House of Commons Hansard #105 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was taiwan.


The EnvironmentPrivate Members' Business

May 26th, 2003 / 11:05 a.m.


Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON


That this House call upon the government to take the necessary measures, including the drafting of legislation, to prevent medical conditions and illnesses caused by exposure to identifiable environmental contaminants.

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise in the House today to put forth my first motion to be debated and eventually advance to a vote. It is my hope and trust in this institution that my motion will be supported by enough members who are concerned about the future of this country, the current state of the environment and health as well as the legacy we leave for our children and our children's children.

I would like to acknowledge also that I have some relatives in the audience who are joining me today: Diana and Don Learn, my aunt and uncle from Ontario as well as my aunt, Carol Dembek, from Michigan.

My motion states:

That this House call upon the government to take the necessary measures, including the drafting of legislation, to prevent medical conditions and illnesses caused by exposure to identifiable environmental contaminants.

The motion is an environmental and health trigger for action. It promotes a concept that when identifiable environmental contaminants are linked to people's health, a process should start that will review and debate the matter. It will draw out the circumstances, the benefits, drawbacks and repercussions of taking action. Citizens will have a federal body that will ensure disclosure, an opportunity to institute corrective action and a debate throughout the parliamentary system of members elected in a democracy. They will in the end decide what course of action to take. It is about a body, it is about ability and it is about public confidence, and that is to what the motion speaks.

To put the motion in context of why it has been brought forth, I wish to break my comments into three segments. The first will relate to generalities of the content with specific attention to health, medical conditions and illnesses caused by exposure to environmental contaminants. The second will detail the genesis of the motion to particular circumstances from the community I represent, Windsor, Ontario and the Great Lakes region. In the third part I wish to emphasize a number of examples of citizens and groups who are taking the environment back. They are part of a new wave of public pressure which is advancing environmental and community interests with and without government assistance. They act as an example of how the motion can be of value for this country and beyond.

Identifiable environmental contaminants are more than a simple health issue. This is clear when institutions such as the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development start to analyze and contribute to the discussion on this issue. In fact it has produced a 327 page report entitled “OECD Environmental Outlook” which describes the current environmental trends in the OECD's 30 member nations. This document was first prepared to investigate the potential state of affairs for OECD members related to evaluating the damage being done to the environment and what actions could be taken to ensure a clean, healthy and productive environment for future generations.

Interestingly cross-sectoral issues are examined, including human health and the environment. In its analysis the OECD estimates that environmental degradation causes somewhere between 2% and 6% of all human diseases in OECD countries and 8% to 13% in non-OECD countries. These percentages translate into approximately $50 billion and $130 billion per year. It is clear that we need to start to address this problem from the standpoint of quality of life and for the economics that it costs us in our general economies.

The genesis of this motion comes from a community movement in Windsor that equally applies across other parts of Canada. Specifically, Windsor was recently involved in a Canadian drama that included government deception of its population, investigative reports, whistleblowers, heroes, community outrage and galvanization of community resolve to build a better future.

In the mid-1990s Health Canada, as part of the Canadian government's responsibility for implementing the Great Lakes water quality agreement, collected data and statistics for 17 areas of concern in the Canadian side of the Great Lakes. Health Canada's data included information related to the cases of mortality, morbidity and hospitalization for selected health outcomes, including cancers that might be related to pollution. Despite the results of this information being published in November 1998, it took a CBC investigative report to flesh out the issue, and the report was released to the public in November 1999.

The withholding of the data and report is significant in a number of ways. First, the public paid for a report with their tax paying dollars. Second, it undermined the confidence in a democracy and a bond of trust between citizens and the institutions they built and funded to serve them, not political interests of the day. The sheltering was based on the concern of community groups, environmentalists, health officials and the general public call for action, and would cost too much in funds.

That action is the responsibility of the government to work toward cleanup and improved health goals and let people decide what they want to do with their resources. The study and analysis of the situation was best articulated in the document “Community Health Profile of Windsor, Ontario, Canada: Anatomy of a Great Lakes Area of Concern”, authored by Michael Gilbertson and James Brophy in the periodical “Environmental Health Perspectives”. Both of these individuals are considered hometown heroes for exposing this dilemma and articulating it in a way that has been very beneficial for all of us.

This was an historically significant document for the community. It summarized the Health Canada study in relevance to Windsor, including reference to the social and historical context of the area. There was also a comparison of Windsor and Hamilton, as the areas had similar socio-economic, geographical and populations, to provide a comparison which was relevant.

Among the findings identified, and there is a series of summarizations, was that in seven years deaths for males were 8% higher than the provincial average. Deaths for females were 5% higher than the provincial average. As well, the hospitalization rate for males was 21% higher than the provincial average.

The mortality rate for cancer, for example, of lip and oral cavity capacity was 74% to 75% higher than the provincial average. The mortality rate for cancer of digestive organs was 10% higher than the average for males. For thyroid conditions, overall morbidity rate was 24% higher than the provincial average. Diabetes morbidity rate was 44% higher for males and 41% for females than the provincial average.

Sadly enough, there are issues of diseases of the blood, forming organs, the circulatory systems as well as congenital anomalies and infant mortality. I want to touch a little on those because we are talking about the future.

One thing we discovered was that females after they were born had some anomaly diagnosed within the first year, which was 25% higher than provincial average, and the votefemales who were born without brains was 300% higher than the rest of Ontario. Heart defects among females were 56% higher and 93 females died within the first year; that was 24% higher.

I can go on about these different statistics, and there is more in detail but it is imperative that I move on in my discussions. I would like to point out that the information withheld, evaluated and then released created an outrage for our community. However like any strong community, we began to seek solutions. This is one of the reasons I believe my motion is valid and needs to be advanced by all members of the House. It is about repercussions and it is about taking responsibility.

The mere fact that the report has been withheld from our community and the delay for us to respond to it and to build on it are things for which this government needs to take responsibility. It needs to move forward more quickly with the tools so we can address this issue. That is the only way people can be recognized for the loss they have incurred. Any moment in time means deaths or illnesses. Corrective action needs to be taken. The year lost by the lack of information provided to the public by this deception needs to be corrected. The House can help do that.

However, like it is in any strong community, it was not about the negatives because we began to seek solutions. Hence, after an emotionally charged public meeting, a generous contribution was made by CAW local 444; $100,000 to resolve and create a centre for environmental health. An exploratory committee was formed with stakeholders from diverse backgrounds. Included in the group were: CAW Regional Environmental Council; University of Windsor; district health councils; international joint commission; Windsor-Essex County Health Unit; Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers; Windsor District Labour Council, Sandwich Community Health Centre; Essex Region Conservation Authority; Great Lakes Institute; and some elected officials.

The exploratory committee was mandated to examine the feasibility of creating a centre to address the problems of environment and human health. It retained a consulting company that investigated four examples of environmental health institute centres. From this it developed the concept of an independent not for profit organization.

This new organization is starting to take shape. The University of Windsor has donated space in its faculty and a staffing announcement from other parties is expected shortly. The recommended mission statement for the centre for environmental health is, “To enhance community capacity to provide solutions for the prevention of environmental and occupational illnesses”. It has also set out a series of objectives I wish to articulate because it is relevant to the culmination of why my motion is before the House.

First, it is to receive and analyze information from members of the community on suspected increases in the rates of diseases and other health conditions possibly related to exposure of environmental contaminants. It will actually create that database. It will collate and distribute this information to the public. It will communicate to industry, all levels of government and the community at large what it is finding and how this information is being assembled. It will commission broad research on health effects of specific environmental workplace and non-workplace contaminants. That can be of assistance. Lastly, it will influence, using evidence-based information, all levels of governments to make regulatory and legislative changes designed to prevent medical conditions and illnesses believed to be caused by exposure to identifiable environmental contaminants.

This motion is a specific request from my community which is hurting. That is where it was born. However the community is equally determined to face the reality and make decisions given the opportunity of due process. It is not alone in the struggle to produce real tangible improvements to our health and environment.

With that we can look to our own health care model, a health care model which is something Canada needs to be proud about and needs to continue to improve. It is also starting to recognize that there are peripheral health issues, such as environmental contaminants, that are affecting the way we deliver our health care model and also the expense of it.

We need to realize that prevention is an issue in itself and that expansion is something that will be imperative and supportable, I believe, by all members of the community and by all provinces. In fact in August 2000 the province and the federal government confirmed a commitment to promote programs and policies that extended beyond care and treatment and that made a critical contribution to the health and wellness of our citizens.

We know there are number of organizations in our community that work on general wellness and the principle of prevention. Once again this will provide some type of recourse and a dedication to move that issue forward for those organizations once they develop the linkages. It is important that it is scientifically based and it also evolves, and they will develop that.

A good example of the failing of our current system and why this motion would protect citizens, comes even from today's paper. The headline reads, “Data Shows Ontario Polluters unchecked”. The province of Ontario data showed that 216 facilities were involved in 1,946 violations of Ontario's water and waste water laws in 2001, which is the latest year the information was available. While the number of detected violations showed a significant increase from the previous year, the province moved to prosecute only nine of the facilities, although many of the offenders in 2001 were not the same as those in 2000.

The Province of Ontario is not doing its job to protect its citizens. Despite the tragedy we witnessed at Walkerton and despite the healing process that community has gone through, there is no public confidence and resolve here. Of the worst of our four polluters, only Falconbridge actually faced prosecution. The province continues to allow companies like Chinook and Stepan to violate the law more than 300 times each year without repercussions, said one expert in today's paper.

This is the problem. Without the support from the federal government, we do not provide the tools and resources for people to identify and work toward the problem solving we know is affecting them with environmental contaminants and diseases.

While pollution causes environmental degradation and health costs, it is an immediate expense and a future liability. The delay in taking corrective action means we live with the liability for a greater period of time and pay the consequences of compounding the problem, extending the duration of time for victims caught in the negligence of neglect.

