This week, I changed much of the tech behind this site. If you see anything that looks like a bug, please let me know!

House of Commons Hansard #44 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was cpp.

Topics

Division No. 60Government Orders

December 4th, 1997 / 5:55 p.m.

The Speaker

I declare the motion carried.

Division No. 60Government Orders

6 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Order. It being 6 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of Private Members' Business as listed on today's Order Paper.

Toy LabellingPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

moved:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should enact legislation mandating toy manufacturers to label toys containing phthalates in order to allow parents to make an informed decision when buying products for their children.

Mr. Speaker, I would like to rise today on an issue that is of great importance at this time of the year, children's toys. While we are discussing this issue, thousands of parents are in shopping centres buying toys for their children, but some of these toys can be dangerous.

The motion I am moving today proposes that all toys containing phthalates be labelled so that parents can make an informed decision when buying products for their children. Phthalates are chemical agents that soften plastics. They are used in many items, including plastic covers for containers, cellophane tissue and children's toys.

With this motion, I ask the government to take action in the case of plastic toys, because studies have shown that this material can cause cancer, damage the liver, and cause infertility. These studies also show that children are more vulnerable to these toxic effects, especially during the growing years.

What is of even greater concern to me is the fact that these phthalates can be found in pacifiers, in teething rings and in a variety of other toys. Imagine, our children are biting into toys that release chemical agents that can cause cancer. Soft plastic toys containing phthalates are like a sponge. When a child bites into a teething ring, these phthalates are released into his digestive system, in the same way that water is released when a sponge is squeezed. Once in the system, these phthalates apparently alter the normal development of the reproductive organs, for example, and they could cause health problems like cancer, infertility and damage to the liver.

So here are these parents in shopping centres probably buying without knowing it toys that can harm their children. That is why labelling is required to allow parents to make informed decisions.

It was Greenpeace that brought the issue of phthalates to the attention of Canadians. Greenpeace did research on toys bought here in Canada to determine the percentage of toys containing phthalates. This research revealed that phthalates made up a rather important part of the product, and often accounted for 10 to 40% of the weight of a toy.

After Greenpeace released its findings, Health Canada conducted its own study, which confirmed Greenpeace's findings.

If our children put in their mouths toys with a 40% toxic content, it is imperative that we take immediate action to protect them. In September, Health Canada started studying the effects of ingesting phthalates contained in toys. This study is still at the preliminary stages but, so far, no action has been taken by the government to increase the visibility of this very serious concern. The department's attitude seems to be: let us wait for the results of our study; too bad if children get sick in the meantime.

You may recall the time we learned about the serious health hazard posed by the mini-blinds that everyone had in their windows. Only after several cases of poisoning were reported in the United States did the government act. Putting the lives of our children at risk because science cannot answer all our questions quickly enough is unacceptable.

In Denmark, tests conducted on rats showed that phthalates cause cancer, liver damage and infertility. These new findings prompted some store chains in Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden, Argentina, Spain, Belgium and Italy to take a large number of phthalate containing toys off the market.

These stores were responding to a request from the government of their country for the voluntary withdrawal of phthalate containing toys. These stores incurred losses as a result, but they felt that protecting the health of children was more important than making profits.

The Netherlands, Austria and Denmark have put in motion the necessary process to regulate the use of phthalates not only in toys but also in other plastic products.

Just this week, Denmark's environment minister asked the Environmental Protection Agency to develop a proposal to ban all phthalate containing toys for small children. This is what he had to say about phthalates.

When it comes to phthalates in toys for smaller children, I have already had the Environmental Protection Agency prepare proposals for a ban. Ever since the problem with phthalates has shown up, the industry has made enormous effort in trying to dismiss all problems instead of developing more health and environmental friendly material. It is time to act.

Again, that was what Danish environment minister Svend Auken said.

The Belgian minister of public health also encouraged toy distributors in his country to take some toys off the market. He had this to say to the Belgian federation of distributors: “Given the results of analyses in certain countries of the European Union, which indicate that toys and other common objects made of plastic style PVC intended for chewing by young children release significant quantities of phthalates that could represent a health hazard, I appeal to the sense of responsibility of the Belgian federation of distributors and ask you to intervene with members of your federation and have them take voluntary action against the marketing of such products”.

The Belgian minister continued: “I would also stress that you do urgently whatever is necessary to withdraw these plastic style PVC products containing phthalates from sale and thus maintain consumer confidence in the safety of these toys”.

I have just quoted the remarks of two European ministers. If they considered it necessary to act on the matter of phthalates, should Canada not do the same? If these countries, in the light of new information, thought it necessary to withdraw plastic toys from the market, we should obtain the information parents need to know what they are buying.

This is a matter of protecting our children and of consumer rights. In Canada today, parents concerned by what children put in their mouths cannot know that the toys contain phthalates.

The labels of toys containing phthalates provide the information parents need to make a considered decision.

At the moment, Canadian parents have to guess. That is not acceptable. It is also a public information issue. I talk with parents all over the country, and they are alarmed at not being able to get this information. They tell me that their priority is their children's health and that they are entitled to access to information as vital as this.

This morning I did a test with our press colleagues. I gave them a series of plastic toys and asked them which ones contained phthalates. Of course, nobody could tell me.

The problem with phthalates is that they cannot detect it. We have to test for it in the lab or have the manufacturer's list of materials that went into the toy. This is why we need labels, in order to know which toys might be dangerous.

At the present time, Health Canada is starting to do testing on certain toys, but any parent knows that there are a number of toys made out of soft plastic. Before Health Canada can test all those toys, we might well be in the next millenium. Action must be taken now to protect our children's health.

