Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Health asked us to reconsider our decision to vote against the bill at third reading.
Before he leaves us, I would urge him to be as intelligent as he would like us to be and make his bill more flexible. It would then be possible to achieve the objectives we in the Bloc Quebecois supported at second reading, because the objectives of this bill are admirable, except in the case of devices like taking away sponsorships. Sports and cultural events so dear to the hearts of Quebecers are being deprived of these sponsorships, including the Montreal Grand Prix and all the international festivals such as the Just for Laughs festival and the jazz festival.
Vancouver also has a jazz festival. Fireworks attract thousands of people from Canada and Quebec. As you know, international events attract many tourists as well. These events give Quebec and Canada international visibility.
The Montreal Grand Prix is the third biggest sports event broadcast throughout the world, after the Olympic Games that are held once every four years and the World Cup. The Formula I Grand Prix comes right after these two. This country is lucky to have a Grand Prix event, to be seen throughout the world and to say to the people of the world: "Welcome to our country".
This country is supposed to be renowned for its quality of life, although, unfortunately, Canada's child poverty rate is one of the highest among Western countries, among the G-7 countries. That is not something to be proud of.
When the minister explained his objectives, we agreed with him, as you know. That is why we voted for the bill at second reading. The minister is an experienced parliamentarian, as you are, Mr. Speaker, and knows that at second reading the debate is on principles and objectives. That is why we supported the bill at second reading.
However, the minister should take the time to read the only speech by the only opposition member authorized to speak in the House at second reading. The hon. member for Portneuf also wanted to speak at second reading, but the hon. member for Macleod, after only a few minutes, a few seconds, called the previous question.
This caused some confusion in the House and, as a result, there was only one speaker for each party at second reading. The minister, after hesitating for months and months, as his predecessor had done, tabled this bill before Christmas. The debate at second reading was on December 5.
This is a venerable parliamentary strategy. A government that wants to pass controversial bills will table them at the end of a session, either in December or in June. They know that, at Christmas time, people are busy with their Christmas shopping. The minister purposely tabled his bill at that time because he did not want this bill to give rise to debate.
The Reform Party also did not want a debate, to the point that, when the minister announced that the bill would be tabled on December 5 at his news conference of December 1, the spokesperson for the Reform Party, who had not read the text, as no one had a copy at that point, immediately agreed in principle to ensure that the bill was passed as quickly as possible. That takes the cake. An opposition party that gives its approval before even reading the bill and its clauses.
When the Minister of Health uses a member of the third party who takes such positions, I think he is putting his credibility on the line. It makes no sense. How can you support a bill if you have not read it? In any case, we in the official opposition do not make a practice of doing so and we are not going to start now. We take the time to read the bills.
We supported the minister's objectives, but had reservations about sponsorship. I said so in my speech as the official opposition critic on tobacco. This week the Prime Minister quoted my remarks, noting that I had said we supported the minister's objectives.
That is true, but the Prime Minister should have finished reading and mentioned that we had reservations about the restrictions imposed on the sponsorship of sporting and cultural events and that, if none of the changes proposed were accepted by the Minister of Health or the government, and I said it even then, we would oppose the bill at third reading. We did not reverse our position, as the minister suggests, we did not do an about-face under the influence of the tobacco lobby.
I suggest the Minister of Health look to see who gives the most to the Liberal Party. The Liberal Party is funded by the tobacco companies, and is not bothered by the fact-rather interesting behaviour. On one hand, it is acceptable for the Liberal Party to receive contributions from tobacco companies and, on the other hand, we are being accused of being the tobacco companies' accomplices. We are nobody's accomplices.
The Bloc Quebecois supports cultural and sports events. To this extent, we are their allies because their very survival is at stake. This is what we support. The government side is implying all sorts of things. No matter how calm the minister sounds in appealing for common sense on this health issue, we will not let him pull the wool over our eyes.
Who is the most opportunistic, the minister or us? Who, as he said, is being hypocritical, when the Liberal government while waging a war against tobacco products does not dare put them on the list of dangerous and illegal substances? And why not? Because the federal government alone stands to make $2.6 billion from taxes on tobacco products, as the budget reveals. The other jurisdictions in Canada will reap another $2 billion, for a grand total of $4.6 billion.