Quite frankly, we are not only passing the problem on to our children, we are killing their hopes and dreams by our selfish actions. We are simply taking out a mortgage for a very expensive home and passing it on to our future generations. We live beyond our means in this house, in the greatest of comfort, and destroy and contaminate the property. Long after we are gone, we force someone else to pay the cost to clean it up and the mortgage for a dilapidated home. This is not the way to go about our planet. This is not the way that we should be living ourselves right now. We need to invest the resources and, more important, the ability, the empowerment for groups and organizations to make the decisions about where they want their dollars to go.

Many people in the world are starting to question the political will and resolve to make the necessary changes before we lose the planet. In fact many citizens of the earth are starting to question why we are even fighting to save it for others. They are starting to realize that we have so much more to gain if we live on it with sustainability, as it affects our quality and longevity of life. If not just for egalitarian reasons, it is for selfish reasons that we need to rethink shortsighted gratification that leads to a reduction in our own lives and in the lives of other family members. Many of these groups are fuelled by practical strategies that include conservation, public awareness, scientific research and the use of litigation for the objective of improving our environmental health.

All these factors lead to the bodies necessary to provide meaning to my motion and the ability for it to take specific direction once correlations are determined between identifiable environmental contaminants and health itself.

There are groups, like the Waterkeeper Alliance. It has used litigation and public involvement, including a world action movement where 10 countries are involved in the actual process of protecting waterways and tributary systems. It is a good example of a group and an organization that uses litigation.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is actually the steward of this and the president of Waterkeeper. I had a recent opportunity to talk with him and hear him speak about the fact that many polluters are using the environment to subsidize their products. This is a practice we need to stop.

With that, I thank the House for hearing my first motion. I look forward to debate and also expansion of it. It is a motion that I hope will gain support and, more important, have some good input from other members.

The EnvironmentPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Madawaska—Restigouche New Brunswick


Jeannot Castonguay LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, I rise today on behalf of the Minister of Health to address Motion No. 399. This motion asks the government to take the necessary measures, including the drafting of legislation, to prevent medical conditions and illnesses caused by exposure to identifiable environmental contaminants.

Although the government recognizes the importance of the links between health and the environment, it is the government's opinion that passage of this motion would not be responsible. That may seem harsh. However, if we examine the undeniable facts in this matter, which I shall describe shortly, I believe that the hon. members will understand that passage of such a motion would duplicate the federal environmental and health protection programs already in place, and would waste resources without making any appreciable improvement in the health of the Canadian population.

Even though I sympathize with the concerns behind Motion No. 399, the government believes that it shows a lack of understanding of the scope and breadth of the current federal legislation that protects the health of all Canadians.

First, I would like to provide the hon. members with some historical details. It has been said that you do not know your subject unless you know its history. I am not about to deliver a lecture on the history of legislation related to environmental protection and health in Canada. Nevertheless, I do want to point out some significant stages in the evolution of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act of 1988, which led to the new Canadian Environmental Protection Act, passed in April 1999.

More than 40 years ago, the publication of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring attracted a great deal of public attention to environmental pollution caused by the inappropriate use of pesticides. This book was the precursor to the ecology movement and helped push governments, in Canada as well as in the United States, to create departments of the environment and to create environmental protection legislation.

In Canada, responsibility for the Environmental Protection Act is shared by the Minister of Health and the Minister of the Environment, with the latter being responsible for implementation. The first environmental protection act passed in Canada was called the Environmental Contaminants Act, and it received royal assent in December 1975. It was intended to protect human health and the environment from substances which could contaminate the environment.

During the 1970s and 1980s, it became clear that the legislation needed to be reinforced and expanded. This process led to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act of 1988. This world-class legislation created an international precedent in that it determined that the Government of Canada would comply with various deadlines set out in the statute regarding the assessment of health and environmental risks associated with various substances, considered priority substances, in the environment.

Furthermore, this was very forward-looking legislation since the government, rather than reacting and remedying problems, decided to take an anticipatory and preventive approach using strict provisions targeting new substances marketed in Canada. Under these provisions, the importing, manufacture and use of substances in Canada are prohibited, unless the government is convinced that they pose no danger to the environment or health. These provisions also require the industry to provide certain specific information to the government.

The legislation included a mechanism to guarantee that it would evolve over time, so as to take into consideration new realities and trends. This mechanism, provided for under section 139, obliged Parliament to undertake a full examination of the provisions and application of the statute in the five years following its passage.

Consequently, the new Canadian Environmental Protection Act, which came into force in 2000, gives us a much wider mandate. The purpose of this legislation is to contribute to sustainable development through pollution prevention and to protect the environment, human life and health.

One of the important components of this new legislation is part 5, “Controlling Toxic Substances”, which is sometimes called the central component of the CEPA. If these provisions are key to the bill, the definition of toxic is vital.

A substance is defined as toxic under the legislation if it is entering or may enter the environment in a quantity or concentration or under conditions that, and I quote,

(a) have or may have an immediate or long-term harmful effect on the environment or its biological diversity;

(b) constitute or may constitute a danger to the environment on which life depends; or

(c) constitute or may constitute a danger in Canada to human life or health.

This definition is very important, because it corresponds with what we consider a risk and it complies with the principles and practices set out for risk assessment and management. Once government scientists decide that a substance is toxic within the meaning of the legislation, the risk management process is initiated and the substance may be subject to regulation.

Under CEPA, the government took effective measures to control various substances that are hazardous to the environment and human health. Measures include the gradual elimination of substances that break down the ozone layer, furan and dioxin discharges from pulp and paper mills that use chlorine bleaching, and lead and sulphur in gasoline.

CEPA has another provision that is unprecedented at the international level, under which the government is required to control substances that are currently used for commercial purposes in Canada, to determine if they are hazardous to the environment or health and to classify them based on the results.

In conclusion, I believe that the members can see that the new Canadian Environmental Protection Act is a powerful and effective tool for protecting health and the environment. Although I understand the reasoning behind Motion M-399, this motion does not offer a responsible solution.

The EnvironmentPrivate Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rob Merrifield Canadian Alliance Yellowhead, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is my privilege to stand and address this important motion concerning prevention and human health. We must consider all aspects of the motion as we look forward in the 21st century to providing health care for a population that is very concerned about it.

We had a debate last year that raged, and rightfully so, because it is important that we discern how much our health care system is under stress and how we can work toward solving its problems.

The motion reads:

—to take necessary measures, including the drafting of legislation,...

It is interesting that we will actually be looking at drafting some legislation toward this. It goes on to read:

—to prevent medical conditions and illnesses caused by exposure to identifiable environmental contaminants.

That is a worthy and lofty goal. Who would say no to cleaning up an environmental problem when it comes to human health? From that aspect I actually applaud the hon. member for bringing it forward because it increases the debate around this whole area. That is to be commended.

In the health policy of the Canadian Alliance we recognize the important role of wellness promotion and disease prevention. We have and will continue to support the evidence based initiatives to safeguard human health as an alternative to the costly crisis management approach to health care that we have seen over the last number of decades.

Last year we put $112.2 billion of Canadians' hard earned tax money into health care. That is up by 6.3% over the previous year. When it comes to public health expenditures, it is $79.4 billion. That is up by 6.2% from 2001. We can see that the dollars continue to go into the health care system. The new money flowing from the health accord of February will be $34.8 billion over five years. That will certainly increase those numbers that I just listed.

Our aging population will increasingly be users of the health care system. Looking after their health needs will put a strain on the system which will only continue to intensify. We have to look at that. We must take reasonable measures today to improve human health for tomorrow. The whole idea of crisis management in health care has been long overlooked. We have to look further upstream if we are to sustain the health care of Canadians over the long run.

There are a number of areas on which we should be taking action because they pay such dividends in the future. I would like to quickly mention a few of those. In Quebec, a number of people are addicted to tobacco smoking. It becomes a very serious concern. We will win on this whole area of tobacco, not by attempting to drive up taxes and with initiatives to warn people about it, but by drying up the demand for the product by educating individuals about how terrible, devastating and addictive tobacco is and what it can do to limit their quality of life. It is very important that we continue to look at prevention in that area. To that end I believe every member of the House is very concerned about it and should be, because we see the ravages and the costs of not dealing with it in our population today.

We also have to look at work and family related stress. The number one reason that we actually hospitalize people, at least it was the case when I was serving on a regional health authority and the figure astounded me, is not cancer or heart disease but actually mental illness or stress related conditions. It is a serious problem that has to be looked at. What is causing it? Maybe we need to do more than treat it with drugs. We need to look at why we have a nation that is so stressed and which lives in an environment that causes it serious complications. We have to look further upstream.

We could look at HIV-AIDS and the whole idea of what is going on there. We are going through a review of that in the health committee right now and we will be issuing a final draft report. This is a 100% preventable illness and 100% fatal. We must understand all the dynamics of this serious disease.

Witnesses have told us that the new drug therapies that are coming along for HIV will approach $30,000 per patient per year. There are 4,000 new cases of HIV per year in Canada. When we look at what the costs of that will be in the future, it becomes astronomical.

Only 10,000 lives could be saved if we dropped the rate of infection by 50% over the next five year period. That would total a $1.5 billion saving over a five year period. The idea of looking upstream to prevent people from becoming inflicted with these diseases has become much more important.

We look at obesity as a ticking time bomb in a nation that is overweight. We have a generation of children that are crowding the 30% rate by reaching the obese status in our schools. All of these are serious problems.

A recent study says that 2 million Canadians age 9 to 12 are so inactive and have such poor diets that when they hit their thirties they are at a high risk of serious heart disease and problems that we normally associate around the age of 60 and 70. These children and the impact that their health will have on our health care system will be phenomenal as we go forward.

It is interesting that we are still wasting time as a government by going through the initial stages. The government initiated a $50 million study a few months ago that said we needed to find the causes of obesity. It is fairly well known that poor diet and a lack of physical activity has a lot to do with obesity. I do not think we need a $50 million study to figure it out. Perhaps a $50 million investment in doing something about it would be a much better use of those funds.

A targeted, effective wellness promotion and disease prevention effort will help improve the lives of Canadians and result in reduced health care expenditures in the long run. This must be looked at. I think that is where the motion is leading. It is saying that when it comes to the environment that there are some things in our environment that need to be checked and looked at.

