tables. The main thing we have to take from all of this is that we can now be prepared.
In truth, we are reacting after the fact. SARS struck Ontario in 2003, and that is the reason why we have adopted this bill to amend the Quarantine Act. That is the reality. One day we must try to prevent rather than always trying to cure after the fact. To achieve that, we must ensure that we produce what we put on the tables in this country. That is the hard reality. It is a fine thing to do business with all the other countries of the world, to exchange goods and services, but when it comes to food, to what we produce to put on our tables, one day, our representatives at the WTO must stand up and say that is not negotiable.
Indeed, we cannot allow other countries to send us products, if we cannot be assured of the quality of those products. Genetically modified organisms, GMOs, are already being widely discussed around the world. We must be able to regulate what comes to our tables. Until we can do that, we must ensure that every country is capable of producing what goes onto the tables of its citizens, so that if ever there is an epidemic, a virus or something that stems from the food or the animals that we consume, we will be able to control all of that through our own regulation system.
We are not there yet and I find that disappointing. I say that very politely to everyone. I am disappointed in the way the Liberals defended supply management while they were in power, and the Conservatives are doing the same thing: trying to cast aside supply management. That means if dairy products, eggs, poultry and chicken are removed, there will be no more controls and those products will be imported from abroad. Some day we will be inundated with foreign products because those countries, owing to their population, will be into mass production. At that point, we will no longer be competitive.
One day, we will poison our population. That is what will happen. We will make our own people sick. The new way of doing things will bring viruses. If we do not adopt legislation similar to the bill we are discussing today, then some day we will have to adopt other bills to try to counter those plagues.
It would be easy to ensure consistency in everything we do by adopting bills like the one before us today to modernize the Quarantine Act.
We also have to take a stand with the WTO and say that agriculture—the food we put on Canadians' tables—is not negotiable. We must maintain complete control over the quality of the products we eat. That is the way it is.
We are talking about this for all kinds of reasons, one of which is that in order to make a profit, companies are going too far and genetically modifying products. They want things to grow faster, and they put all kinds of things in there to make them stronger and healthier, but in reality, they are making them less healthful by chemically treating them. That is a fact.
The Bloc Québécois will support Bill C-42 to implement section 34 as amended. I will read section 34 of the Quarantine Act, which will come into force when this bill is passed. I will then read the amendments. Section 34 reads as follows:
34(1) Before arriving in Canada, the operator of a conveyance used in a business of carrying persons or cargo, or of any prescribed conveyance, shall report to the authority designated under paragraph 63(b) situated at the nearest entry point any reasonable grounds to suspect that (a) any person, cargo or other thing on board the conveyance could cause the spreading of a communicable disease listed in the schedule; (b) a person on board the conveyance has died; or (c) any prescribed circumstances exist.
(2) Before departing from Canada throug h a departure point, the operator shall report to the authority designated under paragraph 63(b) situated at the departure point any circumstance referred to in paragraphs (1)(a) to (c) that exists.
(3) If it is not possible for the operator to report before their arrival in or departure from Canada, the report shall be made at the entry or departure point, as the case may be.
(4) The authority shall notify a quarantine officer or an environmental health officer without delay of any report received under this section.
These are the operator's responsibilities, which are to be carried out upon entering or leaving the country.
The amendment introduced today in Bill C-42 completes section 34, which I read earlier.
34 (1) This section applies to the operator of any of the following conveyances:
(a) a watercraft or aircraft that is used in the business of carrying persons or cargo;
(2) As soon as possible before a conveyance arrives at its destination in Canada, the operator shall inform a quarantine officer or cause a quarantine officer to be informed of any reasonable grounds to suspect that
(a) any person, cargo or other thing on board the conveyance could cause the spreading of a communicable disease listed in the schedule;
(b) a person on board the conveyance has died;
(c) any prescribed circumstances exist.
The original section talked about the operator of a conveyance without specifying the type of conveyance. Now it mentions transportation by watercraft or aircraft. Furthermore, the original section talked about reporting at the entry point and now reporting is done beforehand, as soon as possible, so that quarantine officers are informed before arrival. The situation does not need to be reported upon arrival at the border, it needs to be reported beforehand, as soon as possible.
I want to acknowledge the work of my colleagues in the Standing Committee on Health, the hon. member for Québec, among others, and to say that it is good that we are updating legislation from 1872 to deal with reality.
These are diseases that can be transmitted by virus, epidemic or otherwise. However, it is also important to realize that this bill is a reaction to the SARS epidemic in Ontario in 2003.
I hope the WTO will make good decisions to ensure that our agriculture will be protected, so that the food we put on our tables will protect our constituents and that we will not have to pass another bill one day because we should have realized that what we put on our tables should be produced here, according to our standards, to ensure that food safety and public health are protected.