House of Commons Hansard #83 of the 35th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was environment.

Topics

Patent ActPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

NDP

John Solomon NDP Regina—Lumsden, SK

There's a 4 per cent royalty.

Patent ActPrivate Members' Business

October 8th, 1996 / 5:55 p.m.

Liberal

Morris Bodnar Liberal Saskatoon—Dundurn, SK

That is what he wants, and that is what he has proposed to this House.

Now is the time to look for a balance in this legislation with a review of Bill C-91. It should not be dealt with in the theatrics that have been proposed by the hon. member in this House with this bill. He is trying to show how conscientious he is when he knows that a full review is coming before the industry committee on Bill C-91. I wish he would attend some of those meetings.

Patent ActPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

Bloc

Pierre Brien Bloc Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to have this opportunity to speak to the bill introduced by the hon. member for the NDP, a bill that basically, and very briefly, will reduce the protection granted the drug manufacturing sector. There are patents that protect the industry for a period of 20 years but in fact have an effective duration of about ten years.

We should realize that it takes about ten years from the time a molecule is discovered that will be used to manufacture a drug to the actual marketing of the drug, so that unlike other products, where the actual marketing takes place very quickly after the development of a product, the actual protection of the patent extends well beyond the 20 years allowed by law, because the initial date applies from the time the new molecule was patented.

Of course when we are talking about the pharmaceutical industry, we are talking about one of the major sectors of the economy, especially in Quebec and Ontario, and in other provinces as well. But when we are talking about the innovators, the companies that do research and discover drugs in Canada, they are mainly concentrated in Quebec and Ontario.

In fact, more than half are located in Quebec, in the Montreal area, and quite a few in the Toronto area as well. This is the reason why both the Montreal Chamber of Commerce and the Toronto Board of Trade are recommending not only that we maintain a legislative framework to support and protect pioneering industries, but that we upgrade it.

As we know, this debate has taken place twice since 1987. The first time, in 1987, the law was changed to extend patent protection. If I recall, it was extended to seven years. The member is suggesting that we revert to a system of compulsory licences. In 1993, the Conservative government returned to the attack, increasing patent protection for drugs to 20 years.

Of course, there were very active lobbyists on both sides. These people are always part of the picture. Behind the humanitarian reasons often quoted to give less protection and allow for drugs to be copied earlier, on the grounds that they would be cheaper, there are the industries which make a lot of money copying these drugs.

It should be emphasized that since this bill came into effect, we have seen an increase in research activity in the pharmaceutical industry, and an increase in job creation both in the area of patented drugs and pioneering industries and in the area of generic drugs, or copied drugs. Both sides have been expanding.

This bill was aimed at striking a balance. It is true that there is always a risk when granting a patent. One should be very careful and monitor the situation closely. There is a risk of creating a monopoly, pushing prices upwards. The government created the Patented Medicine Prices Review Board to keep track of the situation. There are standards, guidelines that ensure that, when the drugs developed reach the market, their price will not be unreasonably higher than the costs involved.

So the review board tables reports. What do these reports say? I heard the member sponsoring this bill talk about sky-rocketing costs and give us some examples. In fact, since 1987, the cost of patented drugs has increased only by 2.1 per cent a year. According to the report of the Patented Medicine Prices Review Board, the increase has been lower than inflation. It is always appropriate to monitor the situation, but in fact the legislation and the regulations have been well enforced and are very efficient.

Sky-rocketing costs might be due to other factors. If health costs are increasing in Canada, it is also because the population is aging. There are other similar phenomena that have to be considered. I would like to remind you that, in 1993, when health costs were being examined throughout Canada, 3 per cent of expenses in the health system were related to patented drugs, that is, drugs coming

from the innovative industry. We must be careful, therefore, not to fall into the trap and stick to the facts.

I would like to remind the hon. member that the current act comes up for review in 1997. We are talking about spring 1997. Of course, people are wondering if election deadlines will change the situation. We will see. However, the current act must be reviewed in 1997.

At that time, each of the industries and groups concerned will have an opportunity to be heard and explain why they want changes, why they want more or less patent protection and how. They will have an opportunity to present their cases.

