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House of Commons Hansard #90 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was health.

Topics

Labelling Of ToysPrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

Bruce—Grey Ontario

Liberal

Ovid Jackson LiberalParliamentary Secretary to President of the Treasury Board

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak to Motion No. 85 in the name of the member for Acadie—Bathurst.

It is important that members have private motions such as this one when they and their constituents have major concerns. There is no question that it is important to get all the facts out.

I noted some very interesting comments from members of the Bloc and the member opposite who just spoke indicating that we have to be vigilant. We need ways and means of protecting not only our children but our society in general through Health Canada, through the kinds of processes we use, and by hearing information from our colleagues in other countries.

There is no question that potential hazards exist from polyvinyl chlorides or PVC plastic toys, but that is not the issue. The issue, as the member before me said, is whether it is really the type of toxin advocated by Greenpeace. Is it something we should pull from the shelves? We use stringent methods of testing in order to make sure this happens.

Health Canada has been involved with the particular testing of PVCs since the 1980s. The department has taken a leadership role over the last 12 years in assessing the implications of PVCs on the health of all Canadians.

The issue is of importance to me. I have two grandchildren, one just born the day before the election. She is 10 months old. She has about two or three teeth, Mr. Speaker, which are quite sharp when you put your hands in her mouth. As the member said, this additive is something that makes things pliable. We want to make sure that it is not toxic because when we listen to people like Dr. Fraser Mustard we know now that the outcome for young children is so important. We know that from the time the child is born the parents should not be involved in smoking and they should not be involved in alcohol or any dangerous drugs that will interfere with the child. The first three years are absolutely critical, we know that. We know how the brain grows in the first six years.

I have been paying particular attention to a CBC program called Grow Baby Grow and it is fascinating to see the outcome, when children are looked after properly. It makes for a much better nation, it makes for great citizens, it makes for people who will take our places when we retire and we know we will be in good hands. We need to protect our kids.

There is no question that I want to be vigilant, I want parents to be vigilant, but I also want to make sure that when these tests are done they are valid and that the science being used is not invalid and will create problems for the industry.

The issue of phthalates in children's products, especially the DEHP, has been investigated by Health Canada. It has been investigated by many foreign governments as well, including Sweden, New Zealand, England and the United States. Suffice it to say the decision on DINP will await the completion of the scientific investigation now under way by Health Canada. Preliminary results were expected this spring and we hope we will have them soon. Should investigations indicate there is a danger or a risk to children the department of course will not hesitate to pull these things off the shelf and make sure that a threat to our children does not exist.

We have to be consistent, we have to be responsible and we have to use a professional approach to the testing. The government's ongoing commitment to the health of all Canadians is extremely important. The government will listen to all the information we can get and we will be vigilant in making sure that our citizens are protected.

I thank the member for his intervention. I think it is important that we have the debate. I cannot support the bill because, as has been said by my colleague earlier on, we want to make sure that when we pull things and put restrictions on the industry it is valid and we are using scientific information.

Labelling Of ToysPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

Before we resume debate we have approximately 10 minutes remaining and we have four people who would like to get a few words in. We will keep that in mind as we resume debate with the hon. member for Sydney—Victoria.

Labelling Of ToysPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

NDP

Peter Mancini NDP Sydney—Victoria, NS

Mr. Speaker, bearing in mind the time constraints I will attempt to be brief, although once I am on my feet in the Chamber I sometimes find that a hard task.

Because I am speaking in support of this piece of legislation I do not think it is necessary for me to go over all the reasons why we should support it. Some of those have been enumerated by my colleague from the Bloc and my colleague from the Reform Party. Instead I will take the few moments I have to review perhaps the reasons why members of the government and members of the Conservative Party are not supporting this legislation and I think I can effectively raise some rebuttal to that.

We heard the parliamentary secretary say that at this point he cannot support labelling, and that is what we are talking about doing. We are not talking about pulling toys off shelves. We are not talking about banning them. We are talking about labelling them so that consumers who are parents buying for their children know what they are buying for those children and they can make the choice.

Members of the government have said that to date there is no conclusive evidence that it threatens the health of children, no specific cases having come forward, but that Health Canada is currently studying the situation. I think his exact words at one point were research is being done that will show the extent of the problem, not whether there is a problem but the extent of the problem. My colleague from the Conservative Party spoke against this bill because he says his party is also waiting to see if there is a significant risk.