As well, Health Canada has not yet determined what concentration of phthalates is considered dangerous. Even if the toy testing is done, then, they do not have the tools to determine what is acceptable and what is not.

We all know how much time it takes to get standards approved. In this case, as well, Canada is seeking to get an international standard set, which means that once our position has been determined, we will have to get it accepted by the European countries, the United States, Australia and New Zealand, as well as by our colleagues in this undertaking.

I respect what Health Canada is doing, but I believe that, if our European counterparts have acted in a definitive manner on this, the least we can do is to label these toys. Too often in this House we hear of cases where the government has not acted fast enough to deal with a situation, out of lack of information or neglect. This week we received the Krever report, which underscores the shortcomings in government action on tainted blood.

In ten years, do we want to realize that we did not act fast enough on phthalates? I want to be very clear here, a ban on the use of phthalates is not what I want. I understand that science has its merits and must be allowed to play its role.

That is why I am only asking that toys be labelled. This way, Health Canada could take whatever steps are necessary and the public could make informed decisions. In the meantime, I ask toy manufacturers to do what the Danish environment minister asked. Many other substances can be used to make plastic soft. Why risk it? Why not just use other plasticisers?

We often overlook the financial factor in health issues. By taking preventative steps now, we will not need to use an already overburdened health system later. We are talking about diseases for which treatment is expensive. Cancer, infertility and liver damage are expensive to treat. Prevention always pays off.

And, of course, there is the human cost. How can you not act when there are small children who are growing and who, 20, 30 or 40 years from now, could develop cancer or be unable to have children of their own because they chewed on soft plastic toys when they were toddlers. Why take such a risk?

Canada is a sensible country where the well-being of its citizens dominates. When other countries take firm action on a health issue such as this one, should we not act as soon as possible to ensure that Canadians are protected? Of late this government has been more preoccupied with the bottom line than the best interests of Canadians.

What I am asking is not much, a label on toys to ensure that Canadian parents can make an informed decision. Why would we be afraid of an informed public? The human cost of ingesting phthalates is enormous. We are talking about kids with vulnerable bodies who are shaping themselves.

As parents, we all know how quickly they grow, how last month's shirt or pants are too small. Imagine that while their little organs are developing our children are taking a chemical which will alter the normal development process. This means that their little hearts and their little brains do not develop normally. That is the bottom line. That is what we are talking about.

Put in those terms, putting a label on the toys does not seem like much, does it?

I stressed the risks associated with phtalates. I listed the immediate steps various countries took to take toys off the shelves in stores. I am not asking that we reinvent the wheel. I just want Canadians to have all the information they need to make the right decision. Everyone benefits from toy labelling. Let us act now to protect our children's health. I am asking my hon. colleagues to make this their Christmas present to all Canadian children.

Toy LabellingPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Liberal

Joe Volpe Liberal Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Mr. Speaker, the House is being asked today to support a motion requiring toy manufacturers to label toys containing phthalates. It is claimed that such a measure would enable parents to make an informed decision when they buy toys for their children.

While the motion clearly seeks to protect children against potentially dangerous phthalates, it is not the best solution to the problem. Why? Because merely indicating on a label that a toy contains phthalates does not tell parents anything about the potential risk and is therefore of little help in making an informed decision.

The label can only be of some use if it specifies the type of phthalate, its concentration in the toy, and the concentrations which could potentially be harmful to a child. Moreover, if a particular toy was found to contain potentially dangerous phthalates, even in high enough concentrations to be harmful to children, it would not be necessary to issue a warning on the label, since that toy would simply not be sold. Indeed, the government would already have taken steps to have such a product taken off the market.

The second problem concerning the motion is the legislation. Should the motion be adopted, the Hazardous Products (Toys) Regulations under the Hazardous Products Act would have to be amended to make it compulsory to indicate the presence of phthalates in toys made with PVC plastic.

Again, this would be an unnecessary measure. As it now stands, the Hazardous Products Act already gives the government effective and powerful instruments to deal with potential threats to children's health. The act formally prohibits certain toxic solvents and substances. If it was found that some toys contain unacceptable levels of potentially harmful substances, the government would take appropriate measures to have these toys taken off the market.

I would like, if I may, to draw attention to an apparent oversight in this motion. The mere presence of phthalates in a given product does not necessarily constitute a health hazard. Health Canada officials are now looking at studies in order to determine whether the phthalates in question are in fact hazardous.

Finally, I would like to draw attention to the third problem with this motion, which is that the labelling it proposes for the products in question would not constitute a reliable or effective method in the event of an actual hazard. Labelling cannot take the place of energetic and decisive action, should such action ever be necessary.

In closing, I wish to stress that the Hazardous Products Act, together with Health Canada's ongoing monitoring, analysis and evaluation activities, provides the government with all the tools it needs to deal with any potential health hazard caused by the presence of phthalates in plastic PVC products.

In the motion, the hon. member asserts that the government should enact legislation mandating toy manufacturers to label toys containing phthalates in order to allow parents to make an informed decision when buying products for their children. The motion is well intentioned, but the fact is that there is no conclusive evidence linking all, and I stress the word all, phthalates in toys to health risks for children. In fact there has never been a reported case of a child experiencing ill effects from phthalates in this country or anywhere else. For this reason, it is difficult for us to support the motion at this time.

This does not mean however that the government is taking the matter lightly. Quite the contrary. As I indicated a moment ago, officials within the department are currently investigating the potential health risks of phthalates in polyvinyl chloride or PVC plastic toys. In other words, we are being proactive rather than reactive.

