Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have an opportunity to participate in this discussion on the NDP motion that deals with trans fats.
As we round out debate and close off discussions for today, it would be only appropriate to comment on the positive discussion that has taken place in this chamber, just how constructive the House can be at times like this. I am very grateful that we have had today to seriously share ideas and find some common ground to push forward on a very important issue for Canadians.
Perhaps one could say that it is clearly something that seems to be unique to this Parliament, presumably to the fact that we have a minority situation. This is living testimony to all those Canadians who believed, when they voted on June 28, that a minority government would be a healthy outcome for Canadians. They believed we could accomplish so much together by sharing ideas and sometimes being less partisan and working together for the common good.
I hope the outcome of today will be a resounding vote of support for this motion. It is a very important issue that affects the health and well-being of many Canadians. I know it is too early to determine exactly how individual members will vote on this very important issue. However, it seems to me, from the discussion which has occurred over the course of today, that members of Parliament from all parties are looking very seriously at the issue, thinking about it, asking very good questions and making a very deliberate effort at firming up their position.
Today has been wonderful. In that context I also want to thank my colleague from Winnipeg Centre who, as we all know, started championing this issue over a year ago when he first learned about the issue through some very indepth and positive media reports around trans fats. He took up the issue and brought it to his caucus. He pursued it by way of a private member's initiative. He has continued to raise it over the course of the year to the point where we are here today as an NDP caucus fully supportive of his work and of the need to find a resolution to the problem that he and so many others have identified. My thanks to my colleague who represents the seat next to mine in Winnipeg.
I listened to the member who just spoke about the role of government and when government gets involved and when the private sector rules the day. I think that is a good place to start in terms of my input on this matter.
We on this side of the House at least understand the role of government to be one of helping to ensure that the health and safety of Canadians is protected. We believe that government has a responsibility to ensure that the food we eat, the water we drink, the air we breath, the products we use and the medical devices that are put in our bodies are safe beyond a reasonable doubt. That is part of our Food and Drugs Act.
We have legislation that requires our government to ensure that it is proactive and takes all precautionary effort to protect Canadians from any deleterious effects of food, water and medical devices. I see this motion as something that flows from the spirit of that legislation. In fact, it has in it criminal sanctions when the act is breached and when efforts are not taken to protect Canadians in the event of toxic substances or other life threatening issues entering our food, water or air systems.
If we are trying to understand this motion in that context, vis-à-vis the role of the marketplace, as some of the members on the Conservative side of the House have tried to raise, I hope I can convince them and make this case. On something so fundamental as life sustaining food, water and air, government has an ultimate absolute responsibility to be involved in ensuring that products are safe beyond a reasonable doubt and that we apply the precautionary principle, or the do no harm principle, that says the onus is on the industry to prove that products are safe.
The onus is on government to require the business sector, the private sector, the corporations involved in any of these areas to prove that products are safe beyond a reasonable doubt. That to me is the fundamental role and responsibility of government.
Health protection is at the heart of such an approach and that means putting everything behind it in terms of the force of the law. It does not mean a risk management model. It does not mean saying that we should take our chances and require industry to put in place its own systems to check against any ill effects or adverse reactions, then see what happens. We know what happens when we take that market driven approach.
The private sector, businesses and free enterprise are not doing the work they do because of the goodness of their hearts. They are in it to make a profit. They are in it to make a living and no one is going to quarrel with that. That is quite separate from the role of government to ensure that certain standards are met to ensure that no shortcuts are taken and no problems are created as a result of the profit motive or the interests of trying to survive in the business world.
I see the two issues as absolutely compatible: business trying to provide for Canadians by turning the natural resources of this land into products for all of us to eat, to use and to have as part of our quality of life and the government's role to help ensure a regulatory system is in place to protect us from any ill effects.
I could go through a long list of issues we have tried to raise in the House that fall in the category of trans fats. I could talk about Prepulsid and the death of Vanessa Young a few years back because we did not take that kind of proactive regulatory approach to ensure that when we knew there were adverse reactions to a particular drug, we halted the drug's production and distribution and ensured that no one was put in that susceptible position.
We said the same with respect to the studies that came out suggesting that mercury in fish was very harmful to young people and expectant mothers. We said that the government had a responsibility to try to regulate in the area so that fish with a high level of mercury would not be available on the market so people would not be in danger of buying something that they were not sure about in terms of long term effects on health and well-being.
We said the same thing when it came to the issue of disposable medical devices when evidence came forward suggesting that great harm and possibly even death could happen as a result of medical devices being re-used when they were in fact disposable. We said that was something that had to be stopped and that government had a role to ensure that it was.
We talked in the past about toxic chemicals and plastics and the fact that babies and small children chewing on plastics with high levels of lead could suffer very serious brain damage. We have talked about arsenic. We have talked about synthetic insulin. We have talked about tainted raisins. We have talked about Dursban, a problematic pesticide. The list goes on and on. They were all issues that begged for government intervention and for active regulation.
