Mr. Speaker, I am taking part in this morning's debate as the former health critic and to support my colleague from Verchères—Les Patriotes, who is now the Bloc Québécois' health critic. He is doing an excellent job with the portfolio. I would like to read the bill's summary so that everyone listening will understand what it is about.
This enactment modernizes the regulatory regime for consumer products in Canada. It creates prohibitions with respect to the manufacturing, importing, selling, advertising, packaging and labelling of consumer products, including those that are a danger to human health or safety. In addition, it establishes certain measures that will make it easier to identify whether a consumer product is a danger to human health or safety and, if so, to more effectively prevent or address the danger. It also creates application and enforcement mechanisms. This enactment also makes consequential amendments to the Hazardous Products Act.
I would like to start with a little bit of background to explain how this legislation came about. Manufacturers of dangerous products, such as cosmetics, cribs, tents and carpets, fall under federal jurisdiction. The federal government does not currently require manufacturers to test their products or prove that they are not a danger to consumer health and safety. In the summer of 2007, thousands of toys made in China were recalled by the manufacturers because they contained lead. The Bloc Québécois urged the minister to take immediate action by tightening up safety requirements for dangerous products and banning the production of dangerous products and the promotion or marketing of any product posing an unacceptable risk.
Bill C-52 was introduced when I was the health critic. It was never passed in the House of Commons because the Conservatives decided to call an election. The bill was set aside. Now we are being offered a new bill, Bill C-6, whose purpose is to ensure that people have access to safe products. People wanted Ottawa to require manufacturers to inspect their own products and to prove that they were not endangering consumers' health and safety. Other countries do not have the same level of monitoring or the same product safety standards.
In December 2007, after four months of inaction, the government finally said it would introduce a bill, sometime in early 2008, to change its strategy for regulating product safety. The newspapers ran stories about all sorts of products arriving on our store shelves, whether it is foodstuffs or products for children. These products were dangerous to the health and safety of our young children. Many family members, including grandparents, were wondering if a certain products were harmful to young children's health.
The Conservatives' inaction in this federal jurisdiction has caused growing concern among many Quebec parents about health and safety issues when buying toys. Moreover, and this shows the government's inability and inaction, in the fall of 2007, it put a survival guide for parents online, so they could ensure their children's safety. This is yet another example of this government's inaction. It could have acted and solved the issue that was being reported in all the newspapers, and also on radio and television. The bill had already been introduced when I was my party's critic on health issues. Immediately after being re-elected, the government could have proposed a bill to move forward on this issue and to reassure the public.
So we waited and, at the end of November 2007, the government brought out a personal analysis kit for consumers, so consumers themselves could make sure that consumer products are harmless.
Producing a survival guide on products that are available in stores shows how this government is not assuming its responsibilities. Indeed, this meant that it was up to consumers to ensure that a product did not present any risk. What a lack of responsibility on the part of this government!
The government had shifted to consumers the responsibility of ensuring that consumer products were safe. This meant that every parent should have a testing kit to ensure his or her child's safety. That responsibility now lay with the parent. The government also wanted consumers to be product safety watchdogs. It was utterly ridiculous to see the government shirk its responsibilities like that.
The government was off-loading the problem onto the parents and asking parents themselves to ensure that products are safe. However, it did not put any constraints—and this shows how the government shirks its responsibility—on manufacturers of potentially dangerous products, such as toys, cosmetics, cradles, tents, carpets and drugs, among others.
We called on the Minister of Health at the time to set hazardous product safety requirements. It was his duty to prohibit the manufacture, promotion and marketing of any product that could present an unacceptable danger to health. The minister needed to decide how he could enforce Canadian standards so as not to endanger consumer health and safety.
That is what I said in 2007. Now it is 2009, and we are already several months into the year. In 2006, the Auditor General at the time had made the government aware of concerns about hazardous consumer products. Moreover, when the Conservatives came to power, we had been warned about this danger, and even the managers of the program had warned this government.
The Auditor General of Canada had sounded the alarm in November 2006 and had released a particularly interesting report. Chapter 8 of her report was entitled “Allocating Funds to Regulatory Programs—Health Canada.” That chapter clearly indicated that the product safety program managers could not carry out their duties for a number of reasons.
I could list all the deficiencies the Auditor General pointed to in her report. There were consumer products, cosmetics, consumer and clinical products that emit radiation, such as lasers and sun lamps, and new substances such as fabric dyes and fuel additives that were hazardous. Speaking of fabrics, a few weeks ago, some people who purchased chairs had a severe allergic reaction to the fabric, which affected their quality of life.
As well, serious problems came to light recently in connection with products that likely came from China. We know that China and South Africa were involved. Tubes of toothpaste, something we use every day, contained harmful substances. We are very concerned these days about cancers that are often caused by the quality of the environment or products of questionable quality. We also know that some substances could have an effect on cancers.
The government did not act. Now, the government has introduced this bill. The United States also addressed this issue in 2008 and is tightening its toy safety requirements.
Legislation has been passed to provide more resources to the American agency that monitors consumer product safety.
The United States Senate passed legislation to reform the Consumer Product Safety Commission. That was done last year, following a record number of recalls of potentially dangerous products. That legislation is called the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act. It increases the commission's budget—the money must be provided—and enlarges its scope.