The idea of identifying environmental contaminants and being able to do something about them, such as legislation, is a lofty goal. It all sounds very well and good. Who does not want to prevent medical conditions because of environmental contaminants? It goes without saying that we support the initiative.

The problem with the motion is that it is so open ended and vague that I have serious concerns about what is being said and asked for. The motion mentions necessary measures, but necessary measures to prevent medical conditions and illnesses could be carried to an extreme. It might mean the banning of perfumes in offices or perfumes all together if they are seen as an environmental problem, or pesticides and getting rid of pesticides completely. There is a move afoot to do that. Is this necessarily in the best interests of a population? Some people would say yes and others would say no.

An improvement here would be the replacement of the word necessary with reasonable. That would perhaps be a better way to take a look at the motion. Reasonable conditions might be more palatable. We also have concerns with the term identifiable environmental contaminants. These are identifiable by whom and using which criteria? These are some of the problems that we have.

What is exactly meant by environmental contaminants? Does it mean pesticides, industrial chemicals or naturally occurring toxins? It becomes an issue that we have a difficult time understanding. The whole idea of what we can actually do when it comes to legislation that would supposedly come out of this motion becomes confusing. It is often looked at in other legislation as was mentioned by the previous speaker.

Although the motion speaks to concerns that we have, I definitely have some concerns about the loose language. I encourage members of the House to investigate the motion, to vote freely on it, and I challenge them to look at whether the language is tight enough to be supported.

The EnvironmentPrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.


Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, QC

Mr. Speaker, before discussing the motion per se, I would like to offer my best wishes to the hon. member for Berthier—Montcalm, who is today celebrating his 58th birthday.

Our colleague's motion is, of course, far from insignificant, since it concerns two subjects of great public concern: health and the environment. This is a motion on environmental health.

There is not a single parliamentarian who could be insensitive to these issues. I know that the member for Windsor West has introduced the motion with the best of highly positive intentions. He has also pointed out that it was made at the request of his fellow citizens. However, on examining its wording, we in the Bloc Quebecois had a few questions I would like to share with members.

First, for those who may not have had the chance to hear what the member for WIndsor West had to say, I will repeat the text of the motion:

That this House call upon the government to take the necessary measures, including the drafting of legislation, to prevent medical conditions and illnesses caused by exposure to identifiable environmental contaminants.

The motion is therefore based on the principle that it is basically the responsibility of the federal government to be concerned with toxic emissions in the atmosphere and the negative consequences of these various elements' circulating freely.

The problem is that it does not strike the Bloc Quebecois as obvious that this is basically the responsibility of the federal government. I would like to see the hon. member for Windsor West analyze these elements. All the successive governments in the National Assembly, regardless of political allegiance, since there has been a department of the environment in place, have called for environmental management. In order to show just how relatively recent a concern this has been to legislators, I would point out that department was created by a Parti Quebecois government.

The late Marcel Léger was the MNA for LaFontaine, a riding in eastern Montreal and a figurehead of the nationalist movement. Hon. members may have heard of him. He introduced René Lévesque to various fund raising approaches, taking a page from the way diocesan funds were being raised at that time. Hon. members will remember the religious heritage of Quebec and how important the Church was in the social organization of Quebec at that time, and what an expertise it had developed for collecting funds.

Marcel Léger convinced his cabinet colleagues to create a Quebec department of the environment, with many significant legislative and regulatory instruments. Moreover, just recently, the Bloc Quebecois members reminded the government that Quebec has an environmental assessment act which is much more rigorous, specific and restrictive than the federal act. All this to say that, since the mid-1970s, every successive government in the National Assembly has called for management of the environment.

There is a problem with the motion put forward by our colleague, the hon. member for Windsor West, because it suggests that the federal government would be in the best position to battle all the problems of toxic wastes and environmental contaminants.

Naturally, I completely understand the argument that contaminants do not stop at federal-provincial borders. That is true. We are not saying that the federal government has no contribution to make. But the wording of the motion does not take into account the fact that, in the National Assembly, all successive governments since 1978 have called for management of the environment. Quebec is far from having a negative record in environmental management.

When it comes to reforestation, Quebec was the first province—I use the word province, but you know that that is not quite the right word—the first place to establish requirements for anyone destroying trees. For every tree that is destroyed, three more must be planted. In 1988, Quebec also set up a program to reduce industrial waste. It is relatively recent, but it does go back quite a bit nonetheless. It was Quebec's department of the environment that developed a strategy integrating all receiving environments. This strategy targets industry sectors that create contaminants and toxic waste.

That is not to say that every company in Quebec is perfect. Because of this, Quebec and the member for Gouin, an excellent environment minister in the previous government, have been very clear on Quebec's commitment to the polluter pay principle.

I listened to the member for Windsor West. I was very surprised to hear some of the figures he was used. I do not doubt their accuracy, but it is very worrisome. The member for Windsor West mentioned that inspections of 216 facilities in Ontario revealed 416 environmental violations.

The member for Windsor West is right when he says that we as legislators must be vigilant. Despite all of the legislation that exists in Quebec and elsewhere, there are still corporations and businesses that are not following the rules, that are disregarding and polluting our environmental heritage.

That said, what is most important is the jurisdictional issue. I feel that the member has not taken into account—and here I must agree with the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health—the existence of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, specifically sections 64 to 103. Of course, this legislation is not doing the job. It has been reviewed before and there will be more reviews in the future.

Again, our colleague's motion was based on good intentions. He gave us the example of what was happening in the Great Lakes. This motion was sparked by the actions of his constituents and I know that all members of the House like to be attentive to what their constituents have to say. That is how democracy works best.

However, the Environmental Assessment Act has very clear provisions on toxic substances. There is a mechanism for investigation. There is even the possibility of conducting investigations and using various means to bring those who break the law into line.

In the Environmental Assessment Act, there is an entire section on toxic substances. Sections 64 to 103 set forth the legislator's intentions, which include establishing a deadline to react and take follow-up measures with regard to the requirements related to classification and tests for assessing the potential mortality, human health and environmental risks of all substances on the internal list.

I realized something. I do not know whether the parliamentary secretary will agree. When we were reviewing the Assisted Human Reproduction Act, a professor from UQAM explained to us that what we are doing to the environment causes endocrine defects, which is contributing to the growing infertility rate among Canadians. As we know, one in five couples has fertility problems. This was duly taken into account in the legislation the government introduced.

I will conclude by saying that we have to be concerned about environmental contaminants because they have consequences for every aspect of life, including the food chain.

Furthermore, we have to make sure that the legislation is being enforced by the right parties. And that means the provinces, especially when it comes to health. That is why, unfortunately, we cannot support the motion put forward by the NDP.

The EnvironmentPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Gerald Keddy Progressive Conservative South Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in the House today to speak on this important issue. The motion put forward by the member for Windsor West reads:

That this House call upon the government to take the necessary measures, including the drafting of legislation, to prevent medical conditions and illnesses caused by exposure to identifiable environmental contaminants.

This is an extremely worthy and timely motion that is certainly needed in this place and I think it was brought forward with the best of intentions by the member for Windsor West. Certainly within the last few years we have seen an increasing amount of studies and public information published concerning serious threats to human health from exposure to toxic substances. Most recently, the media has been reporting on the effects of environmental contaminants on the health and development of children. This new evidence has created a new area of public health concern and that is indeed worth investigating.

I would like to highlight two examples of environmental contaminants, the first being the chemicals commonly found in pressure treated wood and the second being the health risks directly associated with the Sydney tar ponds.

In January of this year, Environmental Defence Canada released the results of a survey of playgrounds in Toronto, Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Montreal and Halifax. It was literally from coast to coast. They took soil samples from playgrounds in each of the cities, and in 37 out of 58 cases the soil was found to contain arsenic levels higher than the federally recommended maximum of 12 parts per million.

Pressurized lumber was found to be the source of the arsenic in the soil. Pressurized lumber, as most people know, is created with a chemical compound, chromated copper arsenate, which is a chemical preservative that protects wood from rotting due to insects and microbial agents. It is used to pressure treat lumber for decks, playgrounds and other outdoor equipment. It has been around since the early 1930s.

Unfortunately arsenic can leach from this treated wood, leaving residues on the wood surface and in the nearby soil. Young children who play near or on these decks or on playground equipment made from CCA treated wood can get arsenic on their skin and into their bodies, especially if they eat or drink without washing their hands, and we all know that young kids typically do this.

This is a huge concern. It is one that has been raised by the Progressive Conservative Party a number of times in the House, and now we all know that as of the end of this year arsenic will no longer be used in treating wood to be used for decks, picnic tables, landscaping timbers, gazebos, residential fencing, patios, walkways, boardwalks and play structures. For example, in New Brunswick all wood containing CCA will be replaced by August and every school in New Brunswick is expected to meet these new provincial guidelines on this subject by that deadline. Alternatives to CCA treated wood are non-wood materials like metal and plastic, or untreated wood such as hemlock, cedar or redwood, which are naturally resistant to decay.

The Progressive Conservative Party was very vocal and pressured the government to ban CCA treated wood. I would encourage the government to look at other environmental contaminants, as mentioned in the motion, that are posing serious health risks to adults and children, and to legislate against these as well.

Another example, and typical of the way in which the government deals with serious issues, is the serious health risk concerning the contaminants in what is locally known as the Sydney tar ponds in Nova Scotia. The Sydney tar ponds is actually a tidal estuary that contains 700,000 tonnes of toxic sludge dosed with PCBs and PAHs. The health risk to residents is undeniable. In the proposed cleanup of the tar ponds, it has been suggested that the tar ponds sediment be incinerated on site in an approved facility or facilities designed to handle the PCBs.

At first glance this would seem to make good sense. We do not want to transport this material any further than we have to, but we certainly need to get rid of it and it looks as if incineration is the only way we can get rid of it. We do not want to send it to Sarnia; we would like to get rid of it. However, if this cleanup method as it is proposed now is approved, the local community in Sydney would be exposed to emissions for upwards of 11 years. We are in a very difficult position, between the proverbial rock and a hard place. We have a serious problem and we have to do something about it, but has the government taken the proper steps to actually do something about it?

