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House of Commons Hansard #30 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was chair.

Topics

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9:30 p.m.

Liberal

Michael John Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Chair--

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9:30 p.m.

The Deputy Chair

The member's time has expired. You told us that you would use the first ten minutes and that you would share the last five minutes with the hon. member for Thornhill. We are now at the five minutes.

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9:30 p.m.

Liberal

Susan Kadis Liberal Thornhill, ON

Mr. Chair, I stand here tonight very fortunate, as an 11 year breast cancer survivor, unlike many in my own riding and many other people's ridings and elsewhere. I think of a young 28 year old woman, just newly married, who recently and tragically passed away from breast cancer. Unfortunately, she was the second generation as well in her family. This is a cycle that I am very determined that we are breaking through research. That is the topic that I want to speak briefly about today.

We know Canada's future success depends on the health and well-being of its people. Health care is the number one priority of Canadians. We have always taken great pride in our health care system. We expect it to be there when we need it, in a timely way. Often we cannot afford the luxury of time.

Our health care system, our largest knowledge based system, with expenditures in excess of $120 billion annually, has been transformed into an evidence based approach, a research driven enterprise. It is essential, if we are to capture the health and economic benefits of the current revolution in health research, a revolution that holds out the potential to save lives and to transform the Canadian health system in the 21st century.

I was very pleased to note that earlier this month the member from Vancouver announced $187 billion to support our 400 national health research projects. This funding was announced on behalf of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, our premier funder of health research. I am sure the minister will agree, as will everyone else, that it is the combination of prevention and cure that are the basis for a e successful health care system. We have made great strides in this area of research.

I recently read an interview with Dr. Lawrence Rosenberg. He stated that he anticipated there would be a treatment for diabetes in the next five years. Since the discovery of insulin, we know that Canada research has led the way in juvenile diabetes research. We must ensure that the resources needed are available to ensure this comes to fruition.

We can be very proud of Canada's researchers, who are among the best in the world. They generate ideas at an unprecedented rate. In fact, in terms of publicly funded research, I am proud to say that Canada is now one of the top five research nations in the world. I note that projects funded through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research are addressing the full spectrum of health study, from genetics to access to health services.

Diseases, such as cancer and diabetes, for example, continue to take an incalculable toll on Canadians. Just as we have declared zero tolerance on violence in schools and many other important areas, we must send a message and declare zero tolerance to these devastating diseases.

We have heard we are close to a cure for diabetes. The federal government must play a front line role in fulfilling these achievable goals by continuing to put emphasis on potentially groundbreaking research through additional substantive funding. Simply put, we must continue to lead the way, significantly reducing the number of Canadians still suffering and dying as a result of catastrophic diseases.

Initiatives as Genome Canada must continue to be supported.

There are multiple benefits generated by our research efforts. Very important Canadians have had the opportunity to gain and utilize top-notch research skills along the way, keeping our young, talented, dedicated Canadian researchers here at home. In addition, we have been able to increasingly attract top international talented individuals to our country as well. If we want this trend to continue, we must do everything possible to continue to support our researchers.

The bottom line is that strengthening public health care in Canada for the long term is a top priority. To achieve this, we must continue to foster our capacity. For a leading edge health research, this is critical. We cannot afford not to continue on this path.

Canadians are relying on us to succeed: children with juvenile diabetes, women diagnosed with breast cancer, men diagnosed with prostate cancer, those with a debilitating effects of heart disease only to name a few. The health of Canadians is paramount and integral to our quality of life. Our government has taken significant steps to this end. We must not stop. There is so much at stake.

At this point I would like to ask the minister this. Will he make a strong commitment to Canada's health researchers and those who are suffering, that the momentum that has been built--

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9:35 p.m.

The Deputy Chair

I am sorry, your four minutes ran out so quickly.

The hon. member for Laval. Could you tell us how you intend to use your time?