Out of 413 different products recalled last year in the United States, 231—or a little less than half—were toys. Europe also moved forward on this. It is interesting to see that the government is now introducing a bill. It will be supported by the Bloc Québécois at second reading, so that we can go over every article with a fine tooth comb in committee. A number of witnesses will perhaps suggest certain nuances, not about the objective we wish to achieve, but about how we will achieve it.
I return to the position suggested by the Bloc Québécois. The government has been aware of the situation since 2006. We are happy to see that they are now going ahead with Bill C-6. We hope the other two opposition parties will do their best to improve this bill in committee after hearing what the various witnesses have to say.
The government has definitely been influenced by what has been written in newspapers and by the various pieces of legislation passed in other countries. Earlier I mentioned the United States and Europe. We can draw inspiration from their bills and see how certain countries have invested the necessary money. In order to conduct all the appropriate checks concerning the safety of some of the products on our shelves, we must have the necessary resources. The root of the problem must be addressed.
It is unthinkable that foreign products would not be subject to all the constraints for the manufacture of certain goods that must be met by our own retailers. They have to comply with standards. We have to be strict with products that originate abroad, where the standards are not the same. We have had to recall certain toys and products. We demanded that they be removed from our shelves and no longer be sold.
It is also our hope that, when a government is advised that a product is dangerous, that it be very proactive and that it not wait for newspapers, television or radio to bring the situation to light. The government must be transparent and should, of its own accord, contact the newspapers to tell them that such and such a product poses a health risk, in order to warn citizens against purchasing the product.
Therefore, as I was saying, we support the bill in principle and we will vote to send it to committee. We are pleased to see that the government is bringing forward this legislation. We hope that there will not be another election in the meantime and that this government will be open to the proposals of the various opposition parties. It is in a minority position and it must take that into account. Bill C-6 will not be adopted if there are early elections, in the fall for example. That could happen, for example, if this government continues to ignore the Bloc Québécois' economic recovery plan, a plan that has support across Canada.
Bill C-6, like former Bill C-52, is part of an action plan to ensure the safety of food products. The 2008 budget allocated $113 million over two years for its implementation. It remains to be seen what structure will be put in place and if the number of employees will be increased to ensure the safety of consumer products.
I will discuss a few technical aspects that this bill would implement. Clause 69 of Bill C-6 repeals Part I of the Act. At present, if a consumer good that is neither covered by regulations nor prohibited poses a risk to the safety of the population, it is up to the industry to impose a voluntary recall and manage the situation.
The federal government's powers in this respect are very limited. The new bill, Bill C-6, is aimed at creating more stringent safety requirements for hazardous products. It creates prohibitions with respect to the manufacturing, importing, selling, advertising, packaging and labelling of consumer products, including those that are a danger to human health or safety. It also aims to increase the responsibility of manufacturers and importers and to require them to ensure that their products do not represent any danger to human health or safety.
Although the responsibility of manufacturers, importers and any person selling consumer products seems more strict than before, according to clauses 7 and 8, clause 6 refers to the regulations, stating, “No person shall manufacture, import, advertise or sell a consumer product that does not meet the requirements set out in the regulations.”
Thus the tightening up of certain requirements for consumer products will be stipulated in the regulations, without the committee being able to know the direction they will take.
Very often we find bills filled with great principles, but here we have no debates about the regulations. That is the responsibility of the public servants, whom I respect a great deal. It will not be up to parliamentarians to draft the body of regulations, to monitor what goes into the regulations, and to find solutions to achieve the objective.
There are a number of definitions in the bill, and I quote:
“consumer product” means a product, including its components, parts or accessories, that may reasonably be expected to be obtained by an individual to be used for non-commercial purposes, including for domestic, recreational and sports purposes, and includes its packaging.
This is good, because the product may be safe, but its packaging may not be.
The bill also covers:
(b) anything used in the manufacturing, importation, packaging, storing, advertising, selling, labelling, testing or transportation of a consumer product;
(c) a document that is related to any of those activities or a consumer product.
The bill contains five measures with the intent of reversing the burden of proof with respect to the safety of consumer products. At present, as I said already, there is no constraint whatsoever imposed upon manufacturers or importers. They do not have to demonstrate that their products pose no danger or threat to consumer safety.
Bill C-6 proposes to reverse this burden of proof and to impose it on manufacturers in future. I think this is a step in the right direction. It also suggests that manufacturers and importers of consumer products will be required to test their products for safety on a regular basis and, significantly, to disclose the results of these tests.
That is important because a manufacturer or seller could claim that his product is just fine even if he were aware of problems with the materials in the product or its safety. It would be his responsibility to disclose test results. Currently, the burden of proof is the opposite. This bill would require companies to reveal any issues or illnesses caused by their products, regardless of where they were made. That is good, because right now, the toxic effects of certain products remain undisclosed.
This is a far cry from the survival guide and the government's suggestion that parents should be responsible for product safety. Giving that responsibility to manufacturers and importers is a step in the right direction. It is a good idea, and the Bloc supports this initiative. Once again, this is good news. It remains to be seen how the government goes about giving inspectors greater authority. I introduced a bill today to make people feel safer by requiring a durable life date on food packaging.
These days, whenever people buy food and other products, they often wonder if what they have purchased is safe. Even some pharmaceutical products sold in pharmacies do not have a durable life date. After two years, such products could be dangerous, could contain bacteria or could be toxic to humans. Giving inspectors greater authority is therefore—