Mr. Speaker, I would refer the hon. members to subclause 36(1) of the bill, entitled “Regulations”. Much of my speech will relate to my concerns about this item. This subclause says that the cabinet, the government, can exempt, “with or without conditions, a consumer product or class of consumer products from the application of this Act”, and it goes on.
Think about it. The government can, through cabinet decision, exempt or not exempt, with or without conditions, any product or class. That is a concern to me because it is so broad and so fundamental. How would anyone understand the scope or intent of this bill unless they knew what was covered? To me, this is a serious flaw in the bill and I hope the committee is going to look at it.
However, let me put on the record some of my thoughts with regard to the bill overall. First, as we know, Bill C-6 is the latest effort with regard to a bill from the last Parliament: Bill C-52. Bill C-52 had a companion bill, Bill C-51, which had to do with natural health products. I know hon. members learned an awful lot about that from the lobby and their constituents, because there are millions of people who rely on the availability of natural health products. Their argument is not whether there are proven health benefits; the fact is that they want the choice, they are comfortable with it, and as long as those products are safe they should be available.
So I am rising to remind all the nice people who have written to me over the last months and in the last Parliament and asked me to help in doing something about this that I am going to stay involved in this bill. I will support it to go to committee. However, I do want to make it crystal clear to all Canadians that there will be no implications with regard to natural health products in regard to Bill C-6. I expect there is going to be another bill coming to deal with natural health products, to the extent that there were two companion bills in the last Parliament. I certainly do expect that to happen and we will have to be very vigilant at that time.
Bill C-6, respecting the safety of consumer products, is referred to as the Canada Consumer Product Safety Act. Thus, members will often be referring to it as the CCPSA. It is very similar to Bill C-52 from the last Parliament. Bill C-52 did pass at second reading and was referred to committee. However, it died on the order paper because of the dissolution of Parliament and the call of the 40th general election.
To remind members of what Bill C-6 is doing, it is repealing and replacing part I of the current Hazardous Products Act. It is creating a new system to regulate consumer products that pose or might reasonably be expected to pose a danger to human health and safety. I do not think anybody is going to argue about the necessity.
Specifically, the bill has a number of key impacts. First, it prohibits the sale, manufacture, import and advertising of certain listed products and provides for testing and evaluation of consumer products. Second, it makes it mandatory for manufacturers, importers and sellers of consumer products to report dangerous incidents associated with these products to the Minister of Health. It also obliges manufacturers, importers and sellers of consumer products to report product or labelling defects that result, might result, or are reasonably expected to result in death or serious adverse health impacts, including serious injury, and report that to the Minister of Health.
It requires the same group to report recalls of consumer products initiated by governments and government institutions in Canada or elsewhere to the Minister of Health. It provides for the inspection and seizure of consumer products for the purpose of verifying compliance or non-compliance with the bill's provisions.
It empowers the federal government to institute interim and permanent recalls of products that pose or might reasonably be expected to pose a danger to human health and safety, and it establishes both criminal and administrative penalties for those who violate the CCPSA or orders made under it.
Under the current act, the Hazardous Products Act, if a consumer product that is not regulated or prohibited poses a health or safety risk, it is up to the industry to voluntarily issue and manage a product recall. So it is a voluntary system of sorts. It is not as robust, obviously, as Bill C-6 is proposing to be. The federal government is limited to issuing only a public warning in that regard under the current legislation.
Obviously this is a very serious step, given the changes in the way that products move, the technology, and their production and distribution. This is basically a bill to modernize our approach to product safety.
To give members an idea in terms of these voluntary product recalls, in 2006, there were 32 product recalls; and in 2007, there were 90. The number went up to 165 recalls in 2008, and 27 recalls already in 2009.
So the number of product recalls by even the manufacturers or distributors of these has been going up. Clearly it is urgent that the bill be dealt with expeditiously. There are problems out there. There is a risk posed to Canadians, and I know all hon. members will want to work diligently to make sure that Bill C-6 gets urgent attention at the rest of its stages.
This bill and the former bill, Bill C-51, was described as having a three-pronged approach to food, health and consumer safety. I do not have any specific comments to make on the approach. I think the approach is sound.
That said, I do have some concerns with regard to the regulations. For a long time I have been a member of the Standing Joint Committee on Scrutiny of Regulations, between the House of Commons and the Senate. By way of background, the committee has a mandate to ensure that regulations made to statutes after they are passed by Parliament have been properly enabled in the legislation.
The reason we want to review that is that there is a history of where governments, and they refer to order in council but that is basically cabinet, where cabinet makes regulations that do much more than was contemplated in the bill or requested or required by the bill. It is referred to often as being backdoor legislation. It is where we do not see it.
In the bill that is before us, members will see in clause 36, the clause that I referred to concerning the regulations, 16 paragraphs listed that require regulations to be made.
When we have a bill to deal with, we know the areas in which regulations may be promulgated by the government, drafted, gazetted and issued. In our case, we operate under the presumption that the full intent of the bill is transparent in the bill itself and that nothing happening after that will change our understanding of what the bill really wanted to do.
We have to rely on that because at the end of second reading, we are going to have a vote to approve this bill in principle, which will pretty well lock in what the bill is intended to do. At committee, members may fix some errors and fine-tune the bill here and there, and perhaps do a few other things. We will be able to move report stage motions later, but at second reading, we are going to approve it in principle. The bill will go to committee and we will do some fine tuning and hear from the experts to see if there is a problem. As long as there is no major fundamental problem in the understanding of the bill or no errors have occurred, the bill is going to pass at committee. It is going to pass at report stage. It is going to pass at third reading. It is going to go to the other place where it will go through a very similar process. Then the bill is going to get royal assent, but it is not going to be proclaimed until the regulations are drafted, gazetted and promulgated. We will not even see the regulations until after the bill gets royal assent and we will not be able to do anything with it.