My minister, the minister responsible for the health and well-being of Canadian children, has already assured this House, and I repeat that assurance, that if at any time clear evidence of health risks from phthalates are established, appropriate action will be taken to protect the health of children and I dare say with alacrity.

Health Canada's investigation of potential health risks from phthalates includes ongoing information exchange with the department's counterparts in the United States and in Europe, with industry, advocacy groups and health associations, as well as a comprehensive literature assessment on the potential toxicity of phthalates.

As part of this investigation, Health Canada officials are undertaking a scientific risk assessment on phthalates in various PVC plastic products. This risk assessment involves two key elements: an evaluation to determine the presence of potentially toxic substances, and testing to see if these substances can in fact be absorbed by children.

I am confident that Health Canada's sound research combined with ongoing dialogue and consultation with government, industry and NGOs, stakeholders and players will result in a clear assessment of this issue, an assessment I am confident that will form a solid, well-informed basis for any possible future action on this matter by the Government of Canada. This approach focuses on solid evidence-based risk assessment as a means of understanding and acting on complex health issues, particularly as they relate to children.

Permit me to suggest that the thorough and comprehensive nature of our response to this potential health threat is also a reflection of the government's ongoing commitment to ensuring the health and safety of all of Canada's children.

Under the circumstances while it is well intentioned, the motion goes beyond what is already in place. In fact it becomes unnecessary. We have all the mechanisms already in place. They are already being utilized and they are being employed in a proactive and aggressive fashion.

Toy LabellingPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Reform

Reed Elley Reform Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak on Motion No. M-85 which has been brought forward by the hon. member Acadie—Bathurst. I must say to the hon. member I support the motion before us. In doing so I must add that I have a number of questions and some concerns which we will investigate.

What is truly unfortunate in the way in which we do things in the House of Commons is that my concerns and questions will not be answered because the format for debate of a private member's motion does not allow for a question and answer session. In view of this I am hopeful that the sponsor of the motion might address in his closing remarks some of the questions that I raise.

For instance, I am curious as to whether or not any regulatory impact studies will be done in order to give manufacturers an idea of how they will be expected to comply. It is clear the effort to label toys with phthalates will rest with the manufacturers. In this regard it would also be nice if they could have some idea of the costs that would be associated with doing this. This is not to say that the labelling costs should in any way shape or form be placed ahead of consumer safety, especially where the safety of children is concerned, far from it. However in fairness to an industry which will be expected to comply with any new regulations some idea of costs must be given.

The other consideration has to do with the study performed by Greenpeace. I wonder if there have been any other studies done. Have toy manufacturers in Europe responded only to this study? Have they directly responded at all?

I am not calling into question Greenpeace's objectivity or scientific analysis, but its disdain for corporations of all kinds is no secret. Indeed we only have to look at the way in which in Europe it has misrepresented the British Columbia forestry practices to understand what I am saying.

In any event I and my Reform colleagues are in favour of what the member is proposing regardless of whether the issue is one of safety, particularly that of children, or manufacturing compliance.

In this regard I am particularly impressed that the motion places the responsibility of whether or not to purchase a toy containing phthalates with the consumer. This is a good thing as we should not underestimate the ability of consumers to decide what is in their or in this case their children's interests.

All too often in this House we see members put forward legislation which seeks to ban or to remove or otherwise restrict a product based on tentative findings. This applies to members on both sides of the House so I hope that my friends in the government will not feel like I am singling them out.

None of these questions or concerns imply that phthalates are not toxic. We know that they are. But even Greenpeace will concede that the leaching of phthalates from a toy into a child is not an absolute certainty. However, in cases like this I think we must always err on the side of caution especially because it involves the safety of our children.

In this regard I agree with the principal intent of this motion which is to inform consumers of a potential hazard. I note that the effort in Europe has gone beyond alerting consumers to the presence of phthalates in toys to one of actually removing them from shelves. With this in mind, perhaps the hon. member from the NDP could comment on whether this extra step was indeed warranted or whether it was an over-reaction to a situation.

If it was not an over-reaction by European governments, then I commend the hon. member for not blindly following their lead in this matter. If removal was necessary, then are we not placing Canadian consumers at some form of risk? Again, the comments of the hon. member for the NDP would be useful.

Lastly, I would like to know if Canadian manufacturers are aware of the problems that are associated with phthalates. If they are, what is their position on the matter?

This is important because they should be given a chance to voluntarily sort this thing out for themselves. This is a more effective route, instead of being ambushed by regulations which they would be forced to comply with on short notice.

I want to again commend the hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst for his foresight in this matter. Indeed, given the time of the year which we are now celebrating, highlighting this concern for parents who will be buying toys of all kinds is a very worthwhile endeavour.

In closing, I appreciate having had this opportunity to speak on this matter to the House today. I look forward to seeing the motion passed by the House and I trust that the hon. member sponsoring the motion will consider some of what I have said here today.

Toy LabellingPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

Bloc

Pauline Picard Bloc Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today on the motion by the hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst.

Motion M-85 reads as follows:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should enact legislation mandating toy manufacturers to label toys containing phthalates in order to allow parents to make an informed decision when buying products for their children.

People need to know what phthalates are. For the good of the public, I will point out that they are chemical agents containing concentrations of lead and cadmium. They are used in certain products made of polyvinyl chloride and vinyl, what we call PVCs.