It would be premature for Parliament to draw conclusions from a very partial analysis of the situation-which, according to the arguments I heard, is not always connected to the actual figures-and pass this bill reducing patent protection to 17 years, as the hon. member proposes.

We know that in reality this would be reduced by three years. It is a lot. It is important to note that putting a drug on the market is very expensive and time-consuming. Many research initiatives never pan out. In all areas involving research and development, many research efforts never lead to real-life applications. Considerable amounts of money are invested in R and D.

If we limit the protection they enjoy and their ability to market their products and recoup their investments, how will this translate into reality? There will be a drop in research activities. The focus will shift to generic products, duplicating and selling various drugs.

This brings us to the social aspect. All of us in this House expect help if we take ill. We expect to have access to drugs or care, palliative or otherwise. Now, for these drugs to be available, someone has to do research in their applications. Unless our legal, fiscal and economic framework does not create incentives, these drugs will just not be produced and we will find ourselves with another problem on our hands: not having access to the drugs we want.

Caution must be exercised in saying that drug patent protection should be reduced on compassionate grounds. This has a serious and major perverse effect. Therein lies the social dimension.

Should the act be amended, the economic factor would also affect the balance that currently exists whereby, in Quebec and in Ontario in particular, a lot of people are involved in research and development.

Let me give you a few figures. In Quebec, there are over 6,000 jobs in the research sector for this industry. This is a large number. These jobs are in areas where knowledge and technology are important, and where major infrastructures and investments are required, in excess of $600 million for the companies located in Quebec.

So, we are talking about 6,000 jobs and, in 1994, the most recent data I have indicate that research activities totalled more than $240 million. This is quite a sum of money. The government itself could not do as much in the present context. Who is going to do the research if, through this bill, we reduce the incentives these companies have? Many of them are concentrated in the Montreal area. Some of them are also located in the Laval area, in Metro Toronto and just outside Toronto.

We find many generic drug companies in Ontario and Manitoba, and a few in Quebec. There has been a slight shift since 1993.

We now have a situation that makes development, research and job creation possible. The hon. member talked about jobs. Jobs have been created in both generic and new drug companies. It has been possible to achieve a good balance under the present legislation. Should we be doing more? We will have to take a look at that. Do we need to monitor more closely price control? We will also have to consider this issue.

Right now, the Patented Medicine Prices Review Board argues that the situation is under control and that everything is going relatively well. Under these circumstances, it would be ill-advised to jeopardize an industrial structure that is so important to our future. We need think only about the existing relationship between the scientific community, the universities, and the companies that have developed in the last few years a very important rapport, which will give our country an edge in this area.

Lastly, I want to remind the House of our international obligations. Canada has some obligations under NAFTA, the World Trade Organization, what was formerly known as the GATT. If we pass this bill, we will be violating these international agreements, which require us to provide the same protection we were giving in 1993. We have to be very careful before adopting such a bill and make sure that what we are doing will be good for employment and medical research and will promote economic growth in Quebec as well as in Ontario and in the rest of Canada.

In this regard, this is not a votable bill, but had it been a votable bill, we would have had to vote against it. I invite the member to come and express his views next spring when a broader and more public debate takes place. We will get the facts straight and review the situation.

Patent ActPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Reform

Werner Schmidt Reform Okanagan Centre, BC

Mr. Speaker, this is a very interesting bill that has been presented to us, Bill

C-311. I want to commend the purpose and the intent that prompted this private member's bill.

There is no question at all that we all would like to reduce the cost of medicare in Canada and in the provinces and in the individual lives of people. We would like to do that but we have to recognize within this context that we are entering into an extremely controversial area. In fact, the practice of medicine itself is rather controversial.

The whole concept seems to be evolving around the fact that there is a single variable that will change the cost of medicare and that is the matter of the cost of pharmaceutical drugs. Admittedly it is one factor and it is a variable. To suggest that it is one of the major points has as much to do with the cost of the drug itself as it does with the practice of medicine in the first instance. There was a time when the prescribing of drugs was not as rampant as it is today.

With all due respect to the intent and purpose of the bill, I think I will have to take exception to this bill on several grounds. The first of these has to do with our position in the overall world. We do not live any longer as an island called Canada on the globe. We must compete on an international, global basis.