They will not recognize tobacco as a dangerous and illegal product; that would be the logical thing to do but no, they want the revenues from that dangerous but nonetheless legal product.
We can very well hold a debate on the risks associated with smoking. At the second reading stage, during the speech I made as the official opposition critic in this area, I did admit that tobacco was a dangerous product, as demonstrated by scientific studies. The most serious study on the subject was conducted by scientists at the University of Texas and the Beckman Institute in California. They found a direct link between lung cancer, some other forms of cancer, and smoking.
That study refers to a carcinogenic substance and to the P-53 gene, which weakens the body's immune system, its resistance to illnesses that may cause cancer in the long term. We do recognize that. Statistics show that, every year, 42,000 people in Canada, including 12,000 in Quebec, die of cancer or lung diseases related to smoking. We do admit there is a problem.
But should we proceed within a legal framework on this issue? Yes, we could establish a legal framework for a government initiative, program or policy. But then again, that legislation would have to be enforceable, balanced, well designed, sensible. It would have to provide for a well structured implementation over time so it can be enforced. Because a law people do not comply with is unenforceable as it would require much more than the 40 inspectors we now have to make sure it is implemented. At present, in all of Canada, only 40 federal inspectors supervise the enforcement of the existing legislation. There already is a legislation providing for the monitoring of convenience stores to ensure they do not sell tobacco products to young people under 18. This legislation is not new; it already exists. We are adding a few details like the identity card, but the law already exists.
Yet, a serious study shows that, in Canada in general, it is not being enforced in 25 per cent of cases, while in Quebec the rate is almost 50 per cent, apparently because federal inspectors do not go there much. Why should we pass a new law when we know that the existing one is neither enforced nor enforceable? Why?
Why is this legislation unbalanced? I will give you an example. The government does not appeal enough to the accountability of citizens, young people and parents. For instance, for corner stores
and other retailers who sell tobacco products, this legislation provides for significant fines that I find excessive, while the offender himself would not be fined.
Let us take the example of the legislation on alcohol. How does it work? Of course, fines are imposed on those who serve alcohol to minors but, at the same time, minors are also penalized: they are arrested and must go to court. You will tell me that it is a youth court, but they still have to appear before the judge. And parents who do not abide by the legislation on alcohol, at least in Quebec, are also questioned.
But that is not the case here. Yet, according to the health minister and the parliamentary secretary and many others, tobacco is more dangerous than alcohol. However, we know that drinking and driving may create problems; many accidents are caused by alcohol. Why this inconsistency?
Here is another inconsistency. In the health committee, of which I am a member, we see there is some responsiveness. I am not taking a final stand on this, because it has not been discussed in our caucus yet. For example, there are some who think that marijuana and hashish, which are soft drugs, should be legalized. Why? Because, these people are saying: "If they were legal, they would be better controlled. The government could better ensure the quality of the products and they would be less dangerous for young people".
Does making drugs illegal reduce the use of so-called soft drugs and even harder drugs? On the contrary, make them illegal and use increases. Is legislation effective enough in itself to prevent increased use of tobacco, alcohol or any other substance?
We could go back in time and look at what happened when alcohol was made illegal. In the United States, in the 1930s, they had something called prohibition. Being my senior, Mr. Speaker, you will recall the incredible impact banning alcoholic drinks had, the resulting increase in contraband and crime for instance. I am a baby boomer, but my parents often told me stories about those days.
Without getting into Al Capone in Chicago and all that, we all remember stories about that era; there were even movies made about it. A purely legal or legislative approach is not enough to fight something that may be bad in itself.
Before sitting on the health committee, I was the official opposition's critic for youth and training. That is the line that should be developed, that should have been developed. It was suggested earlier that the Bloc Quebecois had somewhat ambiguous, hypocritical and paradoxical positions. I have a figure here showing that, when he announced he was imposing a special surtax on tobacco two years ago, the Minister of Finance told us it would bring in $180 million in additional revenue, which would be used to fund this great prevention campaign and ensure better control. How was this $180 million used? In fact, $40 million was spent.