These chemicals, the phthalates, have the property of making plastics softer, which is necessary for manufacturing such baby items as toys, pacifiers and teething rings. They are also used in manufacturing various plastic toys. Of all the chemicals used in plastics manufacturing, phthalates are the most common.

The problem with these chemicals is that they do not bind with the PVCs. They remain in a freely mobile phase and are leachable, which means that they are released in washing or percolation. Contact and pressure, whether by biting into the object or playing with it, can accelerate the leaching process of these items, for example, the pacifiers that babies put in their mouths.

As they soften plastics, they are ideal for all sorts of plastic covers, cellophane and children's toys such as teething rings and soothers, as I mentioned earlier. Given that children of a certain age tend to put everything in their mouth, the knowledge that a toy contains phthalates is not reassuring. Worse yet is the fact that phthalates are used in the manufacture of toys intended to go into children's mouths.

Prolonged exposure to phthalates can cause all sorts of problems. However the presence of a toxic substance in a toy is not the only problem. The greatest concern is that certain toxic substances, as I have said, may be released from the toys the children put in their mouth. These substances, including phthalates, are ingested and go directly into the system, causing irreversible harm to a child playing normally.

It has been shown that repeated exposure to phthalates can cause such health problems as liver and kidney damage, certain forms of cancer and may even cause infertility.

Since children are in constant development, they are particularly sensitive to exposure to phthalates, as are older people and those whose immune system is deficient.

In September, Greenpeace, the well-known environmental group, released a scientific study that identified large concentrations of toxic products in several commonly used objects easily accessible to children. Indeed, tests have shown that certain products contain phthalates in various proportions, anywhere from 10% to 40%, with no indication of that fact on the label.

Yet, as the authors of the study pointed out, phthalates bought for laboratory work are accompanied by warnings such as “harmful if inhaled, if in contact with water or if swallowed”, “possible risk of irreversible effects” and “may cause cancer”. However, once phthalates are incorporated into toys, even in proportions of up to 40%, there is no mention of or warning about these harmful products. This is quite a paradox.

Following these findings, Health Canada conducted a series of tests on 19 selected products, to see if certain chemical agents used to make toys could actually be absorbed by children and endanger their health. Strangely enough, although the findings showed significant levels of toxic substances in most of the products tested, including two containing liberal amounts which can be ingested by a child, Health Canada concluded that there were no serious risks associated with the presence of toxic substances and, therefore, that no special action was necessary.

Environmental groups like Greenpeace fiercely criticized Health Canada's attitude, accusing it of having conducted biased tests jeopardizing the health of children. Among other criticism, Health Canada is condemned for not having conducted heat and light exposure tests on the products, when several of them were designed to be used outdoors. The fact that, on the basis of a risk analysis on two products, it was concluded that, while they containing an excessive level of toxic chemicals, there was no need to take the toys off the market was also decried.

Canada is not the only country where there are concerns about dangerous substances contained in toys and their potential effects on health. In Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden and Argentina, several tests were conducted, as a result of which several products containing phtalates were take off the market. In Denmark and the Netherlands, they went as far as banning the use of phtalates in all plastic products, including toys.

So why Motion M-85? If a number of studies, including the one done by Health Canada, show that the presence of toxic products can represent a health hazard, if it is known that they can separate from the product and be ingested directly by a child, when we know that many other countries have also done similar research and arrived at similar conclusions, and when we know that many of these countries have already taken preventive action by withdrawing certain products or putting an outright ban on the use of phthalates in plastics, we might well wonder.

Finally, Health Canada has recognized the presence of chemical agents in vinyl products but, for the department, that did not represent a significant health hazard. Even so, why refuse to indicate this on these products? I think it is important that parents know what they are buying and that they be aware of the presence of chemical products that are potentially hazardous to the health of their children.

I think it is a question of protecting our children, of protecting consumers. In my view, when we have just come through the tainted blood scandal, I think it is always better to be safe than sorry.

That is why the Bloc Quebecois is in favour of labelling as proposed in Motion M-85.

Toy LabellingPrivate Members' Business

6:40 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Charlie Power Progressive Conservative St. John's West, NL

Mr. Speaker, I want to speak a few moments on this very proactive piece of legislation.

I commend the NDP member from Acadie—Bathurst for bringing in a piece of legislation which is very proactive and tries to protect the most innocent in our communities, young infants that may be susceptible to disease when they are exposed to some of these chemicals. So I say I commend the member for bringing it in. If nothing else today, we are discussing and informing certain parents of new children, babies and infants, that there may be a health threat.

One of my workers and his wife have a new baby. I am sure anybody would want to know of any possible health threats to their new child. I am glad the member brought it to my attention and I am glad we are discussing it in the House of Commons.

I am a little surprised at the government's approach. I cannot believe that the government would not be proactive as well and want to give this advice to anyone who may be at risk. We are not asking for any new huge piece of legislation. We are not asking the government to cause the manufacturers to invest huge amounts of money to change machinery and that type of thing. We are simply asking for legislation that would force companies to put on their packaging that something contains a chemical that may be dangerous to a child.

The government approach reminds me almost with what we did on the smoking ban. We could never convince the tobacco companies or convince governments that smoking was hazardous to people's health. Eventually when there were enough conclusive studies done, we used to put on the packages that smoking might cause cancer and other illnesses. We have long passed that stage now. We say yes, it does cause cancer. It is proven that if you use cigarettes as directed, they will most certainly kill you. It is a known fact and now it is accepted.

Why would the government not want to support labelling these toys so that maybe somewhere down the road some family does not have to go through a tragedy simply because we did not have all the studies on time.?

