Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to participate in this debate on Bill C-13.
At the very outset I cannot help but indicate to you, Mr. Speaker, a certain amount of cynicism about the process. Time and time again we were told by the members of the Liberal government that this bill was urgently needed. We were under considerable pressure at committee to get it through the whole process.
Interestingly, there were many occasions when Liberal members failed to show up for their responsibilities at the committee. In fact, there was a meeting where we could not proceed because no Liberal member chose to show up. We had that real push to get this through, yet the government could not even ensure that the process was followed with integrity.
I also have to indicate my cynicism around this bill. While we are debating a bill that parliament has a say on, the Minister of Health is out trotting across the country announcing money under the auspices of the Canadian institutes on health research.
We have had press release after press release. On January 11, 28 and February 4 the Minister of Health announced grants for research saying that they were under the MRC, soon to be renamed the Canadians institutes on health research. It was very cleaver.
We have seen parliament bypassed on many occasions and this is just another example of how little weight this place has when it comes to thorough review of legislation. That disregard for parliament and the democratic will was evident throughout the entire process on Bill C-13.
Earlier today we heard Reform members and other members who participated at the committee talk about how seriously we took the process at committee in terms of amendments and discussions with no credence or support from the Liberal members on that committee for that kind of participation. I think it is absolutely important to put that on the record.
When the bill was introduced, we in the New Democratic Party said—and I think other caucuses have said the same—that we support the concept behind the Canadian institutes of health research and we endorsed the principle of the bill at second reading.
However, we also identified a number of concerns that we felt had to be addressed at committee stage. We therefore participated actively in that process by listening to witnesses, seeking clarification and proposing amendments. In that regard, it is important on the part of everyone in the House to thank the dozens of individuals and organizations who either appeared before the committee or wrote to us with very thoughtful presentations and indepth analysis of the bill.
What struck me, and I am sure struck others who were at committee, was a recurring theme, an opinion repeated time and time again, to the point where we had to take it seriously. The theme was yes, but. It is a good idea on paper but how will it work? How can we be sure that the noble principles of the bill will be translated into action? That really is the essence of our concerns with the bill before us today and with the process that we are involved in today.
We all know what the bill attempts to do. We know it ends the Medical Research Council and establishes the Canadian institutes of health research. It appears to support a considerably expanded range and volume of health and health research in Canada. It deals with addressing a full range of health research priorities in the country today, from biomedical services to applied clinical research, to health systems and services research, and finally to research on the broader social and economic determinants of health that lie outside the system.
Who can disagree with that? Obviously that is something many of us have been saying for a long time. It is much needed in Canada today. On the basis of that stated objective, it is a bill worth supporting.
However, what we are left with is trying to answer the question: In terms of the details of the bill, are we sure? Have we been guaranteed that these noble principles will be put into practice? Is the bill prescriptive, clear and detailed about how this transformative approach to health research in the country will happen? Or, are we left with vague statements and unclear requirements that leave in doubt the application of the principles? That is exactly the situation we are dealing with.
I would point members to a very useful presentation we received at committee from a well-known health researcher and policy analyst in the country today, Bob Evans. He wrote a letter to the committee, dated November 19, saying:
My impression, watching mostly but not entirely from the sidelines has been of a continuing struggle between those genuinely committed to this broad view of the CIHR mandate, and those who would prefer to see an “MRC on steroids”—a vastly expanded program of basic biomedical and clinical research, with at best a nod in the direction of research on either the provision (and financing) of health services, or the more fundamental determinants of health embedded in human social economic and economic environments.
That point has to be addressed by the House today because we were unsuccessful in committee in terms of trying to convince the government to put more weight on the whole issue of research based on economic, social, cultural and environmental determinants of health and well-being.
Over and over again presenters mentioned how imbalanced the legislation was when it came to this very issue. A great deal of weight, a lot of words and a lot of emphasis on biomedical research and applied clinical research but only passing references to economic, social and environmental determinants of health.
We heard from many groups involved in women's health. We certainly heard from people involved in environmental health. I want to briefly quote from a document presented by the Canadian Labour Congress, which really captured the essence of this difficulty. It states:
—the fact is that there is no central focus given to the environmental determinants of health, no priority given to research on the prevention of ill-health and no mention at all of the importance of research into the causation of ill-health.
That reflects a very important gap in the legislation and one which has to be addressed.
We have a number of concerns. I have said that we support the principle, but we obviously have a number of concerns with the bill. Let me go through those concerns, because it will help to reveal how much disregard the government had for the process.
The bill mentions commercialization and in fact includes as one of its objectives facilitating the commercialization of health research. There is no need for legislation dealing with public health research to emphasize commercialization. There are other places where we deal with the question of the commercial advantage of business in the country, but surely our job in parliament is not to give any credence to the needs of private interests over the wishes of the public. We tried to amend the bill to get rid of those words about commercialization. We failed. The Liberals said no to that amendment.
On conflict of interest, there is no provision in this bill to ensure that people who are appointed to the board have no pecuniary or proprietary interests in the pharmaceutical industry or the medical devices industry. We proposed a clear conflict of interest amendment to ensure that kind of situation would not occur. What did the government do? It said no to that amendment.
We also tried to ensure that there was an independent process around ethics. We called on the government to put in place an independent ethics advisory board to ensure that we could guarantee the protection of human beings in all clinical trials of research projects undertaken. What did the government say? It said no.
We made proposals on some basic, fundamental issues.
We said that there should be in this day and age, given what the Liberals themselves have said, gender parity on the board. We thought that would be a normal assumption and that the government would gladly adhere to that principle of equality between women and men on appointments to the board. The government said no. Liberal members on the committee said no.
We did not win on that one, so we suggested mainstreaming in terms of a provision for the institutes of health research. What did the government do? It said no.
We then proposed a women's health research institute. The government said no.
We then proposed that the government address some of the other concerns by looking at ensuring that there was an institute on aboriginal health. We proposed an institute on occupational and environmental health. The government said no.
The devil is in the detail and that is why we have concerns with this bill and why we want the government to take seriously the need for amendment to ensure that this bill is a shining beacon when it comes to transparency and accountability.
Mr. Speaker, could I have the unanimous consent of the House to continue for two minutes?