We know in Europe these products have been taken off the shelves. We know there are studies in Denmark that indicate there is a risk. This debate is all too familiar. We have had this debate during question period every day for the last number of days the House has been sitting and I refer to the hepatitis C issue the Minister of Health has been grilled on. My hon. colleague from the Conservative Party arranged a press conference for those people who will not be compensated.

Why are some people not being compensated? The Minister of Health has said they were not testing at a particular point in time although we know and there is some evidence to suggest—and I am not going to get into that debate today, but the parallel is interesting—that Health Canada was aware that there was testing available for blood products before it was implemented in this country.

Today we have members of the Conservative Party, the Reform Party, the Bloc party and the New Democratic Party grilling the Minister of Health as to why people who became infected before that test was available or accepted by Health Canada were not compensated.

We know there is evidence in other countries that this product can be harmful to children but the government and Conservative Party want to wait until Health Canada does its own testing. Are members going to be in this House in 15 years grilling the Minister of Health about young children who today may become sick because we have not accepted the testing?

I will not use up all of the time because there are other points to be made. I encourage anyone watching this debate tonight, especially from Ontario since that is where many of the government members are from, to phone or write their member of parliament to indicate their concerns, especially parents of young children.

Labelling Of ToysPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Liberal

Larry McCormick Liberal Hastings—Frontenac—Lennox And Addington, ON

Mr. Speaker, this is certainly a very important motion. While it is clearly intended to protect the children from potentially hazardous products, and I do respect the work that went into this, it is simply not the most effective response. This is because the mere labelling of a product based on the presence of phthalates tells the parent nothing about the potential hazard itself. It is therefore of little use in helping parents make informed decisions.

For the label to be of use it would have to identify specific substances, how much are in the toy and what level constitutes a potential health hazard. Furthermore, the implication of this motion is that government health and safety regulations would allow dangerous products to be placed on the market with full knowledge of their potential danger.

This is not true. It was not true yesterday, today or tomorrow. If a specific toy were found to contain a hazardous product and if this product had sufficient quantities to harm a child the product would not need a warning label because the product would not be on the market. The government would have already taken steps to remove the product from the market. That is why we have the Hazardous Products Act.

This issue of vinyl plastic has received recent attention in the media following a release by Greenpeace of a report that states that phthalates used in children's products are a health risk. But here it should be noted that the product identified in both studies is known as DINP. The chemical was introduced by toy manufacturers in the United States six years ago to replace a product called DEHP which was thought to be potentially hazardous to children. Therefore the products Greenpeace refers to in its report are classic chemicals used to soften the PVC or vinyl.

Health Canada has tested these products and even expanded its testing and assessment of other plastic toys. The only toxin detected was DINP with very small amounts of DEHP. I would like to emphasize a point here that appears to have been overlooked in this motion and that is the mere presence of phthalates in a given product does not necessarily constitute a health risk.

Currently health officials are examining studies to assess if in fact these particular substances are toxic in this case and if they prove to be a hazard.

Certainly none of us will disagree on the intent of this motion because we are concerned about the health and safety of our children on this issue. Some of the points made during the course of this debate have created some confusion about what additives are under dispute and their effects.

However, I do believe that we now have a better appreciation of this issue and of the role Health Canada has been playing because the number one priority is our children.

Labelling Of ToysPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, these past four days, we have heard that all parties were concerned about the tainted blood issue in Canada. Health Canada and its minister have had fingers pointed at them every day. And the issue was raised during the whole week that preceded our two week recess.

Today, three very important points were raised in the debate on Motion M-85. First, the fact that members from all political parties support this initiative proves the significance of this motion, and we can understand why that is.

At first reading, everyone spoke in favour. At second reading, corporate lobbying began and a number of members started to change their tune. Most of us here, in the House of Commons, are parents, and those who are not all know children they care about. This motion touches a chord in us as parents and adults who want to keep children out of harm's way.

I have three daughters and I can tell you that, I would have wanted to know that there was a risk that some of the toys I bought them when they were babies could cause cancer, liver damage and infertility, had it been possible at the time.

That is the problem with phthalates in plastic toys. We cannot tell which toys contain this chemical substance. This means that parents who buy a soother or a teething ring are playing Russian roulette with their children's health.

Let me outline the studies conducted internationally, which show how important it is to label toys containing phthalates. Phthalates are chemical agents used to make plastic more pliable. They are largely used in the manufacturing of pacifiers, teething rings and other flexible plastic toys.

Studies undertaken by the Danish government show that phthalates can be released when children bite into plastic toys. Swedish studies on rats show a correlation between the ingestion of phthalates and the onset of leukaemia, infertility and organ anomalies.