As I say, I commend the member and I am a little bit surprised at the government's approach to this. Much has been said about the studies that have been done throughout Europe, so I will not bother to repeat it. Albeit they may not be conclusive, but there certainly is an element of risk. There is an element that these things can cause problems, otherwise they would not have banned these chemicals in certain parts of Europe.

Even in Canada I understand under our Canadian Environmental Health Protection Act that phthalates are still registered as a toxic or carcinogenic substance. If in one part of Canadian law we have it registered because it is toxic and carcinogenic, why can we then not make sure that manufacturers put it on children's toys so it can be seen?

Those are my comments. There is no need to repeat what has been said. I think it is an excellent piece of legislation. Anything that we can do which is not going to cost taxpayers a lot of money or not going to cause any great deal to the manufacturers and will give some added protection to parents of newborn children I strongly support. We in the Conservative caucus will very strongly support this proactive legislation.

Toy LabellingPrivate Members' Business

6:40 p.m.

Halton Ontario

Liberal

Julian Reed LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister for International Trade

Mr. Speaker, I was impressed with the debate here today. I appreciate the words of the hon. member who introduced this bill. His heart is on the side of child protection which is something where we all are on the same side.

The debate raises more questions than it answers. It raises the question of the research that was conducted which would lead the hon. member to introduce this bill and what were the methods used. Phthalates themselves may very well be toxic in a particular form but where is the evidence to show that phthalates migrate out of plastics and are ingested.?

Actually the word that is used in all these debates is the word “may”. It does not say it does it. It says it may do it. That is a weasel word because it is just as easy to say it may not. Therefore some of the more serious questions that are raised about the research must be answered before such a pronouncement can be made.

I appreciate that the hon. member is talking about labelling toys to say they contain phthalates, but what does it mean if such a label goes on to a toy? If an organization can stir up enough emotional response to say that phthalates are a terrible thing to be in toys, then parents may respond. But as a government we have a responsibility to make absolutely certain of the evidence before a decision is made. It would be absolutely irresponsible to simply accept a particular claim from a study that was done by an organization whose credibility is in question in the first place. I refer to Greenpeace and the misleading activities it has taken part in with regard to the forest industry in Canada. I suggest to my hon. friend that the credibility of Greenpeace today is zero.

Therefore I suggest to him that we should depend on the Ministry of Health in Canada to continue to conduct studies which have already begun. If Health Canada can find conclusive evidence of any kind we can be sure this government will act and act very quickly.

I have no question of the hon. member's intent. We all believe in the protection of children. From a government's perspective it would be irresponsible to actively campaign to ban something before the difficulty with it has been truly established.

Toy LabellingPrivate Members' Business

6:45 p.m.

NDP

Michelle Dockrill NDP Bras D'Or, NS

Mr. Speaker, as a member of the New Democratic Party and as a mother I am very proud to stand and second this motion brought before the House today by my hon. colleague from Acadie—Bathurst.

This motion simply asks that the government introduce legislation to require manufacturers to indicate on the label when a toy contains phthalates so parents can make informed decisions when buying playthings for their youngsters. It asks for labelling because recent studies have shown that phthalates, which are invisible chemical agents commonly put into plastics to make them flexible, have been found to cause cancer, infertility and liver damage, and are particularly damaging to children. Examples include teething rings, soothers and plastic toys.

The studies have recently prompted chain stores in at least seven countries, all with large and highly developed modern economies like Canada, to remove toys polluted by phthalates from store shelves. The Netherlands and Denmark have banned outright the use of phthalates in plastics. The Austrian government has banned phthalates in toys. In what is a clearly growing international momentum on this issue, the Government of Denmark just this week approached the European Commission for a continent-wide ban on phthalates in products.

However, in Canada millions of children are undoubtedly playing with these chemicals right now and their well intentioned parents will bring even more into the home this holiday season and put them under the Christmas tree.

An official from Health Canada told my office that as of this week the department is standing behind all studies that show toys with phthalates are safe. Health Canada is not joining the growing international movement against these toxins. Health Canada has not asked for labels to identify these dangerous toys. Health Canada has only said that it will begin what may be a lengthy process of its own testing which has the very real possibility of being inconclusive.

I have to ask why this minister will not err on the side of the safety of our children. Has the Minister of Health not learned anything from Justice Krever and the ways in which early danger signs were sadly ignored in that shameful episode? The same thing that happened with blood products appears to be happening with plastic toys.

The minister's department says that these deadly toys are safe and will stay on the market and nothing will be done to raise public awareness about the problem. The government's position appears to be that it is okay to poison children for Christmas.

The action by Denmark creates an interesting dilemma for the minister. Denmark is a nation whose people are considered thoughtful and prudent. They have added much to the evolution of modern civilization. The Danish and other governments have decided that these nasty products, sold for profit, specifically to children, have not met the community standard of health and safety and, indeed, morality and will be banned outright.

Protecting the public good is done elsewhere, yet when New Democrats suggest the same business and the government react as if the sky is falling and the mountains are tumbling into the sea. It is like we were taking away the cookie jar.

The Danes and the others are banning these toys and other phthalate ridden products because they know that businesses will not pack up and leave the country and take along every last job when the government makes a common sense decision in the interest of public health.

Holding such a threat over the head of a nation is nothing short of economic terrorism, yet this government thinks that regulation is a dirty word, a word the Minister of Health is afraid to say. Thankfully the Danish and other governments will ensure that corporations make their profits in a way which enhances the public good, and if killer toys have to come off the market, then so be it.