I am looking over the figures for this year. But, this year, what is the government doing? It is legislating. With this legislation, given how concerned the minister, his parliamentary secretary and the Liberal members are about public health, we would have thought the government would have used at least that $180 million. Yet, only $10 million was spent on prevention and another $18 million on control and inspection, for a grand total of $28 million. That is far from $180 million. What did they do with the rest of the money? Where have these millions gone?
I will tell you what happened to these millions. There were spent, among other things, to promote Canadian unity, to the tune of $23 million for flags, sweaters and all kinds of gadgets. I can tell you about it, because a provincial final is currently being held in my riding, as part of the Quebec Games. I try to attend this extraordinary event as often as possible, and I urge people to the same and go to my riding of Lévis, because it is the first time these games are organized by a RCM, a group of municipalities getting together to put up a major event.
What did the federal government do? The heritage minister came barging in and, pretty well at the last minute, announced a $100,000 subsidy, but with one condition: the Canadian flag would have to be up there and the athletes would have to wear sweaters that promote the flag and Canadian unity. We are talking about the provincial finals of the Quebec Games. Can you believe it? The heritage minister has some nerve.
With the $63 million that it is spending, hers is the only department that got a budget increase this year, when the government was cutting elsewhere, including in transfer payments to the provinces for health, the notorious Canada social transfer, which now also includes post-secondary education and social assistance. The government is indeed making deep cuts in these areas.
On the other hand, it spends on things like that. Oddly enough, this $63 million is roughly the same amount that sports and cultural events will lose, those $60 million in sponsorships, if the bill is passed this evening and if the Senate then gives it approval.
Given that difference of only $3 million, the heritage minister, who is just as convinced as her colleagues are, that is the health minister and the parliamentary secretary, should have taken that $63 million to compensate organizers of sports and cultural events, since the amounts are basically the same.
But no, they put Canadian unity ahead of health in this case. When Bloc Quebecois members talk about the survival of cultural
and sports events, we are told that we are putting culture and the promotion of sports ahead of national health objectives.
The government, however, promotes its flags, handing them out for free, and we in the Bloc Quebecois are expected to say nothing. Do not count on it, Mr. Speaker. Perhaps not you personally, you have an objective, non-partisan role, but through you, those members who make appeals to us, the minister who speaks from the heart, who says to the Minister of Canadian Heritage: "Listen, if you are as concerned about the health objective as I am, take part of the $63 million, if not all of it, and apply it to that".
First of all, the health minister should be consistent. Let him take the $180 million set aside for prevention, promotion and education. Let him so something constructive. Then we would take him seriously when he talks about our judgment, our humanity and the health objectives. Then we would take him seriously.
The minister should himself get serious and spend the money accordingly on sports and cultural events, and at the same time, in addition-because he is apparently sure of his objectives concerning young people-he would then take an important dimension seriously.
A number of studies show that, in 80 per cent of cases, young people decide whether or not to take up smoking around the age of 15 or 16. The main reason young people smoke is not because they have seen a logo for tobacco products on a car racing at speeds of 200 kilometres an hour and up; that is not the reason at all. It is not because of a logo seen at the site of a sports or cultural event, for these events draw more adults than young people. This is not why they smoke. The primary reason, in over 50 per cent of cases, is because their friends smoke. They want to copy what their friends are doing. They want to be one of the gang, so they start smoking. That is the main reason they start.
If the minister were serious, he ought to accept our recommendations. During the clause by clause examination, we said "If it is peer pressure that gets young people to start smoking, why not make use of this real social fact and provide funding for youth centres and other youth organizations that are so much in need of funding?" These organizations have had their funding cut, federal funding in particular. There could be programs focussed on prevention, young people speaking to others in the schools, telling them not to smoke, for young people are very much aware of the issue.
I have had experience with youth-related issues. Before I was an MP, I always worked in youth organizations, and I have a fairly good idea how young people think about certain things. I am not worried, not pessimistic. I think our young people are becoming increasingly aware about certain things; we could even learn a thing or two from them.