Environmentalists claim that the hazardous waste incineration is being promoted by the government as a safe method of cleaning up the tar ponds even though the incinerators will be in direct violation, and I emphasize that, of the guidelines of the federal Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment. These guidelines state that a hazardous waste incinerator shall not be located within 1,500 metres of schools, residences, et cetera. However, Harbourview Elementary School in Sydney, which houses 800 children, happens to be located 600 metres from one of the proposed incinerator sites when the federal guidelines say that it can be no less than 1,500 metres from the proposed site. There are residences, stores, businesses and an elementary school, all in the guidelines, that would be at risk.

Obviously there is not just a need but a desperate need for government to recognize its responsibility in protecting the health of Canadians when it comes to exposure to environmental contaminants. There has been a denial, I would say, on behalf of the Liberal government of recognizing the responsibility to deal with environmental contaminants. The Progressive Conservative Party supports this private member's bill and it is our sincere hope that the government will commit to protecting the health of Canadians. I do not think that is too much to ask. After all, let me say in closing that it would be a travesty if this were just another chapter lost in the toxic legacy of this Liberal government.

The EnvironmentPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.


Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—St. Clair, ON

Mr. Speaker, I think we have to put this motion in the historical context of where we find ourselves as a legislative body and where the country finds itself at this period in time. I believe that factually we have to recognize these two points: first, historically we have had numerous contaminated sites, and contaminants have been allowed to get into our natural environment; and second, we have ongoing problems, where we know we are releasing contaminants that are dangerous to human health and to the natural environment or ecosystems. It is occurring on an ongoing basis.

What we are confronted with, and what this motion is to some degree attempting to face in building a framework to address these problems, is the reality that we have these sites and we have these contaminants. These are problems we already know about to some degree. We also have to recognize that on an ongoing basis we are going to have to build a process to deal with those types of problems, because given the current economic and legislative framework we work within, this is not a problem that is going to go away. It is not one that if we deal with it we will put it behind us. It is true that we have to do this, but we also have to recognize the fact that we are going to have to deal with these problems at least for some time into the future until we can build what I call environmental closed loops so these contaminants do not get out and damage human health or the natural environment.

I listened to the Liberal member who spoke earlier this morning and was trying to portray a rosy picture of how we already have a legislative and regulatory framework that deals with all these problems. I do not know what country he is living in, but that is not an accurate reflection of the reality in Canada at this time.

We heard from my colleague from Windsor West about the problems we have specifically in our home city of Windsor, Ontario. We heard from the member from the Progressive Conservative Party about the example of the Sydney tar ponds. I would add to that list, in terms of my experience, what happened in Walkerton.

In all three of those cases, I have done extensive work with the communities and it was very clear that our existing legislative and regulatory framework was greatly wanting in terms of dealing with the problems that those specific communities had to deal with, whether it was, as in Walkerton, contaminated water, or in Windsor, severe air pollution, or in the community of Sydney, Nova Scotia, the problem with having to deal with the contamination of its water sources and to some degree its air due to those ponds. In all three cases, in dealing with community members who had worked extensively on the problems, the message I saw coming out was, “This has occurred and it should not have happened, but what are we going to do about it and why do we not have a legislative framework and a governmental infrastructure to deal with this calamity our community is faced with?”

I met with the citizens' group in Walkerton and those citizens in particular had done a fair amount of analysis on the need for government to be in a position to react quickly, efficiently and sensitively to a community faced with that kind of crisis. I always remember one individual I spoke to. He said they felt that not one person at a governmental level, whether it was the local, the provincial or the federal level, had been able to respond in an efficient and sensitive manner to the community and that it was left to the local community to get things organized to respond to that tragedy.

We had a meeting in Windsor after the Gilbertson-Brophy report was issued and there was the same type of feeling in that room of 600 people. There was the feeling of fear, but a real demand on their part for the government to be there, to provide them with the security and protection the government is supposed to provide. We heard from individual members of the community that that was not happening.

The motion my colleague from Windsor West has brought forward is a very clear attempt to build a structure and a process so that when a contaminated site or contaminants that are damaging human health were identified as being in the environment, the government would have a process and infrastucture with which to respond. The process would be efficient and sensitive to the needs of the community. It would need flexible elements because each community would need a somewhat different response.

The government states it has emergency legislation, which is true. In most cases that legislation does not get triggered when dealing with contaminants in the environment that are damaging to human health in particular. When an issue like this comes up, we need to have a system whereby we know that the government infrastructure will kick in. A triggering mechanism would be needed within the legislation or the regulations. That triggering mechanism would produce a process that would respond to the needs of the community. That process would be necessary so that the contaminant could be identified.

It has been interesting to hear the recurrent announcements made by the government. We have identified 135 hot spots in the Great Lakes. These are sites which over the last century have become contaminated with all sorts of toxic materials such as mercury, asbestos, benzene and PCBs. It is all there. I have heard members of the government announce over and over again funding to clean up these sites. The government announced funding for a site cleanup in the Windsor area five times and it is still not cleaned up. That site is still contaminating the water system in our area.

Sites have to be clearly identified, as well as the extent of the danger they pose. The infrastructure would then develop remedial action. Part of that action would be the actual physical cleanup. There are all sorts of ways of doing it, but it has to be done quickly.

I could not get over the level of frustration of the local community in Sydney for the length of time the process took in trying to deal with the tar ponds. It still has not been accomplished. It became both a bureaucratic and an academic nightmare for that community. There were numerous discussions and proposals, but the process itself was flawed from the beginning. In particular I think it was flawed because it did not involve enough of the community in the decision making process. That came too late and even then it was too little.

We need to look at having a process and the process has to be as good as possible. It has to have a triggering mechanism. It needs financial resources behind it. The process itself is what we need to study, develop and implement.

The EnvironmentPrivate Members' Business

12:05 p.m.

The Speaker

Order. The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the Order Paper.

PrivilegePrivate Members' Business

12:05 p.m.

The Speaker

I am now prepared to rule on the questions of privilege raised by the hon. government House leader on May 12, 2003 and on May 16, 2003 arising from a decision of the British Columbia Court of Appeal in respect of the hon. member for LaSalle--Émard, and a decision of the Ontario Superior Court in respect of the hon. member for Ottawa South, where the court in each case has set aside the parliamentary privileges of the hon. members and has required them to testify pursuant to a subpoena issued by the court.

I would like to thank the hon. government House leader for having raised this important issue, as well as the hon. members for West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast, Roberval, Vancouver East and St. John’s West for their comments on May 12th when this point was first raised.

The hon. government House leader when first raising this point indicated that, while he had informed the hon. member for LaSalle—Émard of his intention to raise this question, he was not doing so on the latter’s behalf but out of a concern for the privileges of House.

The hon. member drew to the attention of the House that, in a ruling delivered by the British Columbia Court of Appeal in the Ainsworth case on April 23, 2003, a finding of contempt had been made against the hon. member for LaSalle—Émard as a result of his failure to appear before the Court when summoned.

The hon. government House leader went on to point out that as Joseph Maingot indicates on page 161 of Parliamentary Privilege in Canada , members of Parliament are exempt from being subpoenaed while the House is in session and for 40 days both before and after a session. The British Columbia Court of Appeal, on the other hand, claimed it could find no support for the 40 day rule and held that the privilege was restricted to days when the House was in session.

The hon. government House leader emphasized the importance of the independence of the House and its right to insist on the attendance of its members, and that it is this House, and not some outside body, which must determine the interpretation of the rights and privileges of this place.

The hon. member for West Vancouver--Sunshine Coast, in his intervention, while recognizing the need for parliamentary privilege, pointed out as well the need for an even-handed application of privilege with respect to the rights of other Canadians. He suggested that it might be appropriate for the House to revisit its current interpretation of the immunity that its privileges provide.

Recognizing the special requirements of the House which make privilege necessary, both the hon. member for Vancouver East and the hon. member for St. John’s West spoke of the need to ensure that other citizens are not adversely affected by those privileges. In particular, they expressed concern that the blind application of the right of members such as the right not to be compelled to appear before a court as a witness might interfere unduly with the rights of others.

At the same time, they shared the view expressed by the hon. member for Roberval that privilege is a matter of fundamental importance to the House and that it is here, and not elsewhere, that these issues should be decided.

In his point of privilege on May 16, the government House leader characterized the decision of the Ontario court as an attack on the privileges of hon. members more serious than the earlier court decision in British Columbia. The Ontario court's decision, according to the government House leader, was “an intrusion by the courts in improperly attempting to define what is parliamentary privilege” and that he did not think it “appropriate for a court to define what is parliamentary privilege in our country”.

The privileges of Parliament are fundamental to the standing of this House as the democratically elected chamber representing the interests of Canadians from sea to sea to sea. There are several privileges and the privilege at the heart of the issue raised by the government House leader is the privilege that holds members of Parliament free from civil arrest or summons during the sessions of Parliament including a period of 40 days before and 40 days after a session. These privileges have their origins in British parliamentary law.

The well known British parliamentary text, Erskine May's Treatise on the Law, Privileges, Proceedings and Usage of Parliament , the most eminent authority on parliamentary procedures and practices, including parliamentary privilege, first published in 1844 and now in its 22nd edition, explains parliamentary privilege and provides numerous authorities that have affirmed the privileges of members of Parliament as a matter of English parliamentary law. According to this learned text:

Parliamentary privilege is the sum of the peculiar rights enjoyed by each House collectively as a constituent part of the High Court of Parliament, and by Members of each House individually, without which they could not discharge their functions, and which exceed those possessed by other bodies or individuals. Thus privilege, though part of the law of the land, is to a certain extent, an exemption from the general law. Certain rights and immunities such as freedom from arrest or freedom of speech belong primarily to individual Members of each House and exist because the House cannot perform its functions without unimpeded use of the services of its Members. Other rights and immunities such as the power to punish for contempt and the power to regulate its own constitution belong primarily to each House as a collective body, for the protection of its Members and the vindication of its own authority and dignity.