Also, a study carried out by the European Union concluded that the security issue raised by the phthalates known as DINP, DNOP and DEHP is cause for concern.

This debate also showed that members of the House of Commons are not the only ones concerned about the use of phthalates in plastic toys. In Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden, Argentina, Spain, Belgium, Germany and Italy, toy manufacturers and store chains have withdrawn toys containing phthalates.

I do not have much time left, but I would like to sound a warning. There are problems with contaminated blood and if members vote against this motion, I would not want to see any of our children dying because of this three years from now. I am only asking that the label advise Canadian parents what they are buying, just as it indicates the content of carpets or other products.

If we cannot do this for our children, we should just pack it in and go home.

Labelling Of ToysPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

It being 6 p.m., the time provided for debate has expired.

Pursuant to the order made Tuesday, April 21, 1998, the motion is deemed to have been put and a recorded division deemed demanded and deferred until Tuesday, April 28, 1998, at the end of the time provided for government orders.

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

Labelling Of ToysAdjournment Proceedings

6 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Greg Thompson Progressive Conservative Charlotte, NB

Mr. Speaker, I rise concerning the hepatitis C compensation package and questions I have asked the minister repeatedly in this House.

The position taken by the Government of Canada and supported by the health minister is completely untenable. The package announced by the health minister leaves 20,000 to 40,000 innocent victims outside any kind of compensation. It is unbelievable a package that would leave out 20,000 to 40,000 people would be announced.

Unfortunately it could be as high as 60,000 people because the minister the other day admitted he does not know how many people have been left outside the compensation package. This is unbelievable in a country as historically generous as Canada.

A little frame has been built around the years 1986 to 1990. Those unfortunate victims who are outside the years 1986 to 1990 would not be compensated. Persons born on December 31, 1985 would not be compensated but persons born one day later, on New Year's Day 1986, would be compensated. How can a government agree to a package that is absolutely as insane as that?

Nobody on this side of the House supports that kind of nonsense. Much to their credit there are many backbenchers on the government side of the House who cannot support it either.

I want to let the Minister of Health know that this issue is not going to go away. As long as there is a member on this side of the House, and I do not care whether the member is a Reformer, an NDP or with the Bloc, we are not going to let this issue die. In the history of Canada, and Canada is 131 years old this year, there has never been a piece of business as sad as this one. The government is being so ungenerous to so many people.

The government has found a way to buy its way out of some of the other problems it created. Remember the helicopter deal? It paid half a billion dollars just in legal fees on what we would call a cancellation clause on a botched helicopter deal. Half a billion dollars. The government paid out $750 million, three-quarters of a billion dollars, on the failed Pearson airport deal.

A mathematical genius is not required to arrive at the number that we have on this one. Simply add half a billion and three-quarters of a billion and it is way over a billion dollars. The government found money for those botched projects but it cannot find money for innocent victims. It is unbelievable.

This issue is not going to go away. I am glad the justice critic is with me tonight. He just reminded me that the minister is the same minister who was spending half a billion dollars on gun registration, half a billion dollars on legislation we do not need in this country.

The issue is not going to go away. We are going to fight it. We want changes.

Labelling Of ToysAdjournment Proceedings

6:05 p.m.

Vaudreuil—Soulanges Québec

Liberal

Nick Discepola LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Solicitor General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the Minister of Health I am pleased to respond to the hon. member. I would like to remind him that we are talking about people, not statistics, not numbers. We are talking about people's lives who have been affected as a result of infection through the blood system.

I would also like to remind the House that we have been guided by the desire to help these people, help them as quickly as possible and to do so on the basis of compassion and sound public policy.

We have listened to those who were affected by the blood tragedy and we listened to Justice Krever. We heard about the urgency of the situation. We heard that assistance should come and come soon and be tailored to the needs. We have since moved very quickly. We have taken action. Thirteen ministers of health have had to act and they have had to do so in a responsible manner.

I would like to take a moment to address Mr. Krever's approach to the issue. He had a very particular mandate which he fulfilled but to which he was also bound. His final report is a comprehensive and exhaustive examination of evidence and various facts. The report provides the best historical look at why the events of the past occurred, what was done and more importantly, what should be done in the future in order that we can learn from the errors of the past and learn about ways in which we should improve the blood system in the future.

The Minister of Health has an important mandate and set of responsibilities that he must take very seriously also. His provincial and territorial colleagues have mandates of their own. They have worked together to address the past. We have also worked together to build the future. We anticipate how our decisions have very serious consequences now and for the future. We are not just talking about the injuries sustained through the blood system, we are talking about all health care, medical interventions and health services.