We in this party applaud Denmark's integrity. This government is always talking about international trade. Perhaps we could import some Danish integrity to this government.

I would like to point out to the minister that these types of common sense health policies currently in place in other countries like Denmark are commonly referred to by Canadians as having backbone and principle.

The New Democratic Party knows that there are ways of regulating rogue business without causing economic chaos. It is an accepted part of national life in most countries, and yet this government has abandoned its responsibility in this area. The government should be aggressively protecting the public good and especially the public health of our children with stronger health and consumer regulations.

Canadians used to rely on something called consumer and corporate affairs. The corporate affairs part has changed its name to the Government of Canada, while we can find the consumer part in a matchbox in the basement of Industry Canada.

Millions of polluted toys are being bought this Christmas season by unsuspecting Canadian parents and the official policy of the Minister of Health appears to be toxic toys for girls and boys and a very scary Christmas for all, or perhaps toxic toys r us.

The minister is lost in toyland, like his cabinet colleagues. They only seem interested in hearing the prime minister announce his best before date.

I cannot understand how on earth the people in this government can spoon feed poison to our children, my eight year old daughter included. The studies are there. I urge the minister to act quickly in the interest of all Canadians.

The reason we need labels is that phthalates are not a danger a parent can see coming. It is not like a car in the street, a vicious dog or a sharp object. Phthalates are not something a parent can recognize. They are unseen, hidden inside toys that children are often desperate to get their hands on or put in their mouths, and yet the government refuses to even warn parents of the dangers, preferring to please itself by putting these deadly chemicals into Canadian babies through things like soothers. It is absolutely shameful.

We at least need labels so parents can make an informed decision to protect their children while the machinery of government grinds through its own testing process. Not even Health Canada can tell us how long that will take.

It is important for a government such as this, sitting as it is in the hip pocket of big business, to realize that the word is going to get out about phthalates, whether CEOs and comfy bureaucrats at Health Canada like it or not.

When that happens, and it is happening right now, all toy manufacturers, including those who refused to use phthalates, will suffer an exodus from toy stores.

Not acting on my colleague's motion will cause economic harm, confusion and fear among parents. The Minister of Health can take the blame for that one too when the CEOs call him on the carpet for it.

How can Canadians continue to have faith in these products that are improperly studied before allowing them into our homes? Perhaps that is why earlier this year it fell upon two workers at an Ikea store to notice that the eyes on 11 models of stuffed toys posed a danger to children. Somehow these 11 toys were approved for sale by the manufacturers and Health Canada but were pulled off the shelves by the large retail chain itself.

It should not be the responsibility of store clerks to protect the nation from dangerous products. It is the responsibility of Health Canada and the Minister of Health.

I call on this government to properly fund departments responsible for public health and safety. Perhaps if this funding had not been cut, we would not be here today imploring the government to take notice of what is happening over this issue.

The economic costs associated with health problems from these polluted toys are obvious. By taking preventive measures we can save some Canadian children from liver disease and cancer. For all these reasons, the safety of our children, the health of the economy, it is important for the government to recognize this problem and accept my hon. colleague's suggestion and place labels on toys polluted by phthalates as soon as possible.

I cannot think of a better Christmas gift for my child and all Canadian children.

Toy LabellingPrivate Members' Business

6:55 p.m.

Liberal

John Bryden Liberal Wentworth—Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have only been in the House four years, but in that time I have never heard the use of such extreme language and such unfair language as I have just heard from the member who spoke previously.

We abuse our privilege as parliamentarians when we make exaggerated statements that we cannot make outside the House without being sued.

This talk of killer toys, polluted toys, when she knows full well that she has the protection of the Chamber to use that language, I do not think is something that is very admirable.

In fact, this whole thing springs from a Greenpeace report which says that there is a possibility of danger with phthalates, which are actually ethylhexylphthalate, a chemical softener used in polyvinyl chlorides, plastics, and in baby's soothers and that type of product.

Greenpeace raised a legitimate concern when it pointed out that there may be some possibility that this type of material existing in these toys could be leeched out when the child sucks on the toy.

However, the Greenpeace report goes into no detail whatsoever about the alleged toxic qualities of these phthalates. If the member opposite had taken the time to look up the various reports that have been done by Environment Canada and Health Canada, she would have discovered that there is little evidence found by the government that phthalates are a serious problem in the environment.

It is very easy to condemn a product when it gets headlines. But we have to take a responsible attitude to this problem. There is no evidence that these phthalates have any effect except over a very long term. Greenpeace has not supplied the evidence of its laboratory studies and the member opposite is obviously is not prepared to supply the evidence either.

Toy LabellingPrivate Members' Business

6:55 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I have to interrupt the hon. member's remarks because the time provided for the consideration of Private Members' Business is now expired. But he will have eight minutes remaining the next time this matter comes up for discussion.

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

Toy LabellingAdjournment Proceedings

7 p.m.

Liberal

Roger Gallaway Liberal Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Mr. Speaker, on November 18 I posed a question regarding the actions taken by the Toronto-Dominion Bank. On October 31 at the stroke of midnight, Halloween night, the computers at the Toronto-Dominion Bank whirled and downloaded every piece of personal information it has on each and every customer.

This information went to the Toronto-Dominion mortgage corporation, securities corporation and insurance corporations and it went free of charge. The only way a TD customer could avoid their own information from being sent was if, and only if, first they read the eight-page brochure that was sent by the TD to all of its customers in June of this year.

Second, they would have to understand just what was being proposed in this brochure and the implications of that.