It is interesting to note that just as a court has an undoubted right to cite persons in contempt who obstruct its proceedings or offend the dignity of the court, the same power is necessarily available to the Houses of Parliament. According to the Erskine May text:

The power to punish for contempt has been judicially considered to be inherent in each House of Parliament not as a necessary incident of the authority and functions of a legislature (as might be regarded in respect of certain privileges) but by virtue of the lex et consuetudo parliamenti.

The Latin phrase could be translated as the law and custom of Parliament.

The Erskine May text provides a number of 19th century judicial considerations affirming parliamentary privilege which I need not cite here as it seems to me inappropriate to do so for the very simple reason that parliamentary privilege has not been a matter determined by the courts, but rather by assertion of parliament. The history of conflict between the English House of Commons and the Crown in the 17th century where the King arrested some members of Parliament, shows clearly that parliamentary privilege had its origins in assertion by the House of Commons against the Crown and not by any rulings of judges who are, after all, officers appointed by the Crown. With Confederation in 1867 this House became both the heir and beneficiary of this history.

The parliamentary privilege challenged by the two recent court decisions, that is, the immunity from testifying in court during a parliamentary session, is a personal privilege enjoyed by individual members of Parliament, not for their personal benefit but for the benefit of the House and, according to the parliamentary law texts, is treated the same as the freedom from civil arrest during a session. In this regard, the Erskine May text says the following:

The privilege of exemption of a Member from attending as a witness has been asserted by the House upon the same principle as other personal privileges, viz, the paramount right of Parliament to the attendance and service of its Members.

The discussion in May illustrates how ancient is this privilege as it harks back to a citation in Hatsell, on page 170, which states:

On the 13th of February, 1605, Mr. Stepney [a Member of Parliament] complains that seven days before this Session, he was summoned upon a Subpoena in the Star Chamber: On the 14th this matter is examined into, and referred to the Committee of Privileges; on the 15th, it is ordered, “that Mr. Stepney shall have privilege, and that Warren, who served the process, be committed to the Serjeant for three days”.

British parliamentary privilege came to Canada with enactment of the British North America Act of 1867. Section 18 of the 1867 Act gave the Parliament of Canada all the privileges then possessed by the British Parliament. It reads, in part:

The privileges, immunities, and powers to be held, enjoyed, and exercised by the Senate and by the House of Commons, and by the members thereof respectively, shall be such as are from time to time defined by Act of the Parliament of Canada.

The Parliament of Canada Act, in section 4, provides as follows:

The Senate and the House of Commons, respectively, and the members thereof hold, enjoy and exercise

(a) such and the like privileges, immunities and powers as, at the time of the passing of the Constitution Act, 1867, were held, enjoyed and exercised by the Commons House of Parliament of the United Kingdom and by the members thereof, insofar as it is consistent with that Act; and

(b) such privileges, immunities and powers as are defined by Act of the Parliament of Canada, not exceeding those, at the time of the passing of the Act, held, enjoyed and exercised by the Commons House of the United Kingdom and by the members thereof.

Thus it is clearly established that the parliamentary privileges forming part of the parliamentary law and custom of England came to be part of the parliamentary law of Canada today. This was confirmed in 1993 by the Supreme Court of Canada, in the case of New Brunswick Broadcasting Co. v. Nova Scotia (Speaker of the House of Assembly). Madame Justice McLachlin, as she then was, speaking with the majority on the decision, spoke of the:

manifest intention expressed in the preamble of our Constitution that Canada retain the fundamental constitutional tenets upon which British parliamentary democracy rested. This is not a case of importing an unexpressed concept into our constitutional regime, but of recognizing a legal power fundamental to the constitutional regime which Canada has adopted in its Constitution Acts, 1867 to 1982. Nor are we here treating a mere convention to which the courts have not given legal effect; the authorities indicate that the legal status of inherent privileges has never been in doubt.

More importantly, Chief Justice McLachlin, as she now is, affirmed the necessary independence of the legislative branch of government when she also said in her judgment in this case:

It has also long been accepted that these privileges must be held absolutely and constitutionally if they are to be effective; the legislative branch of our government must enjoy a certain autonomy which even the Crown and the courts cannot touch.

The B.C. court allowed the 40 day periods at the beginning and end of each session with respect to freedom from civil arrest but not with respect to freedom from testifying in court. This distinction is not supported by the parliamentary authorities.

The Ontario court did not see the distinction between a session and a sitting of the House and seemed to believe that between sittings, that is, during adjournment periods, members of Parliament were, if you like, on holiday. The court relied on a dictionary definition of “in session” which included the meaning “not on vacation” and the judge emphasized this by underlining. From this, the judge felt members of Parliament were available for other matters, such as court appearances. The court's confusion of a session with a sitting, on the one hand, and its idea of a parliamentary holiday, on the other, are clearly contrary to the parliamentary authorities.

The House requires the availability of its members throughout an entire session as well as for the traditional 40-day period before and after the start and end of a session. Erskine May points out that the immunity from subpoenas is based on the same principle as other personal privileges; that is, the paramount right of Parliament to the attendance and service of its members.

The May text recounts as the general opinion of the British legal authorities, founded on ancient law and custom, that the privilege of freedom from arrest remains with a member of the House for 40 days after every prorogation and 40 days before the next session and that this extent of privilege has been allowed by the English courts of law on the ground of usage and universal opinion.

Canadian parliamentary authorities, such as the Maingot text on parliamentary privilege, reflect these same views with respect to the parliamentary law of Canada. And the Supreme Court of Canada has said that parliamentary privilege forms part of the constitutional law of Canada.

We have parliamentary privileges to ensure that the other branches of government, the executive and the judicial, respect the independence of the legislative branch of government, which is this House and the other place. This independence cannot be sustained if either of the other branches is able to redefine or reduce these privileges.

It has been my clear understanding that periods of 40 days at the beginning and at the end of a session were included in the sessional period to which this privilege applied. I recall for the House a 1989 ruling in this House, which both courts seem to have completely overlooked or blindly ignored, where Mr. Speaker Fraser asserted this privilege:

Let me state for the record that the right of a Member of Parliament to refuse to attend court as a witness during a parliamentary session and during the 40 days preceding and following a parliamentary session is an undoubted and inalienable right supported by a host of precedents.

Mr. Speaker Fraser did not treat this matter lightly when he added in his ruling:

I take a serious view of the action of a member of the legal profession in questioning the right of a Member of Parliament to claim immunity from appearing as a witness and alleging that a court, and not Parliament, had the power to make a determination in such a case.

In my view, Mr. Speaker Fraser correctly defended this privilege, and it is my duty and privilege to do so again today. The privileges of this House and its members are not unlimited, but they are nonetheless well established as a matter of parliamentary law and practice in Canada today, and must be respected by the courts. Judges must look to Parliament for precedents on privilege, not to rulings of their fellow judges since it is in Parliament where privilege is defined and claimed.

Accordingly, I find there is here prima facie evidence of two breaches of the privileges of the House and I invite the government House leader to put his motion.

PrivilegePrivate Members' Business

12:20 p.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell Ontario


Don Boudria LiberalMinister of State and Leader of the Government in the House of Commons


That the question of the immunity of Members of the House from being compelled to attend court during, immediately before and immediately after a Session of Parliament be referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

PrivilegePrivate Members' Business

12:20 p.m.

The Speaker

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

PrivilegePrivate Members' Business

12:20 p.m.

Some hon. members


(Motion agreed to)

Business of the HousePrivate Members' Business

12:20 p.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell Ontario


Don Boudria LiberalMinister of State and Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I wish to confirm to the House, even though I have done so with House leaders last week, that tomorrow evening, May 27, the House will be in committee of the whole on the main estimates. This had been stated to other House leaders, but I do not believe I had expressed it on the floor of the House.

SupplyGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jim Abbott Canadian Alliance Kootenay—Columbia, BC


That this House, acknowledging that health issues transcend political borders as seen with the recent outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), express its support for the admission of Taiwan as an Observer to the World Health Organization and call upon the government to actively urge other member states and non-governmental organizations to support this goal.

Mr. Speaker, Canada is in the middle of severe acute respiratory syndrome, SARS, West Nile virus, and mad cow disease and its possible spread to humans, just to name a few of the current challenges.

Canadians are dealing with these problems, but we are not an island. We are citizens of a world of billions and billions of people, each one of us susceptible to be plagued by disease. As a developed nation Canada has serious responsibilities.

The World Health Organization, WHO, a specialized agency of the United Nations, formally came into existence in 1948. Two of the basic principles of the organization are:

The enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition.


The health of all peoples is fundamental to the attainment of peace and security and is dependent upon the fullest co-operation of individuals and States.

Unlike the United Nations proper, which recognizes political states, the WHO set out to address the common issues of health and disease, issues that relate to all persons without reference to geographic location or political affiliation.

Article 1 of the WHO constitution defines the organization's objective as “the attainment by all peoples of the highest possible level of health”.

Communicable disease, the incidence of which has been increasing alarmingly in recent years, led Nobel laureate Joshua Lederberg to state:

The world really is just one village. Our tolerance of disease in any place in the world is at our own peril.

Canada has historically taken its leadership role in the WHO seriously. Canada was a charter member in 1948. A Canadian, Dr. Brock Chisholm, was elected the first director-general. Our commitment has continued to be evident in the fact that, since 1948, Canada has been elected to nine three-year terms as a member of the WHO executive council.

The WHO does not share common membership with either the UN General Assembly or with other specialized agencies. The universal health care mandate that it administers has prompted it to include as members over the years states that do not belong to the UN, as well as giving certain entities observer status with the right to participate in the WHO world health assembly.

For example, two states that belong to the WHO that are not UN members are: Niue, a tiny island with an estimated population of 2,100; and the Cook Islands with an estimated population of 21,000.

However, Taiwan's application has been continuously opposed by the People's Republic of China. The refusal to admit Taiwan as either a full member of the WHO or to accord it observer status is patently contrary to the universal intentions of the WHO constitution, and is arguably illegal under the terms of that constitution. Taiwan, with a population of 23 million, is larger than 148 sovereign countries in the world. It is certainly larger than the 2,100 residents of Niue.

