Mr. Speaker, good old Bill C-7 has been with us since my arrival in the House and I have followed it with fascination. It was of course a Tory bill introduced before this Parliament sat and was opposed then by my Liberal colleagues. I watched as it became a Liberal bill and was embraced with some degree of enthusiasm.
I invite people listening today to reflect on the parliamentary secretary's words during her original speech on this bill. I am sure they will find that the parliamentary secretary wholeheartedly supported Bill C-7 in its unmodified form. To be kind, that wholehearted support was somewhat enthusiastic.
This bill has gone through such a dramatic change in the committee process. That is what I am going to spend my time on today. Can the public influence a bill? The general perception in Canada is that the public cannot influence a bill. The fact is that the public can influence a bill, not only its tone but its actual final outcome.
What actually happened during the process of modifying this bill? I found, as did many people in Canada, that clause 3(1) and (2) could have significant potential harm to the health food industry. This clause stated that substances could be deemed to have a stimulant, depressant or hallucinogenic effect. It was plunked into the bill. Individuals across the country said it was too broad, too vague and not specific enough.
I received a host of requests for information. As an opposition health critic people said to me: "This seems to us to be a point where an opposition critic should step up to the plate". What did we do? We formed a very specific newsletter, which I have with me today. It states: "C-7 threatens choice in health care". It also mentioned areas of this bill that could have a profound effect on health care.
The newsletters went out along with a request for petitions to health food stores and to individuals who wrote asking for more information. To me, the outpouring of support for this position of choice in health care was profound. I wish I could touch that nerve in other areas. I wish I could touch the nerve of the health food industry in other areas.
People contacted the subcommittee on health. I am convinced the committee members could not believe the outpouring. People contacted the minister, their MPs and me. Did I have a big role in this? I was only able to provide a small vehicle for the outpouring of personal sentiment. I do not put myself as a great individual in this debate at all, but the focus of the input was fascinating to me. The whole issue was choice in health care. Those individuals said: "Deny us that choice and you are treading on our toes".
The result and specific part of the bill I found so offensive was the ability for legislators to deem substances such as stimulants,
depressants and hallucinogens to be stricken completely. There has not been a great deal of fanfare about that.
I want to tell the Canadian public that this was a huge victory for those who wanted to choose what they take. There are those who say that people could make mistakes in their lives and I agree with that. However, when should regulators be involved in someone's personal decision making? When there is proven harm, when there are potential side effects, and when there is fraud in claims, doses, source or contents. Otherwise the public tells the legislators to step aside. No one knows better than the individual how they feel and what works for them when it comes to things they take into their body.
There is a price for this freedom. The price for the freedom is to be informed. The public says: "Government stand aside; we have spoken". I finally say to those who would regulate and legislate in this area, no one can be better informed than the citizen who has a need which is not met by bureaucrats and legislators, driven by internal pain, anxiety or wants. They want to seek out time honoured remedies. They said loudly and clearly: "You will never usurp this right".
People find that interesting coming from a physician and surgeon, someone who occasionally is criticized for being too narrow in focus. I have seen individuals not helped by my profession. I have seen individuals seek alternative therapies. I have seen individuals beg for the ability to do that. I believe they have and need the right to do exactly that.
Why did we bring an amendment to this bill, a bill that frankly has dramatically improved over the way it first came to this House? We brought an amendment because there is still a regulatory mechanism, the power to make regulations which still gives the government the power it had in clause 3, to deem something to be included in the bill without broad public debate.
Is the mechanism of public consultation sufficient? In my view it is not. When something is put into The Canada Gazette for 30 days, it can be missed. Things have been missed in the past. There needs to be a greater flag. I would have preferred to have had those amendments come to the parliamentary committee studying health related issues. That would have been a better step. My basic premise is that legislators should at least be involved. It should not be an almost behind the doors process.
I will strongly state to anyone who will listen that the power to make regulations can be passed with virtually no public scrutiny. Powers delegated to the governor in council are broad, vague and border on dictatorial. Our subcommittee recommended that this be reviewed. I would like to hark back to the parliamentary secretary's comments when she said that the public scrutiny which is present today is just fine. Why would the government which controls this subcommittee agree to review if those powers are just fine? Those arguments are inconsistent.
I am also very sceptical of the committee recommendation. I think that recommendation is going to fall into a black hole. I am going to give an example of why I think that will happen.
The first duty in the health committee was to look at order in council appointments. I ask a question in the health committee that if we were going to review these order in council appointments, how many of them had been turned down in history. The answer was that members looked at me as if I were crazy. Surely the committee would not have the power to turn down an order in council appointment. I asked: "Why are we doing it then? Strike a subcommittee on order in council appointments".
My premise was that the committee should review appointments at the appointment stage rather than at the nomination stage. Sure enough we have gone through a whole host of witnesses and the recommendation of the subcommittee was that order in council appointments, if they were to be reviewed by the committee, should be done at the appointment stage. There would be no power taken away from the government. If everyone on the list were up to snuff, there would be a checkmark beside each name. It would be a good time to review. Then the government could choose which individuals it wanted from those.
I asked the question in high school class after high school class: If you were asked to review something, would you want to have that review be meaningful? The kids nod to me. We would think it was nonsense to do it any other way. Where has that recommendation that order in council appointments be referred to to the health committee gone? It has gone into a black hole somewhere, into government reorganization.
That indicates to me how cynical the government process sometimes can be. If a group of high school kids can see that it makes sense, it surely must make sense to the legislators. I will watch with profound interest the recommendation from the committee to review this power to make regulations. If it falls into the black hole as well, I will be greatly disappointed.
Bill C-7 has come a long way. If the power to make regulations were righted, I would support it. On the basis it is not righted, I will not support it.