We need to recognize that there are a number of countries that have accepted the 20 year patent protection. There is a list of not less than 50 countries that have accepted this as a way of doing business. If we are going to compete in that world we need to recognize that it is the field on which we are playing.

Let me give a sample of some of these countries: Germany, Israel, Japan, the Netherlands, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, the United Kingdom and the United States of America. There are a number of these countries which have used 20 year patent protection. I could name more countries.

We need to recognize that there is a major competitive issue at stake here. I want to suggest that this bill take recognition of the fact that essentially the production of pharmaceutical drugs in the first instance is basically a knowledge based industry. Knowledge does not find itself limited by political boundaries. Knowledge can leave as easily as it comes.

The one thing we want, which leads me to the second point as to why we want to protect this particular patent, the intellectual property, is the business of attracting the skill, the ability, the knowledge and the know how of doing the research necessary in order for us to be competitive in the international field.

I would like to refer to what happened in 1987. With the 1987 amendments to the Patent Act the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers' Association of Canada made a public commitment that its members would increase their annual R and D expenditures as a percentage of sales to 8 per cent by 1991 and 10 per cent by 1996.

I just received the annual report of what actually has been the experience. As a result, the ratio of R and D expenditures to sales revenues for the patented pharmaceutical industry was 11.8 per cent in 1995, up from 11.3 per cent in 1994. They have lived up to their particular suggestion.

I would like to give the House some numbers that I think illustrate this rather well. In 1988 the amount of money spent on R and D expenditures by the pharmaceutical companies was $165.7 million. Then it rises all the way to 1995 when that number went to $623.9 million. Somebody will immediately suggest that it includes certain government grants. Indeed it does. In fact in 1995 the government grants to the pharmaceutical industry doing research were $7.6 million out of $623.9 million, a small amount.

We then also have to ask in what areas these companies have done their research. Have they done their research in basic research, which is the curiosity driven research, how we find a new idea, a new way of treating various ailments and applied research. The distribution goes this way: 22.2 per cent of the R and D expenditures were for basic research which is the basis on which new discoveries are built. If we do not have that, we do not have advances in knowledge and we do not move back the walls of ignorance. There was 61.9 per cent given to applied research.

What else would one expect? Here we have manufacturing agencies that recognize the need for new knowledge to be developed and at the same time how that knowledge can be commercialized. Logically they would put more money into that area. In total, that was $623.9 million in 1995 alone. Look how many jobs that created.

When the hon. member presented his bill he said that jobs were lost, some 1,200 in Ontario and some 800 in Quebec; $623.9 million was spent, whether it was the research people who lost their jobs or whomever, I do not know, but $623.9 million created other jobs. I wish the member had indicated that perhaps not only were some jobs lost but there were a lot of other jobs created.

The net position on $623.9 million has to have created some jobs. Therefore, I will not accept that we had a net loss in this particular area. When we put $623.9 million into the economy, nobody can tell me there is a reduction in the number of jobs in Canada.

I would like to move now to a couple of provisions in the bill itself. Bill C-311 is suggesting that we replace the Patented Medicine Prices Review Board with a patented medicine review board, taking out the word prices. The member is probably suggesting that the marketplace will maintain that the prices be

kept in some sort of a competitive position. Essentially if the playing field were level, I would agree.

However, knowledge and the advancement of knowledge sometimes require special protection which is exactly what the patent law does. It provides protection until that knowledge has grown to the point where it can play its competitive role in the world and where the marketplace has indeed determined the prices.

The important thing to remember here is that the Patented Medicine Prices Review Board has in fact been able to control the prices during the time when the pharmaceutical companies did have a monopoly in the distribution of those drugs. There is evidence and there is an annual report. If it has not been the case, then the time has come to review what that board is doing. If it is not doing its job, then the House of Commons needs to take issue with that board. It does not become a matter of standing up and saying that this ought not to be the case. Therefore, we have to be careful as to just exactly what it is that this bill does.

In conclusion, I need to remind all members that the provisions of Bill C-91 are coming up for a major review. At that time we need to look not only at this particular aspect but at the whole business of medicine and how pharmaceuticals fit into the medical patterns as such in Canada. We have a big job before us. It is a challenging and wonderful job. I wish that we and medicine would do the right thing.