On March 27 Canada's health ministers announced that governments were offering $1.1 billion in assistance to Canadians infected by the hepatitis C virus.

I have run out of time, Mr. Speaker. I will discuss this with the hon. member personally.

Labelling Of ToysAdjournment Proceedings

6:05 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I rise today on a question I asked in this House on March 25 of this year. I asked the finance minister if and when he would produce sufficient funds as recommended in the east coast report and the Harrigan report. We are talking about TAGS and the infrastructure money required for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador and the other four Atlantic provinces.

With your indulgence, Mr. Speaker, I would like to read to this House a letter signed by five premiers of Atlantic Canada to the Prime Minister dated December 12, 1997:

“We the premiers of Canada's five eastern provinces are writing to express our concerns over the pending expiry of the Atlantic groundfish strategy, TAGS, and to call upon the Government of Canada to immediately establish a successor program to TAGS.

“As you are aware the Atlantic groundfish strategy is due to expire in May 1998. Over the past four years this program has constituted an essential lifeline for over 40,000 individuals and their families from Atlantic Canada and Quebec, individuals who through no fault of their own have seen their livelihoods and those of their families and communities challenged severely by the groundfish crisis.

“TAGS was based on two fundamental premises which have proven incorrect. First, the program was based on the expectation that key groundfish stocks would begin to recover by the time the program was due to end and commercial fisheries could be reopened by this time. This premise has proven incorrect and many of the principal groundfish stocks off Canada's east coast remain incapable of sustaining a commercial fishery.

“Second, the program was expected to bring about labour market adjustment and assist individuals in moving out of occupations tied to the traditional fishery. This has not occurred as funding for training and other adjustment initiatives had to be terminated prematurely in order to meet demands for income support which significantly exceeded initial expectations.

“The net result for these considerations is that many of the fundamental challenges which caused the federal government to establish the original TAGS program remain. Clearly, a comprehensive and effective post TAGS program is essential to the future of individuals and communities throughout Canada's five eastern provinces.

“Through the recent hearings of the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, of which I was a member, and through the community hearings held by the Harrigan task force, the people of Atlantic Canada and Quebec have called on the federal government to assume its responsibility for the development and implementation of an effective post-TAGS program.

“They have also stated clearly that the social and economic stress created by the fisheries crisis are continuing to represent a fundamental challenge to the future of many of our rural communities. This challenge cannot be met effectively through normal programs of government.

“Unquestionably the urgent need to establish the effect of the post-TAGS program cannot be ignored. On behalf of the people of Atlantic Canada and Quebec we therefore call upon the government to ensure that an effective TAGS program is developed and implemented immediately”.

This is the response the government gives. Today in the House the Minister of Veterans Affairs spoke to the delegation from Newfoundland and Labrador. Some 3,000 people are to be cut off TAGS on May 8, one year premature of the originally promised date. He said to those people that there would be no program for them. They are finished. They are cut adrift.

I find that absolutely abominable and the Liberals should be ashamed of themselves for that kind of action to people who are in such a crisis.

Labelling Of ToysAdjournment Proceedings

6:10 p.m.

Vaudreuil—Soulanges Québec

Liberal

Nick Discepola LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Solicitor General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, the Government of Canada is aware of the profound impact of the closure of the fishery on provinces, communities and individuals especially in Atlantic Canada and Quebec.

It is now evident that fish stocks are not returning to their previous levels and we must help people adjust to an economy with a very reduced fishery.

The government is also committed to helping the people and the communities affected by the closure of the groundfishery and is prepared to deal with the situation with the same compassion and responsibility that motivated the government to implement TAGS initially in 1994. The government committed back then $1.9 billion in benefits to help fishers and plant workers affected by the crisis in the fishery.

While the government announced that TAGS would essentially continue until the end of August this year, it recognized that action was still required. That is why Mr. Eugene Harrigan was appointed by the government to lead a review of the impact of the end of TAGS. That is also why the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans undertook an investigation of the situation.

I wish to take this opportunity to acknowledge the contribution of both reports. They provide us with assessments of the post-TAGS situation and have given us important information which will prove useful as we continue working on the development of sensitive, forward looking approaches to a post-TAGS program.

In closing, I wish to assure the hon. member and the House that the government remains committed to ensuring that the transition to the post-TAGS environment is managed in a fair and sensitive way. We recognize this is a very stressful time for fishers and plants workers and will make an announcement as soon as we can.

Labelling Of ToysAdjournment Proceedings

6:10 p.m.

