House of Commons Hansard #18 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was co-operatives.


Canada Co-Operatives ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:25 p.m.


Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North Centre, MB

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.

Canada Co-Operatives ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:25 p.m.

Eglinton—Lawrence Ontario


Joe Volpe LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, I applaud the member's attempts, grudgingly as they were, to recognize that the minister makes decisions on the basis of good, sound evidence, data, careful study and analysis.

As well I am glad that she acknowledged the minister announced today the reinstatement of the majority of the 24 projects in the food programs branch initially slated for termination last July. All these projects will be restarted with the exception of five that would require the use of research animals part way through the project.

The projects involving the use of research monkeys will be considered by the Royal Society of Canada as part of its study in the animal research division. They will also be submitted to a science advisory board. The board will be appointed shortly by the Minister of Health to provide him with the expert advice on how Health Canada's protection program can be strengthened.

Not only where the food research projects re-established, but the moratorium also re-establishes the projects and programs in other sectors of the health protection program and ensures their continuance.

These announcements underscore the Minister of Health's commitment that his bottom line is the health and safety of Canadians. The moratorium stabilizes the health protection program to ensure that a three-year project to review and strengthen the science and regulatory capacity of the health protection program is as comprehensive as possible.

The Canadian public must be reassured that its health and safety is of paramount importance and that the scientific capacity of the health protection program remains strong.

Out of a staff of 2,100 individuals, the health protection branch has some 1,300 scientists and professional personnel. The moratorium and the scientific review will further strengthen this capacity for the health protection program of the future.

Canada Co-Operatives ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:30 p.m.


Derrek Konrad Reform Prince Albert, SK

Mr. Speaker, on October 10 I asked a very specific question of the Minister of Health. The minister chose to answer a question that was not asked. Today I wish to put my question to the minister again and trust that the response will address the question asked.

In the report of auditor general some alarming facts were reported in the chapter on aboriginal health. In the years between 1986 and 1996 many accounts of prescription drug abuse were reported among aboriginal people. I was amazed to read that the Department of Health has known about this for 10 years.

For background I would like to review part of minister's response to a very specific question. He said:

It is true this problem has been known for 10 years. Throughout that time the health department has worked with provincial authorities and with the First Nations to address the problem.

By the end of this year, December 31, we will have in place technology across the country to help pharmacists detect abuse and reduce the problem the member refers to.

That is nice. Here are the facts of a real tragedy. The report of the auditor general shows that in one three-month period 15,000 aboriginal people went to three or more pharmacies, 1,600 obtained more than 15 drugs and over 700 people had 50 prescriptions or more.

For 10 years a very serious health problem, purported to have caused deaths, has been neglected by those charged with the responsibility for the care of Canada's aboriginals.

My question is not what wonderful things the government is going to do to solve the problem. My question is very clear and I would like a clear answer in response.

Has the minister identified those in his department responsible for overlooking this very serious matter for 10 years and what, if any, disciplinary actions or legal sanctions have been taken or are contemplated by his department?

Canada Co-Operatives ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:30 p.m.

Eglinton—Lawrence Ontario


Joe Volpe LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, I think the hon. member wants some indication of what has been happening.

Let me reiterate what was said in the House on October 10. Specifically, Health Canada has been working on this problem for a number of years and now has in place, in over 50% of the pharmacies across the country, a state of the art point of sale adjudication system. By the end of this calendar year this system will be in place in all pharmacies. It will eliminate most of the problems identified by the auditor general.

In addition, the drug utilization review report has been developed which allows Health Canada to identify potential abuse situations for physicians, pharmacists and clients. This system ensures that all those involved can be alerted and that appropriate follow-up action initiated to address situations where abuse is identified. In fact, that abuse occurs in a very limited number of cases. When one looks at the statistics in the auditor general's report, it would appear that some 98% of the time First Nations utilize non-insured health benefits drug programs in an appropriate fashion. No one wishes to condone any abuse.

Health Canada continues to develop advanced systems, technology and an appropriate review processes to ensure that all those who are involved are aware and alerted to the issues of abuse. It must be clearly understood that addressing these problems is a joint responsibility of Health Canada, physicians, pharmacists, provincial licensing bodies and First Nations communities.