Third, they would have to phone or write to their Toronto-Dominion Bank and tell them, no, they did not want these separate corporations to have this information.

This is what is called negative option marketing; that is, placing the onus on the consumer to read, understand and respond to a demand that favours only the Toronto-Dominion Bank. This is a bold faced attempt by the Toronto-Dominion Bank to take advantage of its customers. It is also a gross invasion of privacy because there is no consent.

Is it any wonder or surprise that Canadians have no faith, in fact despise the banks and bankers of this country when they actively and purposely take advantage of the little people, the average consumer, the average TD Bank customer?

I know that the parliamentary secretary is going to say that the Canadian Banking Association has a privacy code approved by the Canadian Standards Association. However, I would suggest that we are not talking about wrenches or screwdrivers and how good they are. We are talking about the details of a person's personal financial life, what they own and what they owe. This is a privacy code—and we have to remember this—made by the banks for the banks and enforceable only by the banks. The only entity it helps is the Toronto-Dominion Bank.

What does this mean? It means that consumers of the Toronto-Dominion Bank can at least expect more and more annoying junk mail. It means more and more annoying phone calls at lunch and dinner for the telemarketer trying to sell TD insurance or some other TD product over the phone.

However, what it really means—and the parliamentary secretary does not want to mention this—is that when someone goes into the TD Bank for a loan, that bank or loans manager is going to take out a hammer and that hammer is going to be something like this: the Toronto-Dominion Bank will approve the loan if—and this is a big if—you, the customer, will move your registered retirement savings plan or your car insurance or your home mortgage. There are endless possibilities here.

This is what is called tied selling and it is based on an intimate knowledge of the customer across a very broad segment of their personal financial details.

It is obvious that Canadians need more protection from big banks. Big banks do not need more power. The Canadian Standards Association cannot protect Canadians from the banks. Only the government can and the government should be passing legislation to prohibit this gross invasion of privacy.

Toy LabellingAdjournment Proceedings

7 p.m.

Stoney Creek Ontario

Liberal

Tony Valeri LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, privacy is certainly a major concern to Canadian consumers of financial services and rightly so. Consumers do not want confidential and personal information given to outsiders or used for the purposes other than which it was given or authorized.

The government certainly appreciates these concerns and is planning to build on actions already undertaken by financial institutions. I emphasize that the government is planning to build on these actions.

Earlier this year changes were introduced to the financial institution legislation that strengthens privacy protection for consumers of financial services. Regulations are under discussion that will require all federally regulated financial institutions to establish procedures governing the collection, retention, use and disclosure of customer information, to implement complaints handling procedures, to inform customers of these procedures and to report annually on privacy related complaints.

The banks and property casualty insurers have already adopted codes of conduct on privacy that are modelled on and consistent with the privacy code established by the Canadian Standards Association. The banks' code was audited by Price Waterhouse and the Insurance Bureau of Canada's code was examined by the Quality Management Institute to ensure that the codes were in compliance with the CSA model. The CSA financial institution codes allow organizations to obtain customer consent to use their shared personal information in a number of ways.

The banks do not provide customer information to parties outside their corporate group, with the exception of information released for legal, income tax and credit reporting purposes.

The government will continue to monitor the privacy practices of financial institutions, both to ensure their effectiveness and to assess whether more needs to be done to ensure the protection of customer information.

The task force on the future of financial services sector may also be examining privacy issues in its work. We certainly look forward to seeing what the task force has to say when it reports back to the government next fall.

Toy LabellingAdjournment Proceedings

7:05 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The hon. member for Vancouver Island North. I apologize to him. I got mixed up in my reading of the sheet.

Toy LabellingAdjournment Proceedings

7:05 p.m.

Reform

John Duncan Reform Vancouver Island North, BC

Mr. Speaker, the returns of Atlantic salmon are at historically very low levels. This is why, for conservation reasons, anglers have been practising only catch and release on the Saint John River in New Brunswick.

My question to the minister on November 17 asked why the DFO closed the Saint John River to catch and release fishing and then proceeded to kill fish and give them to the local native aboriginal communities for ceremonial purposes when these communities never asked for those fish, they were not surplus and were not required for science.

The minister's answer displayed a profound lack of knowledge of the spawning behaviour of Atlantic salmon. He stated that male fish were double the number of female fish, and therefore it was important to reduce the imbalance by killing male fish as well as to protect genetic stocks of salmon by making sure that the numbers of hatchery fish are reduced.

When the head of DFO science appeared before the Standing Committee on Fisheries in November, he also justified the killing of these fish based on the female ratio. This is bogus and DFO has no supporting evidence for these actions.

Once again, DFO has managed to politicize fish science. First, for the record, the fish stock from the hatchery are all of Saint John River origin and there is a competent breeding program to prevent in-breeding. Thus, there should be no reason to kill fish to protect genetic stocks of salmon, contrary to what the minister stated.

Second, a biased male to female ratio is not something inherently wrong which requires correction by killing off the offending males. So far, no one has found a nightclub where eligible Atlantic salmon meet to pair up prior to joining in their journey to the spawning grounds.

Salmon are schooling fish and behave more normally when they are in groups. When returns to rivers are low, such as this year, the number of fish available to form schools is low.

These fish may alter their behaviour and become hesitant to move upstream to spawning areas because they do not have companions. Killing off any fish, male or female, when numbers are so low is unjustified.

The hatchery on the Saint John River was built to compensate for fish losses caused by the construction of the Mactaquac dam. However, even with these hatchery contributions, the river is not meeting its egg conservation thresholds. Every fish counts.