In some cases we have made some progress. We will continue to fight for government to take an active role in such areas. Today we may be on the verge of seeing that kind of approach adopted by Parliament in a very significant and substantive way. That of course has to do with the serious issue of trans fats.
Over the course of today we have heard from many individuals who have studied this issue in depth and have told us about the serious implications for Canadians who consume food that is very high in trans fats. We have heard about the number of lives that could be saved every year. We have heard about the money that could be saved every year if in fact we took firm action with respect to trying to rid our marketplace of products that are high in trans fats and can create serious problems for our health and well-being.
I do not need to repeat the science and go over those statistics, but I would like to convey a few of the sentiments that have been passed along to us in the course of our preparation for this debate and as a result of the work of my colleague, the member for Winnipeg Centre. We have received communications and letters from people all over the country who are delighted that we are taking this stand and hope that the outcome is positive.
Everybody knows it is not going to be easy in terms of ridding our store shelves of some products that our kids love or that we love. That is a challenge for all of us, but there is a general recognition that there is a real responsibility on the part of government to ensure that we do just that, try to ban products that are very detrimental to the health of our children and the health of all Canadians.
I want to read a few letters from folks who have given us their support on this issue. A woman from Ottawa writes:
I've been gradually cleaning out my cupboards from products with this ingredient, but it is only recently that I discovered it was also in cheese that I had been eating for years, without knowing it contained this deadly fat. The government should take the lead and do an educational campaign. Of course this might go against corporate Canada, which are partly controlling some of the ruling Liberals.
One comes from a health professional in Victoria, B.C., who says:
It's about time that someone high profile and with some influence took on this project, as we have known for 15 years with no uncertainty that hydrogenated oils are more harmful than saturated fats. As you know, research has directly linked trans fats to higher risk of and incidence of heart attacks, cancer, and other obesity related diseases such as diabetes. As a health professional, it is important to me to do what I can to help raise community awareness of trans fats as well.
One is from Toronto, Ontario. This person says:
Not all consumers check what is in their foods, which they should, but no one should be selling something that has a poison in it if they can avoid it by changing their ingredients. I personally check everything. My husband finds it annoying but I feel it is very important. I will be starting a family soon and I will make sure to avoid buying anything with hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils.
Another one from Toronto, Ontario, says:
I fully support your motion that trans fats are a harmful and downright toxic substance that has no business being in our food. I have personally been aware of the harm caused by hydrogenated oils in food for several years and have watched with great anxiety and frustration as more and more products are using such oils. It is for this reason that I ask you to please never give up the fight. As a consumer and health care professional, I find this issue of utmost importance.
That is the message that has spurred us on. These kinds of letters and messages from people all across Canada, asking us not to give up the fight, has kept my colleague from Winnipeg Centre, and everyone else on this side of the House and I am sure from all quarters of the chamber, involved in this issue with a great deal of passion, vigour and determination.
What we sense from these letters is that people are willing to do their part, but sometimes it is not always easy to tell from the labels what we are eating. Sometimes we do not have access to the educational information to be able to differentiate between the impact of different ingredients on the body and on one's physical health and well-being. Sometimes it is hard for kids to resist the pressure when they see something advertised on TV. Sometimes it is hard to overcome that huge food industry with all of the money it spends on advertising and try to accomplish something that is so important for health and wellness.
The message from all of these folks is to help them, and to join with them and form a partnership. Government can do its part by taking a hard look at the products that we are talking about, trans fats and hydrogenated oils, and make the link that they are hazardous in our foods and impact on our health. We must make a determination that they are just too deadly to let the marketplace rule and let consumers choose.
We do that on many fronts and maybe we should do it more. I think for example about our work on trying to convince people not to smoke. Perhaps we should be looking at whether we should ban cigarettes entirely. We are making progress by continuing to press forward to educate folks in terms of the dangers of smoking and we are ensuring that Canadians are fully aware of the deadly substances in cigarettes.
Each day we take another step. Today we are hopefully at the point of convincing the government that it is wrong to take Canadians' pension savings and invest them in tobacco companies. It is wrong for the CPP investment board to be a partner with tobacco companies who are refusing to have better labels on cigarette packages or are unwilling to restrict the sale of their products to young people. Every day we make progress on that front. Some day we will eliminate this deadly product.
However, today we have a real opportunity to actually take the information that is so clear and so focused in terms of what must be done. I hope we can take this decisive action today and actually ban in a period of time these deadly products, these hydrogenated oils from our food, so that we as consumers do not have to be worried every day about what we are eating and what kind of harm we are bringing to our children. We will have the knowledge that we are working in partnership with a government that cares about our health and our children's health, and is working with us to move toward a healthy diet which ensures longevity and quality of life for all our citizens no matter what age and where they live.