Mr. Speaker, indeed, I am pleased to speak on Bill C-523, presented as a private member's bill from the NDP. The Liberals have actually been calling for the Conservative government to implement mandatory reporting of drug shortages since 2011, and with luck, we will finally see this move forward.
This legislation is quite simple in that it mandates that a supplier, be it a manufacturer, wholesaler, distributor, or importer of drugs, notify the Minister of Health of any planned interruption of the production, distribution, or importation of a drug at least six months in advance. Failure to do this would be punishable via summary conviction and a fine of not more than $1.8 million. Any unexpected interruption would have to be reported to the minister as soon as possible or the supplier would face a summary conviction and fine of not more than $10,000 per day from the day the offence is committed, up to a maximum of $1.8 million.
Moreover, under the terms of this legislation, if a supplier is planning to cease production, distribution, or importation, the minister must be informed at least 12 months in advance or face a summary conviction and fine of not more than $1.8 million.
The minister must develop a plan—and this is important—in conjunction with the provinces and territories to prevent and address drug shortages, inform patients and health care providers, and prepare and implement any emergency response plan to address any shortage of a drug. I said that is important because the record of the government, in terms of doing anything in a co-operative way with the provinces, is that this seems almost foreign to it. This might all sound complicated, but in reality, the bill is simply calling on industry to keep government informed when a specific drug might become scarce, so appropriate planning can be undertaken.
Why was the bill proposed in the first place? Simply put, it was proposed in response to the ongoing shortage of medically necessary drugs across Canada. In the past, the Conservatives have asked drug companies to collect and post information regarding pending shortages on public websites to help health care professionals adjust treatment plans in a timely fashion. However, this is a voluntary reporting system and does not compel drug companies to disclose any information. As the case last year with Sandoz Canada has shown us, this can lead to significant harm to the health of Canadians who depend on necessary medication. We need to address this to prevent problems in the future. Many MPs in their own constituencies have had constituents come in to talk about shortages of drugs, which may have affected their health.
In the fall of 2011, following the Liberal round table on drug shortages, we recommended that Health Canada should establish a team within Health Canada to anticipate, identify, and manage drug shortages, similar to the 11-person team established by U.S. President Obama at the U.S. FDA. The government has not shown any such leadership, however.
Canada's government must institute a mandatory drug shortage reporting system, which would require manufacturers to list unavailable medications and to develop early warning systems that could highlight potential drug shortages, so health ministers, medical professionals, and patients would be notified as soon as possible. It is the responsible and prudent thing to do. Ensuring a safe supply of essential drugs is a key responsibility of the federal government, but it is a responsibility that the Conservative government has not taken seriously.
Shortages of essential drugs needed for common health issues and procedures are not a new problem, nor is the problem limited to Canada. It is a global problem that demands real action. For nearly three years, community hospitals, clinics, and pharmacies across Canada have been experiencing serious shortages in common medications, including those used for cancer care, heart problems, epilepsy, pain control, and surgical procedures. The federal government has had plenty of warning about the situation but has consistently failed to take action.
Members do not have to take my word for it. The Canadian Pharmacists Association sounded the alarm on shortages three years ago. It noted that 90% of pharmacists face drug shortages each week when filling prescriptions and that these shortages have become worse over time. The Canadian Pharmacists Association asked for the health committee to study the issue urgently and to ensure that this issue is on the agenda of the World Health Assembly meeting in May.
For our part, on two separate occasions at the health committee, August 2011 and again in November, the Liberals demanded that an investigation be launched into the shortages. However, all of these warnings yielded nothing but silence from the government. Members know how these committees work. They go in camera, they are basically shut down, government members vote against the motion, and the public does not know what happened.
As I have already mentioned, in the fall of 2011, the Liberals held a round table on drug shortages with drug experts from across the country. The recommendations that emerged from this were clear. Strong federal action was required to address current and future drug shortages.
In the face of these concerns, the Conservatives have done next to nothing. Their wilful disengagement and abandonment of meaningful responsibility for the shortages has worsened the problem. Rather than real action, the Conservatives brought in a toothless, voluntary drug shortage reporting system, which does not force pharmaceutical companies to report drug shortages, as is required in countries like France and the United States. In its first test case with Sandoz Canada, the voluntary system utterly failed to provide provincial health authorities with advanced warning of a shortage. The company's drug production problems were known months before, but provinces were only notified in late February, leaving the provinces no time to create contingency plans. The previous minister of health herself admitted that the voluntary reporting system was a flop.
The Liberals believe that a mandatory national drug shortage reporting system is required, and today we are backing up that belief with our votes. This reporting system should require drug manufacturers to list unavailable medications and to develop early warning systems that could highlight potential drug shortages, so that health ministers, medical professionals, and patients are notified as soon as possible. The provinces are asking for this and health stakeholders are asking for this, yet the Conservatives ignore their calls and continue to support a failed system that is putting Canadian lives at risk.
I call on members opposite. The backbench members opposite are not members of the executive council. They can act independently, on their own. They do not need to take direction from the departments and from cabinet. They can stand up for citizens on their own. I hold those backbench members responsible for the fact that some of my constituents are seeing drug shortages. It is because the government failed to act and the backbenchers failed to stand up in their own right for their constituents.
In conclusion, the government's approach has clearly been reckless and shortsighted. However, hope is not lost. If members would stand up and do the right thing and support Bill C-523, we would at least have somewhat of a start in dealing with this problem.