Reform

Peter Goldring Reform Edmonton East, AB

Mr. Speaker, in my capacity as official opposition critic for veterans affairs I wish to set the record straight. Canada's merchant navy seamen have for far too long been the victims of government bureaucracy and systemic procrastination by the Minister of Veterans Affairs.

The minister replied to my question in question period by saying that there were no outstanding concerns with regard to the merchant navy.

Canada's merchant navy veterans have long been fighting for recognition of their valiant effort before, during and after World War II. Merchant seamen were the first into the war and the last out of the war. They took our troops and supplies to Europe during the war and brought them home safely afterward.

The merchant navy served both Canada and its allies during the war. At one point the entire allied war effort had less than a month's supply of food and fuel left. It was the merchant navy, our Canadian merchant navy, that brought the supplies through and avoided what would have been a defeat at the hands of Hitler.

On March 30, 1998 I asked the minister why he would not give merchant navy seamen the status of war veterans and thus grant them the dignity and respect they earned. The minister said that merchant navy veterans were entitled to the same benefits as other veterans. What he failed to mention was that they did not have equal access to the benefits. Without equal access there are not equal benefits. This must change.

Currently our merchant seamen are classified under civilian legislation. This belittles the efforts of these veterans. These veterans sailed the same seas as the navy, faced the same planes as the air force and dodged the same bullets as the army. They are not considered to be war veterans in Canada. In other allied countries they would be entitled to the same benefits and war status as every other war veteran.

Legislation was drafted by a former Reform MP some time ago for the purpose of righting these serious wrongs. There were more delays by the minister. Many merchant navy veterans think the minister is waiting for the issue to die. On average three of these veterans die each week. Their average age is 87 years.

On March 23 representatives of the merchant navy war veterans met with the minister's staff. Here are eight of the requests they made at that meeting, requests they have been making for years.

The first is to recognize the merchant navy as a war service with full status as war veterans under war legislation, not under civilian legislation.

The second is to include the Minister of Transport in the vice regal party at the National War Memorial on behalf of the merchant navy and the 1,500 lives lost in war.

The third is to compensate merchant navy veterans or their surviving spouses for the denial of veterans benefits for over 50 years.

The fourth is to amend the Pension Act to recognize merchant navy veterans who were held as prisoners of war and to compensate them for missed opportunities and benefits offered to other prisoners of war.

The fifth is to return immediately outstanding wages and benefits being held from merchant seamen and their surviving spouses.

The sixth is to compensate merchant navy veterans because they were the only military service that paid income tax during the war.

The seventh is to restore the $88 million budgeted in 1992 to cover the expenses mentioned and to develop a program to publicize these changes.

The eighth is to allow merchant navy war veterans the same opportunity and access available to other war veterans.

These requests are clear, legitimate and fair. Not once during the March 23 meeting with the minister's office could they provide our veterans with a ray of hope. No commitments were given, no deadlines established, no promises made. Answers were sufficiently ambiguous to warrant a call for clarification and confirmation.

There is simply no time left for these veterans to wait for ambiguities to be cleared up.

Labelling Of ToysAdjournment Proceedings

6:15 p.m.

Hillsborough P.E.I.

Liberal

George Proud LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Veterans Affairs

Mr. Speaker, two points need to be addressed. First, the 1992 legislation provided merchant navy veterans with the same access to all currently available veterans benefits as armed forces veterans enjoy. As the Minister of Veterans Affairs stated, not a few, not some, but all the benefits.

The hon. member for Edmonton East disputes this. I would ask him to name a current veterans benefit merchant navy veterans do not qualify for and I assure the House that I will show him the specific legal authority under which that benefit is provided to merchant navy veterans today.

The hon. member also suggests that merchant navy veterans have been denied access to benefits because of restrictive wording in the legislation. I invite him to provide the details of any case of a merchant navy veteran being denied a benefit because of such wording. The reality is that not one case has been produced in the almost six years the legislation has been in effect.

My second point is related to the commitment made in 1992 to monitor the implementation of the legislation and to correct any shortcomings which might arise. As mentioned earlier, no material shortcomings have arisen in the six years the legislation has been in force. The legislation has provided the access to veterans benefits it was intended to do.

Nevertheless, merchant navy representatives have identified a number of technical and legal points they would like to see addressed. The Minister of Veterans Affairs is prepared to act on those items. Presumably the minister can count on the full support of the official opposition for the quick passage of that legislation when it is brought forward.

Labelling Of ToysAdjournment Proceedings

6:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

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

(The House adjourned at 6.17 p.m)