Patent ActPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Eglinton—Lawrence Ontario

Liberal

Joe Volpe LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, I want to participate in this debate on behalf of the Minister of Health.

I would like to correct a couple of misperceptions and misinterpretations that have been brought forward by my hon. colleague who presented the legislation for our consideration today. If we want to be fair and sincere about the issue at hand, and I believe all members in the House do, then we cannot begin by misrepresenting what the minister has said outside this Chamber.

The Minister of Health has said repeatedly that he is committed to a parliamentary review as is mandated by Bill C-91 and identified by my colleague a moment ago. It is unfair to suggest otherwise. Not only is he committed to that, he is not engaging in the kind of rhetoric that my colleagues opposite enjoy by trying to predict what the parliamentary review will produce or by trying to influence it. It is important to understand that the minister is going to abide by the regulations and by the legislation as presented by Parliament. We would all do well to honour the same thing.

My colleague from Regina-Lumsden presented the legislation for two basic reasons. I would like to focus attention on the issue of addressing drug costs. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry has already addressed the licensing component. I would like to focus for a few moments on drug costs and health expenditures.

Make no mistake. The government is concerned about both the level and rate of increase in expenditures for pharmaceuticals in this country. Expenditures for drugs make up 12.7 per cent of Canada's total health expenditure. It is the third largest component of health expenditures behind only hospitals and physicians.

Not only are drugs the third largest component in Canada's health expenditures but these are increasing faster than any other component in health spending. In 1994 drug expenditures grew by 3.8 per cent. Even factoring in the population growth, the rate of growth is 2.1 per cent. Other speakers have already pointed out that in the late 1980s and early 1990s the situation was worse than it is currently, with increases in drug spending of well over 10 per cent per annum, year after year.

If we are really serious about addressing drug costs, then we must look much deeper than these facts and figures. We must consider the extent to which patented drugs contribute to the overall drug costs.

The federal government currently regulates patented drug prices through the Patented Medicine Prices Review Board.

Patent ActPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

An hon. member

That is the biggest joke.

Patent ActPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

Liberal

Joe Volpe Liberal Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

There may be people who share a different opinion, but in our view the regulations under the PMPRB are strict. The prices of existing patented drugs cannot increase by more than the consumer price index. Introductory prices for new drugs are limited to the range of prices for other drugs which treat the same disease, unless the new drug represents a breakthrough or a substantial improvement. In that case, its price cannot exceed the median of prices charged for those drugs in other industrialized countries.

The evidence, notwithstanding the objections opposite, indicates that the PMPRB is doing its job in controlling patented drug prices. I ask members to consider some of the facts.

The member for Regina-Lumsden will note that in 1995 patented drug prices actually decreased by 1.75 per cent. That was the second year in a row that prices actually declined. By comparison, in that year the consumer price index actually rose by 2.14 per cent. My colleague may not be impressed with that but the fact is that there was a decrease.

Price increases for patented drugs have consistently been below the consumer price index ever since the PMPRB was created in 1987. Before that the member will know that drug prices were increasing at rates well above the consumer price index. As I said

earlier, I want to address the element of this bill that takes issue with health expenditures and drug costs.

In 1994 for the first time, patented drug prices in Canada were on average below the median international price. In 1994 the prices of new breakthrough drugs in Canada were on average 11 per cent lower than the median international price.

The reason I highlight these facts is to show first, that even in the absence of compulsory licensing, patented drug prices have remained under control and second, to show that influencing patented drug prices will not necessarily lead to reduced expenditures on drugs. The reason for this is not that difficult to see.

Overall drug prices and overall drug expenditures are influenced by additional factors such as the price of non-patented drugs, pharmacy dispensing fees, and the rate of utilization. All of these are factors which provincial governments are finding much to their dismay are contributing to a very large extent to the overall health costs. No matter how low prices are, the more drugs people take, the more drug expenditures will increase.

Federal, provincial and territorial ministers of health have recognized that action on drug costs can and must occur on many fronts. In April 1996 they directed deputy ministers of health to review and to report back on six pharmaceutical issues: price; utilization; marketing; consumer education; research and development; and waste.