That is why the Standing Committee on Scrutiny of Regulations exists. There has to be a mechanism in which we can look at the regulations once they come out to ensure they are properly enabled in the legislation and that they are not doing things beyond what would reasonably be contemplated in the bill.
I started off my speech and read clause 36(1)(a), which basically says that the government, the cabinet, may make regulations exempting, with or without conditions, a consumer product or class of consumer products from the application of this act. It gives extraordinary power to the cabinet about what is in and what is not. It poses an extraordinary risk because now it is cabinet members, who may be lobbied not to put an item in there, who can say they are out.
I would much prefer, and I know there are precedents in other legislation, that it state that these are the things that are there and these are the things that are not there. We have seen it, for instance, in the reproductive technologies legislation. There was a royal commission on reproductive technologies I think 15 years ago. We passed a bill at all stages in 2004 I think it was. We were told at the time it was going to take about two years to draft the regulations and for them to be put in place, gazetted and promulgated.
I said earlier that it is extremely important, given the product recalls, that there be some velocity to this bill. I do not see that there is a sense of urgency. I do see there are 16 areas in which regulations have to be drafted. These will not be drafted probably until after the bill goes through all stages. Even then there is no obligation for any scrutiny before those regulations are done and issued. That concerns me because another important act, the reproductive technologies act, also had many regulations to be made. We were told it was going to take two years. On top of that, the health committee got the concession that all of those regulations must be passed by the health committee. It was important to ensure there was not any backdoor legislation being made, that the intent of the bill was not modified substantively through regulations which would not be caught by the scrutiny regulations committee until after there was a complaint or we did a review of them which may be too late.
I am very concerned about the velocity of the bill. I am concerned about the fact that there are so many regulations here. I am concerned that even the first one tells me there maybe is going to be too much discretion by order in council or by the cabinet, i.e. the government, unilaterally to say what is not included. It puts a lot of risk and onus there and I do not know whether or not that can be dealt with.
People have been asking me about the health products aspect and, because there is no companion bill, whether there is something in this bill. In fact, there is.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health responded to a question expressing that concern. I might as well read the response into the record. This was at the beginning of second reading. He said:
In the original writing of the bill and in the past version, Bill C-52, there was some confusion in the language and stakeholders from the natural health products community required some clarification of it. The minister has written--
I want to emphasize this. The parliamentary secretary said:
The minister has written to the chair of the health committee. We will be putting forward an amendment to clarify that exactly so that the stakeholders from the natural health products community know that this bill excludes natural health products and food and drugs under the Food and Drugs Act.
It basically says that the Minister of Health has written to the chair of the health committee to give notice that a little change is going to be made to say that natural health products are excluded from the bill. That is wonderful, but we have a regulation. The regulation says that the governor in council may exempt, and I stress the word “may”.
What kind of amendment is the parliamentary secretary referring to? Are we going to say that now the bill is going to include some sort of a clause providing a specific amendment for natural health products and then everything else is going to be subject to a cabinet decision about exemptions? Some classes are obvious on their face. It should be in the bill. If the case is that they are going to say that regulation 36(1)(a) is where we will give the exemption, but it is not specifically in the bill, we will never know. How long is this going to take? How long is it going to take before those regulations are drafted? How long is it going to take before they are gazetted and promulgated and they become part of the law and the provisions in the bill become law?
If the reproductive technologies legislation is any indication, it could be months or maybe years. We are already four years past the drafting stage of regulations on the reproductive technologies legislation.
This causes me concern. I have seen this time and time again from Health Canada. Health Canada has a track record of patterning these bills in the way it wants to handle them, in a way which allows it a lot of latitude to change things or to move forward with things, or in fact to delay things.
I can say right now that the fact that those 200 regulations on reproductive technologies have not been drafted and presented to the health committee yet, a bill which received royal assent back in 2004, means that all of those provisions, all of the work and all of the things that we were doing in the areas that require regulations are not in force right now. They are not the law. In other words, all of the things that we approved and we accepted in Parliament to be the law of Canada are not the law of Canada today, four or five years later, because the regulations have not been done. What does that mean? It reverts to the law and continues as it was.
In that particular case, it is the Canadian Institutes of Health Research that unilaterally decides what is going to happen on reproductive technologies, about sperm donations, about the buying and selling of gametes and the like. What is even worse is that the Canadian Institutes of Health Research is not even subject to parliamentary review. It is the largest organization of the Government of Canada that provides funding for research. It is the one that decides and it is not even subject to any review by the Parliament of Canada.
I know this because I put forward a report stage motion to put in the bill that created the CIHR that it be subject to a three year review so that parliamentarians knew what the CIHR was doing and could ask its officials questions about how they were doing it and make sure they did not have pet projects, which is the reason the CIHR was created in the first place. The body it was replacing was found to have some problems. There was too much bias within the system. It is going to happen again.
I hope I have raised some questions. I want to encourage members of the committee certainly not to just listen. I do not know why the health minister is writing to the chair of a committee before second reading is over. I am not sure why the government did not anticipate that the health product industry was going to have some problems with the legislation. We have some things to correct but I want those things to be corrected quickly. I want the bill to be dealt with quickly because the health and safety of Canadians is at stake.