Who has more influence on today's young people than other young people? Sometimes I revert to an old habit, and throw out a piece of paper. How do young people react to this most of the time? They say: "No, no, not there. It goes for recycling". Our children make themselves responsible for recycling at home, but they also talk about it at school, and they talk to us about the environment. The environment is important to our young people, and smoke is an environmental contaminant.
Since the minister is no longer here, I shall now address the parliamentary secretary. Why does he not encourage his minister, if he is serious about this, to put the planned $180 million, at least that much, into programs for young people?
Why not give more money to anti-tobacco groups? I have personally met representatives of all groups and all lobbies, whatever you want to call them. The Bloc Quebecois, unlike the minister, took the time to listen to everyone. Not just one group but everyone, including representatives of anti-tobacco groups. There are intelligent people in those groups, people with sincere convictions.
Far be it from for me to insult people who have done a wonderful job telling young people about the dangers of tobacco use. Unfortunately, although the minister tried to avoid this debate by putting the matter before Parliament at a time when the public's attention was elsewhere, it happened just the same. The debate was there during our Christmas parties. The subject was discussed at family gatherings. And after the holidays, people started to realize what was at stake and that they might lose the Montreal Grand Prix and other major cultural and sports events that were very popular, and they started to demonstrate their opposition, as we saw in Montreal this week.
If there had been a healthy debate, properly set up, and if there had been consultations conducted properly, well planned and unbiased, not this steamroller approach so Quebecers and Canadians would not realize what hit them. If instead of this inappropriate approach to lawmaking, the government had shown a spirit of transparency and openness and respect for different opinions.
Those who support tobacco company sponsorships of cultural and sports events could have talked to the public. People I spoke to personally, in private, said they were appalled at what was happening to cultural and sports events. They are appalled. They have nothing against those who promote culture. Of course, when they defend a position, opinions tend to crystallize, and finally no reconciliation seems possible. But what do you expect? The minister talks to only one side, he hears only one side of the story and will not allow any consultation.
When you want to draft a bill, you organize forums, you have consultations and meetings in the provinces, you ask the provinces whether they agree, to get their co-operation, because the subject we are talking about today is our health. Incidentally, I may remind you, and I am sure you know, but it seems we often forget what it says in the Constitution about health. Perhaps the Minister of Heritage should have the Constitution printed in pamphlet form so Canadians across the country will know what is in the Constitution. Those who read them would see that health is a provincial matter. Where does the word "province" appear in the bill?
With my colleague from Drummond, in committee, when the bill was being studied clause by clause and on many occasions, I tried to say: "Include at least `in co-operation with the provinces"'. But no, the Minister of Health wanted to be the defender of health and take his place in history as the man who had an extraordinary anti smoking bill passed. He wanted credit for it, so much so that, seeing the consternation it caused in his own caucus and in cabinet, the minister said, in public, before anti smoking lobbies, that, if this bill were not passed before the elections, he would put his liberal beliefs, his convictions and his membership in the Liberal Party on the line. He even suggested to people that they vote against the Liberal Party in the next elections.
In doing so, he put pressure on the other members of cabinet. There are people on the other side, members from Quebec, including the member for Outremont, the Secretary of State responsible for the Federal Office of Regional Development in Quebec, who said suddenly: "Hang on, I am powerful, influential, I will get the minister to change his position. You will see". He listened to the representatives of sporting and cultural events, because, several months later, he discovered the economic importance of it all: $200 million in economic benefits for the Montreal region, 2,000 jobs.
A few months later, after the holiday season, he discovered that it could adversely affect him in his own riding. He had not thought of it before, but he must have been told so in some Christmas parties. So the Secretary of State responsible for the Federal Office of Regional Development in Quebec finally realized that.
The president of the Liberal caucus in Quebec realized that, but as he could feel the heat, he suggested that an election be held. Now, another president of the Liberal caucus is making promises. The extension was one year, he asked for it to be 18 months, and he won. After that, he thought he might just as well ask for a five-year period, but he was turned down. The Minister of Health told him it was enough.