Taiwan is the only remaining sizeable territory in the entire world whose people are denied the benefits that accrue from WHO engagement. As the world has cooperated fighting the international outbreak of SARS, Taiwan's exclusion from even observer status in the WHO is not just an affront, but a grave peril to the health of the population of the entire world.

Let us review what has happened. SARS broke out in November 2002 in Guangdong province in China. Fast forwarding to March 10, 2003, China disclosed the epidemic four months after the outbreak and asked the WHO for help in identifying this unknown disease.

March 14, SARS broke out in Taiwan. Taiwan immediately informed the WHO of its first suspected cases, but the WHO ignored the information and did not list Taiwan's SARS cases.

March 16, two American CDC epidemiology experts arrived in Taiwan to study Taiwan's SARS cases and to determine their relationship to others around the region.

March 18, the WHO listed Taiwan's SARS information but politicized the issue by categorizing Taiwan as a province of China, like Guangdong or Hong Kong.

March 28, Canada listed Taiwan on its travel advisory. On that date Taiwan had only 10 reported cases and no deaths. Health Canada explained that Taiwan was geographically close to Hong Kong, with 425 reported cases and 10 deaths, and mainland China, at that time with 806 cases, 34 deaths, and that there were 20 flights between Taiwan and Hong Kong daily.

April 7, China finally admitted entry to a WHO team sent to hunt down the source of SARS in Guangdong. When the team arrived in Hong Kong one of its members, Dr. James Maguire, was interviewed by Hong Kong Wen Wei Daily . Dr. Maguire said that if Taiwan wanted to invite WHO's experts to come, it would have to go through Beijing and that Taiwan cannot deal directly with the WHO.

May 3, the WHO dispatched an ad hoc team of two officials to Taiwan. They stayed for one week to investigate the situation. This is important. During their stay in Taiwan the WHO inspectors made no public statement, nor did they meet with the Taiwanese health minister.

May 14, Taiwan's SARS situation had increased to 238 reported SARS cases with 30 deaths and was continuing to worsen when on May 18 last week Taiwan reported a record daily rise of 65 probable cases, for a total of 483, the third highest in the world after China and Hong Kong.

The People's Republic of China says that there is no need for Taiwan to participate in the WHO because, in part, the PRC looks after Taiwan's health interests. It says:

The Chinese central government is always committed to the health and well-being of people from Taiwan... Taiwan, like any other Chinese province, has full access to [the] WHO's health information including that of the early warning of global epidemics and can benefit from the progress made by [the] world in the health field.

That statement is simply untrue. The PRC has never cared for Taiwan's health needs.

Since 1949 Beijing has never exercised jurisdiction or control over Taiwan, not for one single day. The PRC has never exercised any authority or jurisdiction over Taiwan's health care system, nor has the PRC contributed its national budget in any way to the health needs of Taiwan.

Globalization has vastly increased cross-border flows of goods and services and peoples. Consequently, it has also facilitated the spread of infectious diseases across the world. Any loophole in a global health network presents a danger for the entire world. Taiwan's exclusion from the WHO creates such a loophole.

Taiwan is a major transportation hub linking northeast and southeast Asia. In 2002 Taiwan registered almost 8 million outbound travellers and 2 million inbound travellers. By the end of 2002 over 300,000 migrant workers from Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam were living and working in Taiwan. Taiwan is at the crossroads of any infectious disease outbreak in the region.

Given the increasing economic and people to people ties between Taiwan and the People's Republic of China, Taiwan is on the front line of any cross-border epidemic originating in China or its neighbours. When the “bird flu”, known as the A influenza, re-emerged in Hong Kong and mainland China, it underscored the danger that Taiwan's exclusion from the WHO creates. The WHO quickly offered its support to the authorities in Hong Kong and China through the global influenza surveillance network, yet if such an outbreak originated in or spread to Taiwan, the WHO would be helpless to respond.

Taiwan must be allowed to participate in the WHO because the health authorities of Taiwan are the only ones possessing the information and the data permitting the WHO and the world to be informed of and respond effectively to an outbreak of any epidemic on the island that could threaten global health.

Taiwan is excluded from the WHO's global outbreak alert and response network. Through this mechanism, the WHO transmits reports of current outbreaks to and receives important health data from public health professionals and global surveillance partners worldwide. This network permits the member states of the WHO to take appropriate protective measures.

A clear example of the dangers that Taiwan's exclusion from the WHO creates is the enterovirus epidemic that struck Taiwan in 1998. Having spread to Taiwan from Malaysia, this virus infected over 1.8 million Taiwanese people, hospitalized 400, caused 80 deaths and resulted in over $1 billion U.S. value in economic losses.

Taiwan's observer status in the WHO would also enable Taiwan to contribute to the global community more effectively.

Taiwan has special experiences, resources and achievements that it can share with the world. In 2000 the economist intelligence unit of the United Kingdom rated the medical practice in Taiwan as being second among all the developed countries and newly industrialized countries, next only to Sweden.

Taiwan has established a universal health care system, the first in Asia, with 97% coverage.

In 2001 there were 18,265 health care institutions in Taiwan, one physician for every 649 people, one dentist for every 2,570 people, one nurse for every 280 people and 30 hospital beds for every 10,000 people. Taiwan has established a respectable network of disease treatment, reporting and medical research facilities.

Taiwan enjoys one of the highest levels of life expectancy in Asia. At present the life expectancy at birth is 73 for males and 78 for females. Taiwan's maternal and infant mortality rates are comparable to those of western countries.

Taiwan has eradicated infectious diseases such as plague, smallpox, rabies and malaria. No new poliomyelitis cases have been reported since 1983. Taiwan has also been the first country to provide children nationwide with free hepatitis B vaccinations and, in the early 1980s, established effective monitoring and control systems to respond to the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Taiwan's active pharmaceutical industry is exploring new drugs for cancers and viral diseases as well as chronic diseases such as cardiovascular illness.

Despite being excluded from the WHO, Taiwan has shared its resources with people around the world. From 1995 to 2002, Taiwan donated over $120 million U.S. in medical or humanitarian relief to 78 countries spanning five continents.

Taiwan is involved in Care France's AIDS prevention program in Chad, donates yellow fever vaccines to Senegal and provides condoms and medicines to Burkino Faso and Swaziland to promote anti-AIDS campaigns.

Taiwan also funds a polio eradication program through Rotary International and is involved in malaria eradication and hospital improvement programs in Sao Tome and Principe.

Clearly then Taiwan's participation in the WHO would not be one simply of a modest recipient of benefits.

Taiwan boasts 14 internationally recognized medical schools and supports sophisticated health care delivery and health research systems that are on a par with those of many industrialized countries. Taiwan is fully able to offer financial and technical support to the World Health Organization for the benefit of all members. Its absence from the organization represents an epidemiological “black hole” in the functioning of the World Health Organization.

In order to achieve universality, the WHO has interpreted its rules on participation very flexibly. Many non-nations have been allowed to participate in the WHA sessions as observers. This practice is well established, with a number of entities having been routinely invited for years. This trend has given rise to a new category of quasi-permanent observers.

At present there are five such entities: the Holy Sea; Palestine; the Order of Malta; the International Committee of the Red Cross; and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. These entitles are allowed to participate actively in the activities of the WHO, in particular by sending observers to the sessions of the assembly, precisely because they have responsibilities falling within the purview of the WHO and their aims conform with the organizations's objective.

It is clear that the intent of the WHO is to extend its functions and benefits as broadly as possible to all peoples.

In the light of these direct precedents, it is obvious that Taiwan is fully qualified to participate as an observer in the sessions of the WHA. We should note that Taiwan is not applying as an independent state but as an independent health entity. Taiwan possesses the health infrastructure, requisite manpower and scientific knowledge necessary to achieve the objectives fixed by the WHO constitution.

By establishing and continuously improving various projects in public health, sanitation, immunization and drug research, Taiwan's government has genuinely sought the attainment of the highest possible level of health as called for in the WHO constitution. Taiwan surely exercises complete authority and control over its health policy and administration and thus satisfies all the requirements for participation in the work of the WHO.

Let us be crystal clear. The Canadian Alliance motion today reads:

That this House, acknowledging that health issues transcend political borders as seen with the recent outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), express its support for the admission of Taiwan as an Observer to the World Health Organization and call upon the government to actively urge other member states and non-governmental organizations to support this goal.

Canada's one China policy is irrelevant in this debate, except to the extent that the Liberal government is using it to stand as an impediment to the health of the world.

The Canadian government falsely claims that Taiwan has full access to WHO services through other agencies without being a member. This is totally contrary to the known facts.

Let us again review why the Canadian Alliance is trying to force the Liberals to do the right thing.

During the recent outbreak of SARS, Taiwan immediately informed the WHO of the first suspected cases on March 14. In the beginning, the WHO's network did not list any information about Taiwan's SARS cases. However, when the network later listed Taiwan's information on March 18, the WHO politicized the issue and categorized Taiwan as a province of China, like Guangdong or Hong Kong.

The WHO refused to send its health experts directly, choosing instead to transfer the case to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. As a result, Taiwan could not get valuable health information directly from the WHO or its regional office for the western Pacific. Taiwan was not able to compare its cases of the disease to those in mainland China, Hong Kong or Vietnam under the WHO structure. Valuable time was lost in preventing the spread of the epidemic.

Taiwan's medical experts tried to find out more information about the virus in order to take the appropriate protective measures. Unfortunately the efforts were unsuccessful, despite many attempts. One example was a video conference held by the World Health Organization in which over 30 invited experts discussed SARS. However, Taiwanese experts could not participate in the conference to discuss their experiences. Instead they had to get the information from the Internet 20 hours later. This represents disregard for the health and medical human rights of the Taiwanese people, and is also a great loss to the World Health Organization.

In a press conference on April 11, Chinese official Mr. Liu Peilung mentioned that if Taiwan wanted to have the WHO's assistance it should raise this issue with China, that they would consider it and then collaborate with the WHO to deal with Taiwan. China refused to allow the WHO experts to have entry to Taiwan for seven full weeks.

On the other hand, China has sought assistance from Taiwan through its NGOs. A deputy researcher from the Institute of Biomedical Sciences of Academia Sinica in Taiwan arrived in Beijing on April 8 so that China could benefit from Taiwan's experience.