Current estimates of wastage would astonish even the members opposite. They are well over 10 per cent of the overall costs. I am confident the work by the deputy ministers will lead to collaborative initiatives that will have a real impact on drug costs, the effective use of medicines and the health of Canadians. Working together with provinces and territories to discover and address the root causes of increasing drug costs is the way to achieve results.

We need to encourage pharmaceutical investment and research and development in Canada. It is in these kinds of jobs and these kinds of job creation opportunities that we can bring Canada's economy into the 21st century and make substantial contributions to the health and well-being of Canadians.

The factors that have helped Canada to attract this investment in R and D, and I refer to our excellent university structure, a competitive tax regime, and a supply of eminent scientists, would not be able to overcome the negative impacts of this bill. I refer back to Bill C-91 because what the member's bill does is it pre-empts what is required by Bill C-91 and that is a parliamentary review four years after royal assent, i.e., in 1997.

As I said in my opening remarks, it is one thing to propose an item of legislation and it is another one to pre-empt a process that is already in place and to try to predict and influence its outcome when it is going to be open for all members of this House.

Only when that review is completed and only when we have struck the appropriate balance between industrial objectives and health issues in Canada can we look at the patent policy to examine how it should be adjusted.

As I said earlier, this bill would pre-empt the process of that parliamentary review and presumes that change is needed without giving stakeholders a chance to participate and without allowing the evidence to be considered.

My minister has already indicated an openness and a willingness to ensure that the process works and works properly. In fact, he has already asked the national forum to speed up its work and to produce the work on its consultations for the benefit not only of that review but for the benefit of other reviews on health.

Patent ActPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

NDP

John Solomon NDP Regina—Lumsden, SK

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Now that we have heard the debate on this bill I was wondering if we could have unanimous consent to refer the bill to committee.

Patent ActPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

The House has heard the request of the hon. member. Is there unanimous consent?

Patent ActPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Patent ActPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

There is not unanimous consent.

The time provided for the consideration of Private Members' Business has now expired and the order is dropped from the Order Paper.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

Patent ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:30 p.m.

NDP

Chris Axworthy NDP Saskatoon—Clark's Crossing, SK

Mr. Speaker, a while ago I asked the former minister of human resources development how he expected public trust and confidence in government to be restored when his government pulled an about face on unemployment insurance. We all remember the red book promise about public trust and confidence in government.

How did he see the serious hypocrisy of his actions, I asked. While in opposition he and his Liberal colleagues opposed Conservative cuts to UI which were not nearly as deep as those they recently pushed through the House.

In today's economic climate support programs like UI are necessary to help workers adjust to changing technological and global economic circumstances; however, income support alone

has not and will not create the long term economic growth and jobs that today's economy demands.

Clearly our aim should be to move the debate forward and develop a bold new approach to unemployment and unemployment insurance reform. It is no longer enough to focus solely on the unemployed, who have clearly been made a scapegoat by successive Liberal and Conservative governments. Instead I believe it is time to focus on what is required from society as a whole, from those who are looking for work, those who are able to supply it, and the governments which facilitate relationships between the two and which help to shape the way we do business in Canada.

A creative and modern approach would include a scheme which would of course provide the unemployed with adequate resources for living for themselves and their families but which would also enable unemployed Canadians to get back to work and, when possible, to get the kind of jobs that match their needs.

Real UI reform involves helping Canadians to find the kind of work they need and to help in creating the kind of workforce which can win a place in the global economy. This certainly means that overlap and duplication must be dealt with. It means establishing partnerships between federal, provincial and municipal governments and the private sector.

The issue of dependency and abuse must also be dealt with, but separately from issues surrounding benefit levels and conditions so that eligibility benefit levels, training, job creation schemes and other active measures can be discussed in a more rational way.

Unfortunately this has not been the case in Canada when UI reform has been discussed by the government. With the present policies, these crucial objectives are farther from being met than ever before.

It is clear that the kind of reform carried out by successive Liberal and Conservative governments amounts to little more than thinking up new wheezes with which to bash the unemployed. Liberals on the government side opposed those measures when they were in opposition but now support them. The approach of the current government to unemployment and UI is more a restatement of the problem than a strategy to improve active support and develop truly effective measures to deal with unemployment and the transition of the unemployed into the labour market.