Of course, even if he is from Quebec, from the riding of Saint-Maurice, the Prime Minister himself then had to support the decisions of his Minister of Health. He was compelled to state that the most important thing for him was Canadians' health. Come on. We know him well. We saw him in action during the referendum campaign. He said he would make changes and he did try a little, but as soon as the provincial premiers did not agree, that was the end of his efforts. A little motion was moved in the House of Commons.
Oh yes, we know him. He is the one who, when he was Minister of Justice and acting on behalf of former Prime Minister Trudeau, imposed patriation of the Constitution from London and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Today, he tells us that Canadians and Quebecers' health is what counts the most as far as he is concerned and that he will make this issue a plank in his electoral platform.
The Minister of Health reminded us of that when the Liberal Party agreed to delay application of some restrictions for 18 months. He will hear about it during the electoral campaign. The voters will talk about it, the official opposition too.
The bill is so imprecise and deliberately confused that it leaves room for all kinds of interpretation and speculation. Everybody is confused. For example, the organizers of the Grand Prix de Montréal claim that, according to this bill, if passed, people could not even watch the Australian Grand Prix this weekend on television.
Sponsorship of events such as the Grand Prix is a package deal. I have no respect for tobacco companies who use blackmail but, because of this bill and because of the anxiety caused by its adoption, Quebecers may not be able this weekend to watch Jacques Villeneuve race in the Australian Grand Prix. He is the son of Gilles Villeneuve, and the potential world champion driver this year.
This morning, the plane I took from Quebec City was delayed due to a terrible storm. People recognized me and told me they were hoping I would rise and speak about this, because they want to see Jacques Villeneuve compete in the Australian Grand Prix over the weekend. They absolutely want to see him.
It is not a totally sure thing. This is a very particular event, very current, and it just goes to prove that the 18-month extension proposed by the president of the caucus applies only to clause 24. The parliamentary secretary knows quite well that it applies only to clause 24 and not to clause 31.
What is in clause 31? It deals to retransmission. The 18-month adjustment period does not apply to that clause. I am sure that some Liberal members are not aware of that. Therre are not many of them, but maybe they are listening.
I urge them to do as the member for Outremont did, even if it is a bit late; I urge them to read clause 31 of Bill C-71 which they will pass tonight. It deals with retransmission. They will see that the 18-month adjustment period does not apply to clause 31. Clause 31
is really special, it means a tobacco company's logo cannot appear on a car.
If this is allowed, if a tobacco company's logo or name appears on the car, TV networks will have to distort the image. It would be somewhat similar to what is done in a news report when witnesses want to remain anonymous for whatever reason. Their image is then distorted to ensure they are not recognized.
Imagine the next formula 1 race with TV cameras trying to distort only the cigarette company's name appearing on the car so that it cannot be recognized. Imagine that Gilles Villeneuve is sponsored by a tobacco company, we will not be able to see him. If he comes first, I imagine they will go to the runner-up, but since most racers are sponsored by tobacco companies, the only one they might be allowed to show will be the one who came in last. This does not make sense. Usually people are interested in the driver who comes in first not last. This is rather odd.
But it is the truth. The member who is grinning should look at clause 31 and ask a lawyer to review it. If he is of the opinion that what I am saying is wrong, the member should have his health minister make a solemn statement to that effect in this House before we adjourn, as he did the other day, with good reason.
The job of the opposition is to criticize, but sometimes we have to recognize that the minister does set the record straight. For example, some people in Quebec, and perhaps elsewhere, are saying that it would prohibit persons under 18 years of age from being hired at convenience stores. Indeed, it was not clear.
We wondered, we asked questions and so did Reform members. In a solemn declaration, the minister said: "It is not in the bill. It is not in, but I commit myself to not prohibiting it by way of regulations". He said it would not make any sense. He took that solemn pledge. We are asking him to do the same for the broadcasting of Grand Prix auto races. We want him to say: "Section 31 is so convoluted that you could read into it one thing and its opposite".
That is saying quite a lot. If I had more time, I would prove to you that this bill has been put together in such a way that some sections are totally incomprehensible. Nobody can understand them.