In the control of communicable diseases, the greatest obstacle that Taiwan faces is the lack of direct and prompt access to information concerning the policies and strategies of the WHO, the recommended specifications for laboratory testing, and the technical details of control measures. Professionals from Taiwan, governmental or otherwise, are denied participation in any symposium, workshop or training program organized by the WHO, even the ones that do not specify “by invitation only”.

This is a clear cut case of the Canadian government dangerously out of touch, grabbing on to its one China policy. I urge the government to stop posturing and fretting over politics. I urge it to support our motion:

That this House, acknowledging that health issues transcend political borders as seen with the recent outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), express its support for the admission of Taiwan as an Observer to the World Health Organization and call upon the government to actively urge other member states and non-governmental organizations to support this goal.

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12:40 p.m.


John McKay Liberal Scarborough East, ON

Madam Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his speech and for making the effort to bring this issue to the floor of the House.

Is the member satisfied that the current arrangements between Canada, Taiwan and the PRC adequately protect Canadians' health, in that now Taiwan, in particular with the SARS outbreak, is being reported in a fashion that requires it to go through China? We have seen that China has been somewhat, shall we say, less than forthcoming in its analysis of the disease, in its reporting of the disease and in its recognition of the disease, and that this has had implications for the world community at large.

Is he satisfied that Taiwan, which is essentially a co-operative country, is being reported by PRC, which is essentially not a very co-operative country?

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12:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jim Abbott Canadian Alliance Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for his question. Indeed, there is a breakdown in communication. There can be no doubt that there is a breakdown in communication when we have the very obstructionist position of China with respect to the flow of any information back and forth, especially with respect to the issue of Taiwan.

The answer to the member's question would be, not only is Canada in danger, but quite frankly the entire world is in danger. One extra death from SARS that would be created because of this political impediment to what is truly a health issue would be desperately unfortunate. I can only hope that the Canadian government will assume its role of leadership in the World Health Organization. It was there. It had the first director general in 1948. It was there for nine three-year terms on the executive. We can only hope that Canada will take on its role of leadership and see to it that this wrong is righted. This is the only country or health entity in the world that is not represented in WHO, and yet at this point unfortunately for Taiwan it is also a hot spot for SARS, which indeed is a threat to everyone in the world, not just Canadians.

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12:45 p.m.


Paul Crête Bloc Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Madam Speaker, I commend my colleague for his speech. I received a letter this morning from Taiwan's official representative, congratulating me for having recommended that Taiwan be admitted as an observer to the WHO. I think that this SARS crisis is a perfect example of the relevance of having all interested parties truly present when a situation such as this comes up.

Does this not show that when it comes to assessing the world health situation, it makes sense for all groups to be represented, even if they are not officially recognized as a country by all health organizations? Can we afford to pay the price of using political arguments that could have a detrimental effect on the health of large numbers of people and perhaps even on the entire world, because of international air travel? In light of this, should we not all support the motion moved by the member?

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12:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jim Abbott Canadian Alliance Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Madam Speaker, again I thank my colleague for his comments. Indeed, this is a nation of 23 million people. We could divert and get into a discussion about whether they are a nation or whether they are a state. There are many of us in the House who happen to believe that, but that is irrelevant to this argument. That is irrelevant to this debate.

What is relevant to this debate is that it is an independent health entity with its own budget. Taiwan has its own budget and its own health ministry. I have recited all of the achievements that it has in the world of health. It truly is an independent world health entity. The difficulty we are having at this particular point is that the politics of Canada's one China policy and the politics of the PRC holding it up are getting in the way of effectively dealing with this communicable disease. We are talking about lives. This is desperately important and should far supersede anything to do with politics, be they domestic or international.

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12:45 p.m.

Elgin—Middlesex—London Ontario


Gar Knutson LiberalSecretary of State (Central and Eastern Europe and Middle East)

Madam Speaker, before I begin I would like to advise the House that I will be splitting my time with my esteemed colleague, the member for Scarborough East.

It is an honour for me to speak in the House. Canada's one China policy is long established. In 1970 Canada decided to recognize the government of the People's Republic of China in Beijing as the sole government of China. The recognition communiqué, issued jointly by Canada and China in October 1970, stated that: “the Chinese government reaffirms that Taiwan is an inalienable part of the territory of the People's Republic of China. The Canadian government takes note of this position of the Chinese government”.

However, within the one China policy there is considerable flexibility for non-official contacts to promote economic, cultural and people-to-people linkages between Canada and Taiwan. These ties are well demonstrated by the activities of our business and cultural communities, from the sale of aircraft and high tech equipment to the tour of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. Economically, Taiwan is one of Canada's top trading partners and is our fourteenth largest export market worldwide.

Canada's relationship with Taiwan is an unofficial one, but unofficial relations have not prevented Canada from developing close, mutually beneficial ties with Taiwan. On the contrary, Canadians and the Taiwanese enjoy a rich partnership in many fields. Canada's approach to this relationship today is, simply put, one based on action, not words, and on substance, not symbol.

Canada has always supported Taiwan's access to many World Health Organization health protection and health promotion programs available to it under current circumstances and continues to encourage the Taiwanese authorities to profit from the opportunities that already exist for cooperation within the WHO framework.

The World Health Organization is a United Nations specialized agency. The World Health Organization constitution provides for membership and associate membership and does not provide for an observer status. Article 3 of the World Health Organization constitution defines membership as being open to states. To be considered a state for the purpose of WHO membership, one must be recognized as a sovereign state by the United Nations credentials committee.

There are, as has been mentioned by the hon. members who spoke, WHO members who are not members of the United Nations, namely Cook Islands and Niue. Both of these are independent nations in free association with New Zealand, and both Cook Islands and Niue are recognized by the UN credentials committee as sovereign states. Cook Islands and Niue therefore meet the WHO constitutional requirements for membership.

Article 8 of the WHO constitution allows for associate members, which are defined as territories or groups of territories that are not responsible for the conduct of their international relations. Application for admittance to the WHO as an associate member must be made on behalf of the territories or groups of territories by the member or other authority having responsibility for their international relations. According to the rules and procedures of the WHO and the United Nations, an application to admit Taiwan as an associate member would have to be made by China.

While some non-state entities and some international health organizations have been invited as observers to the World Health Assembly, the invitation of these entities to observe the annual World Health Assembly meetings was not contested and received broad support of all WHO members. These observers have no status under WHO constitutional rules and procedures. Their role is purely one of observer, akin to a spectator, not exercising any of the voting privileges extended to members and associate members.

Canada would support a formula for Taiwan's participation in the World Health Organization as long as this formula is in accordance with the WHO constitutional rules and procedures and has received broad based approval of WHO members.

Now to a key point: As a member of the international community, Taiwan is able freely to access health information from the World Health Organization. The World Health Organization has indicated that there is no practical impediment to the exchange of information and cooperation between the WHO and Taiwan which might threaten the health of Taiwanese in some manner, nor has Taiwan been barred from humanitarian assistance from the WHO in the event of a medical emergency.

In this regard, the WHO cooperates with the Taiwanese authorities in measures to control the spread of disease and has over the years dispatched teams from its collaboration centres to Taiwan to assist in dealing with specific health issues. The WHO relies on its WHO collaboration centres, which are national institutions that form part of an international collaborative network carrying out activities in support of the WHO's mandate for international health work and program priorities.

The WHO's most important collaborative partner is the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The WHO has always provided health care and emergency assistance to Taiwan through its collaboration centres, usually through the CDC. Through its close cooperation with the United States Centers for Disease Control, the CDC, which acts as a WHO collaboration centre, Taiwan has had access to the same information as others, including Canada, to deal with the SARS outbreak. This has in no way affected Taiwan's ability to deal with this outbreak nor has it adversely affected the health and safety of the Taiwanese.

The executive director of the WHO's Department of Communicable Diseases' surveillance and response, Dr. David Heymann, recently publicly stated that although the current situation in Taiwan was not good, Taiwan had professional monitoring and tracking systems that should enable it to confine the SARS outbreak. He insists that Taiwan's lack of WHO membership has not damaged the island in the WHO's global cooperation efforts against SARS, nor has Taiwan suffered in the process of its battle against SARS due to not being a member of the WHO.

Taiwan has not been denied access to medical information and assistance it requires to deal with the SARS outbreak. Indeed, Taiwan has received assistance both from the WHO collaboration centre at the CDC and directly from the World Health Organization. On March 16, 2003, the CDC dispatched two officials to Taiwan to assess the SARS cases. The CDC continues to this day to have a team in Taiwan providing assistance with the SARS outbreak. The WHO also sent a team of two experts to Taiwan to work with the CDC in evaluating the SARS situation.

Canada has also maintained open communication with Taiwan on SARS issues. We have taken steps to ensure that Taiwanese authorities were always well briefed on the SARS situation in Canada.

As part of our continued measures to support the global fight against SARS, Health Canada convened the first major international meeting in North America on SARS, in Toronto, to discuss a proactive approach to halting the spread of SARS. A representative from the Taipei economic and cultural office in Ottawa was also invited and participated in the meeting. Dr. James Young, Ontario's Commissioner of Public Safety and a key leader in Toronto's battle with SARS, personally briefed Taiwanese representatives in Toronto on the SARS situation. Dr. Young has also recently travelled to Taiwan with a team of experts from Ontario to share Toronto's and Canada's experience in fighting SARS.

This issue transcends the words of the motion themselves. There is a larger complexity to this issue, which is reflected in Canada's relationship with Taiwan and China. The government agrees that health care issues transcend borders and I have clearly laid out that through our actions and those of the WHO Taiwan is receiving timely and equivalent access to appropriate information and assistance.

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12:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jim Abbott Canadian Alliance Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Madam Speaker, while I have a very high regard for the member as an individual I must say that some of his words have made me feel very angry, angry because in fact they do not represent the facts as we know them, and angry because there are people who are going to die as a result of inaction and the difficulties that are created.

