Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to speak on Bill C-51, An Act to amend the Food and Drugs Act.
When we lay the grounds for legislation, it is important that we have confidence in the regulatory process and the ability to ensure that we are going to have accountability with this change to the act.
There has been a lot of discussion today about Bill C-51 and a good debate about its consequences. There is one thing I want to remind the House about, which creates the insecurity I wrestle with. I certainly am not going to be supporting this bill any further. I believe that the arguments have been well laid out as to why we cannot continue to move this forward. The legislation needs some fundamental changes.
I do not have any confidence that the drug industry is going to be subdued in this process. Let us look, for example, at the direct marketing that is going to happen with this bill. It goes back to an experience that I had here on the Hill in 2004 when we started looking at what I believe was Bill C-9 at that time, the Jean Chrétien Pledge to Africa Act, to provide help for AIDS in Africa. It was the precursor bill of Canada's Access to Medicines Regime.
The bill's purpose was to provide drugs to those developing countries that might be facing issues related to HIV-AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and other types of diseases that were affecting civil society. The contemplation of the bill came through an international treaty that allowed the generic production of different types of medicines to proceed, medicines that may have already had a patent restriction on them, if the actual pharmaceutical company would not provide them at a low cost to those nations.
We went through a whole series of processes and lobbying at that time. There was a very powerful lobby by big pharma to stop that bill dead in its tracks. There was some political support to try to move it forward. What ended up happening is that big pharma got a provision in the bill that was not even part of the internationally signed agreement with the TRIPS and the Doha.
Where we actually could have provided any available drug to go forward, we created this artificial list of what drugs would be available to be sent overseas and which ones would not be. The danger behind this was that it allowed for lobbying to keep certain drugs off the market.
Many people said not to worry. They said that would not happen, that it would not be ethical and that the companies would not do this. We were told that the companies would behave themselves.
To make sure this would not happen, there was a provision in the legislation to make sure big pharma would not be doing it. Lo and behold, even as we were doing that, big pharma was caught lobbying, including by me. It was exposed. It made headline news that the pharmaceutical companies were already lobbying to keep some of the drugs off the market. This plan fell flat on its face.
This is what I am concerned about with regard to this bill and how we go forward. I am concerned about the active lobbying and also the prescriptive behaviour that can take place with drugs. This could actually affect everything from safety to health care costs. Also, we kind of have a self-prescriptive society. The commercials have hit the Canadian airwaves already. They are very clever. They have been done very well. Probably they should win awards, because everyone knows what is happening but they get around the technicalities.
At the same time, these commercials lead people to go to their doctors. The doctor may prescribe some type of medication or may want to provide some type of generic alternative. Then the patients perhaps insist that they know the actual effects better. It can create longer wait times, make people potentially consider changing doctors, or other types of behaviour.
This concerns us, because I certainly would hate to see the cost of drugs rise, some of which have already skyrocketed, based on marketing and advertising campaigns and influence from the drug companies. That is important to note, because we already know that women generally suffer the consequences from prescription errors. This problem actually could expand. We believe what the experts have said. They have noted this vulnerability in the system that is being proposed.
One of the other things that we have identified as very important with regard to this case is the issue related to the lack of parliamentary oversight. The fact of the matter is that this bill is going to give more provisions for the government to be able to override the parliamentary process and for the minister to have expanded powers.
That is a concern because what we have seen with this administration is very much a centralized ideology. That has been its choice of how it wants to govern and that is fine, but at the same time, it opens up the probabilities for greater control. And it may not even be necessarily this administration that does it in the future.
I am suggesting that in the future we could once again have these types of control elements that really change the nature of how we actually have drugs administered in our society. This is another reason that New Democrats are saying at this point that we do not want to change the law right now.
Another thing I wanted to connect to right now is that we seem to be moving to a less regulatory society in some respects. Some of that is of great concern. I can tell members about it based on my background in the transportation sector. For example, in rail and air when we have been moving to safety management systems and letting the industry police itself, and there is going to be more of that with this type of bill, we have seen what is really very much a falling out of safety in many respects.
For example, there is the transportation sector. We just did a complete study. There was a panel. We talked about a culture of fear and intimidation that prevents the actual workplace from operating the SMS properly. What we have actually seen is a step back in rail safety over the last number of years as we have had increased problems.
We are really worried about having the regulatory body become more involved with regard to policing itself. What we would say is that we need to have a stronger involvement by Health Canada.
We have seen these actual situations in the past in our society. It is not just Canada that has this problem. It is in the United States as well, where active lobbying has put drugs on the market that do not necessarily meet the tests of the day and have to be recalled. That includes everything from a series of drugs related to heart medications to others such as breast implants. There are the tragic circumstances with thalidomide. These have had consequences. I think we are going to witness greater problems there.
There is a legitimate problem that we have in this country with regard to getting some of the drugs and medications to market. The hope for this bill is that it will expand those opportunities, but it is very much based upon a risk management cycle. Once again, that risk management, left in the hands of the industry for the most part, is something that gives us some trouble because of the influence.
I have witnessed it myself, as I mentioned, with Bayer doing the actual lobbying to keep some of its drugs off Canada's Access to Medicines Regime. That was even at a time when there was heightened awareness and there were actual hearings going on in Ottawa. There was discussion about that bill. There were a lot of politics around it and active lobbying on behalf of NGOs, the generics and the pharmaceutical companies. The spotlight of the nation was on this and they broke the rules at that particular time with no hesitation. They were not apologetic about it.
So when we move into this type of system, we have a lot of concerns, because it will not just be the attention that is being provided right now. It will also be later on, as the politics about the bill wind down, where the regulatory regime and the oversight are so necessary, because then what we will probably be faced with, unfortunately, is a clawing back of decisions that caused problems for Canadian consumers and their health.
With regard to health products, I know that the Natural Health Product Protection Association has been very adamant about changing the way the system is being done here. Unfortunately, this is a regressive step. I have seen a lot of emails and letters and have had phone calls come in, not only just to my office but also in the Windsor and Essex County region. They are from people expressing disappointment with the government for not adequately fixing their situation. This bill is going to compound their situation so they certainly are not supporting this.
Therefore, with the way this is right now, what we are calling for is to make sure that we actually have a new bill. I know that the government is intending to table some amendments and it is positive that the government is actually looking at some of the weaknesses of the bill, but we believe the bill is far too weak in many respects. We should be re-entering a debate and forming a bill that is going to work.