Mr. Speaker, on October 6 I posed a question to the Minister of Health as a follow-up to a number of other questions pertaining to the cuts to the drug and food research labs in the health protection branch of the Department of Health. These cuts took place on the sly, in secret. They were not presented to parliament, not presented publicly, but done in the dead of summer by the Minister of Health at the very time he was announcing publicly that cuts were over.
Since the cuts were carried out in July, which I might add were not announced publicly contrary to the minister's statement on September 24 when he suggested he was placing a moratorium on the whole area.
The information about the cuts and the news of the devastation to our health protection branch came about as a result of conscientious scientists who are concerned about the health and safety of the drug and food supply of Canadians. It came about as a result of public pressure and as the result of political outcry. It also came about as a result of good in depth research by the media.
At the beginning of this Parliament the minister succumbed somewhat to that pressure and announced a moratorium on some of the cuts and proposed changes. Today, one month later, the Minister of Health puts out a release announcing that he would do what he said he would do on September 24, 1997.
It will probably come as no surprise to members of the House that our concerns are still as relevant, as serious and as deep rooted as they ever were. Despite this announcement Canadians remain deeply concerned. Let me give four quick reasons for that concern.
First, in terms of this decision and on every decision of crucial importance to Canadians the government has operated on the basis of a very secretive, very undemocratic and almost despotic approach.
Second, for three to four months the government caused a great deal of uncertainty and instability to reign over the health protection branch. That uncertainty was demoralizing to scientists and upsetting to those who value the work they are doing and want to contribute to society.
Third, the drug research lab remains closed. There has been no attempt by the government to address that issue. It is of deep importance to the health and safety of Canadians on matters pertaining to drugs.
Fourth, we are still left with a very large question. Is the announcement today but a temporary reprieve from a much longer term, very deep rooted agenda to move toward privatization and deregulation in the health protection branch as a whole?
I conclude by referring to a document from the department which outlines proposals to look at cost saving measures, privatization and ways to reduce the liability of the department, all contrary to the original purpose of the health protection branch and contrary to the very significant role performed by the drug and food research labs. Certainly it is contrary to the intent and spirit of the Food and Drug Protection Act.
I remain concerned and I look forward to the government addressing these issues on an urgent basis.