I wonder if the member could explain to me why it took seven full weeks before two people from the WHO finally appeared in Taiwan. Why did it take seven full weeks? I will give him the answer, but perhaps he will have a different interpretation. The answer is that Beijing simply was not being cooperative and was not going to permit people to go into Taiwan. Taiwan wanted the people to go in there. Second, when they did go in, they did not even contact the health minister of Taiwan, who was wrestling with this particular issue.

I do not understand where those comments are coming from when, as I recited in my own presentation, the fact of the matter is that the PRC has not spent one thin dime in Taiwan. It has absolutely no control and absolutely no jurisdiction over the health matters of Taiwan and yet it can stop WHO people from being able to go in there. I wonder if he can explain that because, quite frankly, those facts I have just recited do not relate at all well to the ones he has just presented.

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1 p.m.


Gar Knutson Liberal Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Madam Speaker, I am not familiar with the actual case of why or if the WHO authorities were prevented from going. My understanding is that anyone can travel to Taiwan based on the Taiwanese rules. I have travelled to Taiwan. I did not require a visa when I came out of communist China.

As I said, the real information being transferred between various officials is from the disease centres in the United States and Canada. I am not sure that simply because WHO authorities may have been prevented, and I am acknowledging that may be the case, if that has made any difference on the ground. The fact of the matter is the medical people have been able to exchange information as they should have. If that is not the case, then we should fix that.

I am not sure having Taiwanese membership in the WHO, albeit as an observer, is necessary to fix that. The doctors and the medical people should be exchanging information so that no additional damage is done through this disease, and let us stay focussed on that problem and not get caught up on the large political issue of WHO observer status.

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1 p.m.

Barrie—Simcoe—Bradford Ontario


Aileen Carroll LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Madam Speaker, in that regard, would the minister care to comment on the earlier comments of the hon. member across that the motion and issue of Taiwan obtaining observer status at the WHO has nothing whatsoever to do with the ambitions on the part of the Taiwanese government for sovereignty or nation state?

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1 p.m.


Gar Knutson Liberal Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Madam Speaker, I do not want to get into a debate of imputing motive. Unfortunately, the Taiwanese situation is complicated by the position of communist China. At the end of the day where Taiwan ranks, whether it is an independent state or whether it is a full member of communist China, with a normal part of its territory like any other part of its territory, is really up to the people themselves to sort out. It is up to the Taiwanese to sort out with the people in mainland China. Right now it is in sort of a situation of limbo.

That is a bigger issue than observer status in the WHO. It is complicated. It is complicated by the inability of the two stakeholders to sort this out, and we should not let that complication have a negative impact on people's health. We should not let that complication have a negative impact on the exchange of information. If we have to fix some procedures at the WHO to achieve that, then the Government of Canada would lend its support to fixing those procedures.

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1 p.m.


John McKay Liberal Scarborough East, ON

Madam Speaker, I want to thank again the hon. member for bringing this motion forward. This is a timely motion and I want to congratulate him for his initiative.

I am speaking in two capacities: one in my capacity as the member for Scarborough East and also in my capacity as chair of the Canada-Taiwan Parliamentary Friendship Group.

As recent public health issues have disclosed, health knows no political boundaries. It is therefore quite foolish to leave certain jurisdictions out in the cold while arguing about status. Taiwan occupies a bit of ethereal status in the world. We all know it exists but we just cannot mention it out loud.

For most purposes, this works. Taiwan is part of the WTO but it has kind of a special trading entity status. It is part of APEC and is recognized as an economic entity. Therefore for the purposes of money and trade we seem to be able to find where Taiwan exists but for the purposes of health it has no status.

The only link therefore appears to be economic. Therefore I would like to suggest that really it is in Canada's best interest economically to recognize Taiwan for its desire to enter into this status of observer at the World Health Organization, and indeed it is in the world's economic interest.

In Toronto we have recently had a graphic lesson of the economics of health. The SARS scare has literally shaved off millions, if not hundreds of millions of dollars, off the GDP of the greater Toronto area and probably will in turn shave percentage points off the GDP of our nation.

The equation is rather simple. If we do not have health, we will not have any money. People do not shop, they do not travel when they are afraid of getting sick. Therefore, no shopping, no money, no GDP, no economy.

I do not know what the impact of SARS will be on Taiwan, but it will be an order of magnitude several times greater than that of Canada. The impact has been far deeper and far harder in relative and absolute terms than the impact on Canada. Even today's newspapers detail new deaths and fresh cases both in Taiwan and in Toronto. That is all the more reason Taiwan should be included in the WHO instead of being treated as an international non-person.

We appear to be only too happy to trade with Taiwan, for example, take its money, but when it comes to recognition even if it is to our benefit, then we have a curious case of blindness.

How did we get to this contradictory state? I suggest it all goes back to Prime Minister Trudeau's recognition of the People's Republic of China as the rightful representative of the Chinese people. During the negotiations, the prime minister was pressed to recognize China's claim to Taiwan. The prime minister, very cleverly I would suggest, would only go so far as to take note of the Chinese claim. I make the distinction that there is a great of daylight between taking note of somebody's position and actually accepting someone's position.

The take note policy formulation was acceptable to the PRC at the time and many other countries, including the United States of America. This in turn paved the way for President Nixon's historical visit to China.

Taiwan in a monumental blunder withdrew itself from the United Nations in protest, which in turn paved the way for the PRC to flex its diplomatic muscles as and when it needed on other countries and force countries to start to backtrack on this take note position. That has resulted in some evolutions and distortions of the one China policy, which really has come to mean we do not do anything with respect to Taiwan without checking with the PRC first. We then calibrate the cost and decide on how much we want to irritate the PRC.

One of the flash points is the WHO. Our position is hypocritical. At least we are joined in our hypocrisy by quite a number of other nations. There does seem to be hope however as the United States has recently come out firmly in favour of Taiwan's admission and the EU seems to be leaning that way.

However if we play this right, we can successfully irritate everybody instead of doing the right thing and recognize Taiwan for what it is, a fully functioning state with legitimate aspirations to join multinational organizations which are designed to help the world function in a better way.

Why should we care if in fact this little island has a big problem with its enormous neighbour? The problem is that all of our inconsistencies will come home to roost one day.

The politics of the PRC-Taiwan are getting to be too serious for the health of the rest of the world. Reluctantly, the PRC has acknowledged to the rest of the world that it has been a little less than forthcoming about its SARS problem. Clearly it understated the problem by several orders of magnitude. Given the PRC's tendencies, in the words of the Wall Street Journal , to cover-up and deceive, we will probably never really know the magnitude of the problem until the crisis passes.

I remind members that this is a world health problem, not merely a Chinese problem or a Taiwanese problem. What happens there directly affects us and our constituents. I put it to members, visit any hospital in Toronto and see the results.

The source of much of the SARS outbreak in that part of the world and its understatement of the magnitude of the problem is, as one doctor put it, a little like having unprotected sex while knowing that one is HIV positive. The deceitful decision of the PRC to suppress information has a direct impact on the health of all of us and is literally costing us billions of dollars.

However it gets worse. Taiwan immediately and accurately reported its SARS outbreak to the WHO, which did not get reported initially because of pressure from the PRC, and then only later as a province of China. The WHO refused to send its health experts to Taiwan or to allow Taiwanese health experts to participate in developing their knowledge about the outbreak, therefore imperilling the health of the Taiwanese, the Chinese, the world at large and Canada in particular. This has to stop.

It is one thing for the PRC to imperil the health of its own citizens. However it is quite another thing to imperil the health of citizens of other nations. The world is too small for this kind of petty politics. It is particularly galling to have a cooperative state like Taiwan shut out by the political muscle of China, a less than cooperative state. This is not the first time.

In 1999 Taiwan had a devastating earthquake, killing 2,400, injuring 10,000 people and leaving over 100,000 people homeless. Taiwan needed the WHO. Time is crucial in a matter like that, and the WHO spent useless hours and days working out ways to deliver unofficial and indirect assistance to Taiwan.

Parliament must speak on this issue. We say that we value democracy and the rule of law. Taiwan is an economic tiger but it is also a democratic miracle. It has emerged from the gloom of a brutal repressive dictatorship into the sunlight of a vigorous multi-party democracy. Yet when Taiwan requests a legitimate form of recognition, we turn our back on her. We do not walk the walk; we only want to talk the talk.

I urge my colleagues to support this resolution as it would get Canada a little closer to walking the talk.

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1:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Roy H. Bailey Canadian Alliance Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Madam Speaker, I want to thank the member for speaking in clear terms that can be understood, and should be understood, not only in the House but in the United Nations and around the world.

We in Canada sit by, as in this recent example with SARS, and let a world organization not move as it should because of the political power of mainland China. In doing so, we are putting politics way ahead of people. We did the same thing with the earthquake in Taiwan. We had to argue for months before help went in.

We, as Canadians, should sit very carefully and think about what the hon. member has just said, and the clearness of it, and put ourselves in the same position and ask, if we could act, would we ignore the people in Taiwan today because we feared something about their political identity? I do not think Canadians would but the United Nations has.

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1:10 p.m.


John McKay Liberal Scarborough East, ON

Madam Speaker, WHO's interpretation of what constitutes a state seems to be somewhat flexible. The argument is that it can only recognize a country that is a member state of the UN. Obviously Taiwan is not a member state of the UN. It rather foolishly quit.

Several generations of leadership later and it is saying it was a bad idea. We have a bizarre situation where the WHO for certain purposes will recognize Palestine, which is really the PLO; Malta; Niue; Cook Islands; and other entities as health entities for the purposes of the WHO, but for admission to the WHO the island of 23 million is simply a black hole in the WHO scheme of world events.

That seems to be more than passingly bizarre since 23 million people constitute a population that is in excess of 75%, more than most states that actually are members of the WHO and the UN. At this point I do not think we can afford to play the game any longer. There is enough blame to go around between the Taiwanese and the PRC in terms of their politics. We could spend the rest of the day talking about that but the truth is that they are starting to cost me and my constituents their health and money. I say, enough.

We now have an opportunity to encourage Taiwan's admission and I think it is time we did it. We have terrific examples in the WTO and APEC and I cannot imagine why we cannot extend that example on to the WHO.