The primary solution being offered is that the unemployed should receive less in benefits for a shorter period of time and the benefits should be harder to get; a strategy that has been tried and shown to have failed over the last decade and a half.

Further, perhaps one of the most troubling measures with the government's UI reform constitutes the theft of $1.9 billion belonging to employers and employees. Even with the reinvestment into so-called active programs, the government admits to stealing more than $1.1 billion, money which plainly does not belong to the government. The government expects that two years from now there will be a $10 billion surplus in the UI fund. Instead of using these surplus funds to establish more aggressive and more constructive active support measures that would help the unemployed get back to work, measures that have been proven highly successful in other countries, the Minister of Finance will use this money so that he can meet his deficit reduction targets. This is theft, plain and simple, and we cannot afford to continue in this way.

Canadians understand the need for a UI program that is fair, which provides basic financial support and which encourages and makes available the tools they need in order to re-enter the labour market.

Canadians support aggressive active support measures that help people get back on their feet. The unemployed want a system that focuses on moving UI recipients into the workforce and which will support them in their efforts to achieve a greater degree of independence. This is a modern and progressive agenda which this legislation falls sadly short of. There are active measures but we know that they are simply not adequate for the needs of Canadians.

I want to remind the minister that Canadians are watching as this government continues to listen to and give unfair and undeserved tax breaks to banks and big corporations while cutting funding for unemployment insurance, health care, education and other services needed by people.

Patent ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:35 p.m.

Hillsborough P.E.I.

Liberal

George Proud LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Labour

Mr. Speaker, contrary to what the hon. member seems to imply in his question, this government does not assume that public trust and confidence in government can be gained only by ever increasing spending. Governments everywhere of all political persuasions must address the real limits imposed by debt and deficit.

The previous unemployment insurance program was no exception. In the first half of the 1990s UI premiums rose by more than one-third and neither employers nor workers could afford any more. At the same time, there was widespread recognition of the need for structural reform of the previous program.

In response to these realities this government has implemented, after consulting with over 100,000 Canadians and hundreds of stakeholder groups throughout the country, a new modern system of employment insurance.

The new EI system represents a dramatic shift from a passive role to the active role of assisting the unemployed in becoming re-employed as soon as possible. These changes are about getting people back to work and providing a fair and balanced approach to the needs of unemployed Canadians. For employers, more simple EI requirements and less red tape will save time and money. The goal is to encourage and help workers to accept available work and

for employers to accept a larger responsibility for providing that work.

Last May the minister issued a proposal to the provinces and territories offering them responsibility for active employment measures and labour market services funded from the EI account. The proposal is flexible enough to result in programs tailored to the different needs and priorities of each province. Negotiations are still going on.

In short, by consulting widely, by protecting the most vulnerable and by providing affordable programs that best serve the needs of all Canadians this government is giving an example of how we can act most effectively to restore public confidence in government.

Patent ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:35 p.m.

NDP

Len Taylor NDP The Battlefords—Meadow Lake, SK

Mr. Speaker, on Friday last week the minister of agriculture was in Regina to make an announcement concerning the future of the Canadian Wheat Board.

Prior to the announcement I heard a rumour that the minister was considering the possibility of putting the question of barley marketing to a plebiscite. Indeed, the minister did say that he was considering a barley plebiscite to be put to producers next year.

My question, which the minister's parliamentary secretary could not answer at the time, can be answered today.

Of course, the minister did not call it a plebiscite. Instead he opted for the more friendly term poll, but the bottom line is the same. This kind of action is typical of the minister who has spent most of his time in cabinet finding ways to avoid making decisions. And when he does, he makes decisions that try to please everyone.

In this case it appears the idea of a plebiscite is aimed at appeasing barley producers, particularly Alberta producers who want an open market for their product.

Unfortunately if the Liberal government goes ahead with the plebiscite, the net result will be continued uncertainty over the future of the Canadian Wheat Board. If the results of the plebiscite support the open market over single desk selling, then the long term future of the Canadian Wheat Board itself remains in doubt.