The scientific rationale for killing these fish makes no sense. The explanations by the minister and by DFO have not abated the concerns of the Saint John River anglers nor of the local population.

Locally, DFO appears to be embarrassed. The department and the minister both stated that part or all of the rationale was to harvest these 40 fish to fulfil native requests. We believe this is an attempt to cover all bases by DFO and certainly does not explain why there are some fish still in a DFO freezer.

The statutory authority for this action is dubious at best and, in my opinion, exceeds the authority of DFO. It is important that the department have the support of the community at large to conserve and protect habitat and Atlantic salmon.

The statements and actions by DFO defy logic and have turned off the people normally most involved in stewardship of the river. The community wants reassurance that these actions will not be repeated.

Will the minister assure the community and the fish that this action will not occur again?

Toy LabellingAdjournment Proceedings

7:10 p.m.

Malpeque P.E.I.

Liberal

Wayne Easter LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Fisheries and Oceans

Mr. Speaker, I think it is time to clear up some facts.

The salmon fishery on the Saint John River was closed earlier this year in August because conservation requirements were not going to be met. DFO had to ensure that the maximum possible number of female salmon were present in the river to spawn. The closure affected all salmon fisheries including the aboriginal fisheries.

The requirement for the most successful spawning is one male per female. The ratio of males to females present in the river, as the hon. member admitted, was in the order of two males to every female. With this number of males salmon surplus to spawning requirements in the Saint John River a decision was made to take 40 hatchery grilse.

Removing the salmon from the fish collection facility was the safest way to do that particular test. Other methods would have resulted in a higher risk of mortality and could have had an impact on the number of females left to spawn.

I should also point out that they were hatchery males and therefore less important for spawning purposes than male wild salmon. There is nothing bogus about this decision. In fact conservation and science were paramount in that decision.

The facts of the matter are that DFO has the authority to undertake these types of activities under written permissions and licences granted in the Fisheries Act and the fishery general regulations.

These permissions and licences permit the specified activities to proceed in spite of closures. In removing the surplus grilse, DFO first gathered specific scientific information from each fish. Following such scientific scrutiny they were then provided to the first nations, which I am told had expressed an interest in receiving them.

Surplus grilse in the Saint John River were allocated to first nations in their 1997 communal fisheries licences. However, as a result of the early closure, the first nations were unable to reach their allocations for food, social and ceremonial purposes. Some first nations did not receive a single fish.

These fish were justifiably provided to first nations as a partial means to address the food fish shortfall without jeopardizing conservation objectives.

Toy LabellingAdjournment Proceedings

7:10 p.m.

Liberal

Lynn Myers Liberal Waterloo—Wellington, ON

Mr. Speaker, a recent survey found that nearly one in two Canadians would fail the citizenship examine given to immigrants. This suggests that a large number of Canadians lack the basic civic knowledge required to understand and participate in Canada's public life.

I must confess that as a former history teacher at the secondary school level, I was surprised by some of the findings. For example, the title of the national anthem was named by 95% of Canadians but only 63% got the first two lines right.

Just 22% of the respondents could name the four provinces, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, that formed Canada in 1867 and 8% cited Newfoundland which joined Confederation in 1949. Again only 8% correctly named the Queen as Canada's head of state; 57% believed the prime minister filled the role.

Fewer than one-third of those surveyed were able to name the Charter of Rights and Freedom as part of the constitution that protects the civil rights of Canadians.

The federal government should play a role in ensuring that history and civics are taught in schools across Canada and should develop national standards in these areas.

I join with those who are calling for a federal-provincial council of ministers of education to develop a new approach to civic education. Like many Canadians I believe that not enough history and civics are being taught in our schools. I believe, as do many Canadians, that we as a national government need to develop Canada-wide standards in these very important areas.

I would be interested in hearing the secretary of state outline whether or not she shares these concerns.

Toy LabellingAdjournment Proceedings

7:10 p.m.

Vancouver Centre B.C.

Liberal

Hedy Fry LiberalSecretary of State (Multiculturalism)(Status of Women)

Mr. Speaker, the statistics and the results of that survey are a great concern to all of us.

The Minister of Canadian Heritage is convinced that the key to a strong Canadian identity is a sound knowledge of Canada. The role of the federal government and in particular that of the Department of Canadian Heritage is to provide support to enable all Canadians to learn about each other, about our diversity, about our heritage, history, symbols, traditions and shared values, so that we can all participate fully in and appreciate the society and country we have built together.

We recognize that formal education is a provincial responsibility, but the federal government can provide innovative high quality learning materials on Canada that are complementary to school curricula. The Canadian studies program of the Department of Canadian Heritage has been supporting the development of Canadian learning materials about Canada's rich and diverse history since 1984. The department's successful “With Flying Colours” educational kit is a model of what we can do in this area.

In much the same way, the federal government highlights Canadian history through our museums, our galleries, our parks and our historic sites. So that young Canadians can learn to understand and participate in our society, we also support youth exchanges that give Canadian youth the opportunity to develop long term citizenship skills. Multiculturalism programs highlight not only our history but the diversity of our history.

Through key partnerships for instance with the Charles R. Bronfman Foundation which produced our heritage minutes on CBC, the department has shown a flexible and effective approach to supporting the teaching of history outside the classroom.

I recognize that this is not enough. We are working with the Council of Ministers of Education and provincial governments to have a concrete proposal that will benefit all Canadian students.

Toy LabellingAdjournment Proceedings

7:15 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed adopted. Accordingly, this House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 7.16 p.m.)