It would be unfortunate to stigmatize First Nations citizens as being the problem when it comes to the issue of prescription drug abuse. Without the diligent co-operation of providers and practitioners, this problem will not be completely resolved.

The department's staff worked with the first nations to ensure they better understand the scope of the problem so strategies may be developed to resolve matters in the community itself.

I emphasize this is a complex problem. Abuse exists but it does so in a very small percentage of cases. Simply designing a system, no matter how advanced, will only produce maximum results if all the various jurisdictions collaborate to create an environment where there is zero tolerance and zero opportunity for abuse.

Canada Co-Operatives ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:35 p.m.


Bonnie Brown Liberal Oakville, ON

Mr. Speaker, thank you for this second opportunity to talk about the multilateral agreement on investment.

Any international agreement on investment, once achieved, will take us another step further down the road toward globalization of all economic activity. Some people view this as a positive step but I do not perceive either a broad knowledge of this agreement or a broad consensus on its value.

While among the business elite it is politically correct to see free trade of any kind as a good thing, some Canadians remain unconvinced. For example, those who lost their good manufacturing jobs south of the border feel bruised by the free trade agreement of 1989 and the NAFTA of 1994. Naturally they are worried about further steps toward globalization.

Beyond that group there is a larger group of Canadians. This group feels that all the repercussions of NAFTA have not yet been felt and that the collection and analysis of data on its effects have not been presented to them. They remember what was promised if they took the leap of faith and went for free trade on this continent. They were promised free access to the large market to the south. That access and the resulting increase in business was supposed to give us economies of scale, improve our productivity and thereby make us more competitive in the new global economy.

Leaders in the steel industry tell me that the promised access on a level playing field to U.S. markets is still blocked by irritants based on American law. So certainly in one of our primary industries the current agreement with the U.S. and Mexico did not deliver the promised access.

We all agree that the key to competitiveness and success in the global marketplace is productivity. Has Canadian productivity increased as a result of NAFTA? Two respected columnists in two different newspapers have said no. Before free trade, Canadian productivity was under 10% less than American productivity, but today Canadian productivity is 20% less than American productivity. I am aware that exports and investment are both up but most economists agree that it is due to our low Canadian dollar and our low interest rates, not free trade.

The MAI is supposed to bring in one set of rules to replace the multitude of agreements in place today. As a medium sized economy, a rules based system should work to Canada's advantage. But that is only true if the rules represent our values, our mixed economy and our business culture, not the cutthroat values of the unregulated marketplace held up by some as the best environment for business.

I believe Canadians are worried about the impact of the further globalization represented by the MAI. Canadians agreed to the free trade agreement as a leap of faith. They agreed to NAFTA accompanied by definitions of subsidy and dumping, definitions that have not yet been agreed upon. I do not believe Canadians are willing to buy another deal arranged behind closed doors, then delivered as an unamendable package to be fast tracked through Parliament.

How is the minister going to ensure that all interested Canadians are made aware of the controversial aspects of MAI and have an opportunity to express their opinions before the MAI package emerges from the negotiations now under way in Europe?

Canada Co-Operatives ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:35 p.m.

Halton Ontario


Julian Reed LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister for International Trade

Mr. Speaker, if Canada has learned any lesson in the last 10 years, it is that having rules for trade and for interactions between countries have been to Canada's benefit. I should point out that the free trade agreement with the United States, which is 10 years old this year, has actually resulted in a doubling of trade with the United States.

One of the advantages when we have ground rules is that we have dispute settling mechanisms. It is true that not every transaction is 100% and entirely smooth, but to have rules in place has proven to be a benefit to the country, perhaps because of our smaller size and that we do not have to participate in the jungle of international trade.

The government has been very forward in trying to put together an international multilateral agreement on investment. The negotiations have been taking place for the last three or four years. However it must go on record that negotiators are still at the point where they are negotiating what it is they want to negotiate. Those negotiations will not begin until next January.

The government has put in place a very comprehensive consultative process committed to ensuring the opportunity for full public discussion on the proposed MAI. It was initiated at the same time that MAI negotiations commenced in 1995.

Provincial officials are now consulted through regular meetings. There are conference calls. The consultation process is intensifying and will continue to do so until an agreement is reached.

Canada Co-Operatives ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:40 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted.

Accordingly the House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 6.41 p.m.)