The minister, knowing the vast majority of western Canadian farmers support a strong, even enhanced Canadian Wheat Board, has purposely chosen to support the corporate interests of the grain trade over the collective interests of the prairie farmer by doing so. Obviously the plebiscite continues the slow but determined process to ultimately do away with the board, as was started by the Tories in the last Parliament who removed oats from the jurisdiction of the board. Remember, they did that without a mandate from the people.

In Canada, the government is continuing the dismantling of the board by commissioning the marketing panel, which travelled the country earlier this year, and now on the plebiscite issue as well as internationally with a debate among officials at the World Trade Organization level.

Forgotten in the debate seems to be the fact that the minister of agriculture is not taking responsibility for farmers' interests. He is asking farmers who do not have sufficient technical or financial support to take on the major players in this debate, the grain companies and the Alberta government.

If the agriculture minister were truly representing farm interests and if he continues to insist on holding a plebiscite, he would consider enhancing, rather than disturbing, the board's jurisdiction.

There is strong evidence to support expanding the powers of the board. A good question would include the possibility of adding oats, rye and canola to the jurisdiction of the board. It should be done.

Perhaps the most troublesome element of the entire process so far is that the minister is proceeding with major legislative changes to the wheat board and is proposing to schedule a delicate plebiscite without consulting the producer elected representatives of the Canadian Wheat Board advisory committee.

This committee was elected by farmers to represent the interests of farmers across the prairies and to, in that capacity, advise the minister of agriculture on matters pertaining to the Canadian Wheat Board.

Each member of this committee has studied the operations of the board, has reviewed the recommendations of the Western Grain Marketing Panel and has evaluated how each will impact on their own regions of the country. Their input into this process should be invaluable, yet they have been ignored.

Worse, it is proposed that they be replaced by an appointed interim board if the government goes ahead with the announced changes to the way in which the board should be governed. The minister has really missed the boat on this one.

Patent ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:40 p.m.

Essex—Kent Ontario

Liberal

Jerry Pickard LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food

Mr. Speaker, I would assure my hon. colleague that I was not here on Friday and therefore did not respond to a question.

On Friday, October 4 and again on Monday, October 7 the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food outlined the federal government's policy response to the intensely emotional debate among

farmers in western Canada about the western grain marketing system.

Our policy position builds on the proven strengths of the current system for marketing western wheat and barley while at the same time modernizing the governance structure of the Canadian Wheat Board, enhancing accountability, introducing new operating facilities to accelerate cash flow to farmers and empowering farmers with a great amount of decision making.

Included in the package is a vote this winter among farmers on a clear cut question about the marketing preferences with respect to barley. This is fully consistent with the establishment of policy positions of many of the western farm organizations.

Overall, the government's plans on the thorny and diverse issues related to grain marketing have been developed following the most extensive consultations in the history of the western grains industry.

Throughout, the Western Grain Marketing Panel has been very much involved. Otherwise, the Canadian Wheat Board producer advisory committee has let its views be known very loudly and clearly, as have well over 12,000 other farmers who have participated in these consultations.

It is still very early in the going, but we are pleased to note that many of the major farm organizations have reacted favourably to our policy package, including the Prairie Pools Inc., Keystone Agricultural Producers of Manitoba and Wild Rose organization from Alberta.

The Canadian Wheat Board itself has responded very constructively. There have been encouraging editorials in the Winnipeg Free Press , the Regina Leader-Post , the Saskatoon Star Phoenix and the Calgary Herald . All that appears to me to be a very good start.

Patent ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:40 p.m.

Bloc

Osvaldo Nunez Bloc Bourassa, QC

Mr. Speaker, on May 27, I asked a question to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration on the growing number of refugee claimants in Quebec. Of the 26,000 claims made in Canada in 1995, more than 12,000 were transferred to the Montreal IRB. For the first time, more refugee claimants landed in Montreal than in Toronto.

I also asked the minister if her government was willing to share the cost of social benefits provided to refugee claimants.

Finally and fortunately, the minister and her counterpart in Quebec met on September 6 and agreed on a number of measures to respond to Quebec's concerns. As a result, health care costs for refugee claimants in Quebec will be covered by the interim federal health program, as is the case in the other Canadian provinces. As of November 1, 1996, the Government of Quebec will gradually withdraw from health care funding. However, health insurance will continue to be covered by Quebec until cards have expired.

At the same time, the Quebec government reaffirmed its intention to maintain a range of services that will permit these people to wait for a ruling on their claim in safety and in dignity. They will thus remain eligible for social and legal assistance, temporary accommodation and help in finding accommodation. Quebec will also continue to take responsibility for unaccompanied minor children. It will assume the costs of primary and secondary education, as well as of francization services on a part time basis. In the year 1994-95, $125 million were spent on these services.

In addition, the minister responsible for relations with citizens and for immigration, André Boisclair, called on the federal government, and rightly so, to process refugee claims submitted in Quebec more efficiently and more rapidly.

On a number of occasions, I have criticized how long it takes for claims to be heard by the IRB, particularly where appeals are concerned. It is not acceptable to have to wait one year for a hearing, and sometimes years for a final decision.

IRB commissioners must issue their decisions rapidly so that refugees who have been accepted can have immediate access to all the programs and all the protective measures.

I am glad to see savings and arrangements between Ottawa and Quebec. However, the international obligations of Canada, as a signatory to the Geneva convention on refugees, must never be forgotten. We must constantly reaffirm our deep attachment to the humanitarian principle of protecting those who are persecuted and in distress. For my part, I am very proud of the tradition of open-mindedness and solidarity expressed by Quebecers.

Patent ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:45 p.m.

Essex—Kent Ontario

Liberal

Jerry Pickard LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food

Mr. Speaker, I must admit that I am not exactly clear what the member for Bourassa is implying with his question. Does he want us to stop refugees from coming to Montreal? Does he want us to say we will close the doors to legitimate refugees? Does he want us to somehow intervene and ensure greater refusal rates in Montreal? I hope not. That certainly is not something we are prepared to do and certainly is not something that the Canadian people want.

The hon. member has implied that Montreal gets an inordinate number of refugees. It is true that a large number of refugees do arrive in that city. This should not come as as surprise to anyone. Montreal is a major international port of entry and is very close to other large gateways such as New York.

I would also be surprised if refugees did not come to Montreal. We should not forget, however, that other international ports such as Toronto and Vancouver also attract a very large number of refugees. In a lot of cases it is a question of geography. We should not forget most refugees do not have the luxury of picking or choosing their destinations. People fleeing persecution will go wherever they can.

We have an international obligation to consider refugee claims on our territory and we are living up to those responsibilities. We are good global citizens and we take our obligations and responsibilities seriously.

The hon. member suggested in the House that we should work more closely with the Government of Quebec on these issues. We agree and that is what we are doing. Our refugee policies are formulated in consultations with many different interested parties. These include the provinces.

The question of international immigration is one which affects all of us and one we need to address as partners. Indeed it was with this in mind that the minister met with her counterpart from Quebec, André Boisclair, on September 6. At that meeting it was confirmed that, as of this coming November 1, the Government of Canada will be assuming responsibility under the interim health program for the medical costs incurred by refugee claimants who are living in Quebec and awaiting a decision by the Immigration and Refugee Board.

As in other provinces, it is the responsibility of the Government of Quebec and not the federal government to decide which services are available to refugee claimants.

At that meeting Minister Boisclair was also assured that measures to speed up the processing of refugee claims before the IRB, such as the appointment of members, have already been put in place or are being put in place. Since this minister assumed office, more than 60 per cent of new IRB members have been assigned to the Montreal regional office.

At present, both governments are working together in a sprit of co-operation. Our respective teams are in close contact with a view to promoting a greater exchange of information and better understanding of the policies that affect refugee claimants.

Contrary to the hon. member's position, the minister is also pleased with Minister Boisclair's strong support of the proposed Canada-U.S. agreement on refugees.

Canada has a fair and just refugee system. It is one of the best in the world. It is not perfect, no system is. We are continuously working to improve it to weed out the few bad apples who abuse the system. But we should never forget that the majority of those who come to Canada for protection need that protection. Are we going to close the doors on these people? Of course not.

Patent ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:45 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

The motion to adjourn the House is deemed to have been adopted. The House stands adjourned until 2 p.m. tomorrow, pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 6.50 p.m.)