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9:35 p.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Bloc Laval, QC

Certainly, Mr. Chair. I will use my time by reading a text and by asking the minister a few questions. I will use the full 15 minutes at my disposal.

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9:35 p.m.

The Deputy Chair

Excuse me. I want to know how many minutes you are going to use to deliver your speech and how many minutes you are going to use for questions and answers.

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9:35 p.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Bloc Laval, QC

Mr. Chair, I will use ten minutes of my time to deliver my speech and five minutes for questions and comments.

First, I want to tell the hon. member who just spoke that I really understand her concerns. I too am a breast cancer survivor. I can understand why she is concerned about health, prevention and curative treatments.

I want to be as concise as possible. I will put my questions to the minister on the Report on plans and priorities in relation to the estimates for 2004-05 at the same time that I will make my speech. I would therefore ask the three persons who are accompanying the minister to take notes, so that I can get answers to my questions. The answers that I will ask for will also be short.

Supporting persons with disabilities is a priority mentioned on page 21 of the document and, more specifically, better tax recognition of disability support expenses.

Does the minister intend to deal seriously with laryngectomees, who are treated unfairly as regards the tax deductions introduced last year? It is mentioned that if a person can have a conversation despite his handicap, he is not entitled to the tax deduction. Will the minister correct this nonsense by recognizing that laryngectomees are persons with a disability, and will he allow them to get this tax deduction?

Another priority of the government, which is mentioned on page 23 and again on page 32, is to impose, through the legislation and to regulate consumer and health products, in order to provide safer products to Canadians.

Will the minister take action, following the submission on a quick and profitable solution to save lives, on Bill C-260, an act to amend the Hazardous Products Act (fire-safe cigarettes)?

The minister has with him all the studies which prove that such fire-safe cigarettes can be produced and that they are functional and safe. Will the minister quickly reactivate the regulations tabled in April at the Standing Committee on Health, so as to allow these regulations to be tabled in the House and be adopted as quickly as possible to save lives?

The minister is signalling that I can slow down. Good. It is because I do not want to miss a question. Mr. Chair, what you asked me earlier made me nervous.

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9:40 p.m.

The Deputy Chair

I must be careful to be more exact, Madam. I have been told that tonight's rules are a bit different from last week's. That means there is no problem in you using your time any way you wish.

The only limit is that the minister or his representative will have the same amount of time to answer your question as you took in asking it. You need not be bound by 10 minutes for a speech and 5 minutes for questions. The rules agreed to by all parties are different from last week's. Please excuse me for causing stress. You may continue.

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9:40 p.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Bloc Laval, QC

Mr. Chair, in that case, with your leave, I will ask the minster to answer the questions I have already begun to ask.

My first question is about people who have had laryngectomies and are disadvantaged by the tax deductions introduced last year.

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9:40 p.m.

Liberal

Ujjal Dosanjh Liberal Vancouver South, BC

Mr. Chair, the question with respect to laryngectomy obviously is a fiscal one. I would be happy to take note of what the member has said and I would be happy to speak to the Minister of Finance and convey that concern.

The other question the hon. member was asking was with respect to, if I understood it correctly because the member was speaking very fast and the interpreter was speaking very fast and I did not catch all of the words, the ignition propensity of cigarettes.

I understand that our department, Health Canada, is working on regulations and will be proposing those regulations to the House very shortly. I think the department is ready with the regulation on cigarettes with ignition propensity.

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9:40 p.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Bloc Laval, QC

Mr. Chair, another of the government's priorities—still in terms of regulating consumer products, including cosmetics—is that it is imperative for the minister to table the draft regulations amending the cosmetics regulations. The process began on March 27, 2004, and is still not complete. It is important to act on this issue because many cases are been reported in the regulatory impact analysis statement by Health Canada on page 853 of the Canada Gazette Part 1. On that page we read that 50 cases per year of undesirable reactions to cosmetics are reported to Health Canada and that the cosmetics industry receives even more.

Does the minister intend to take every measure possible to protect Canadians from these risks and begin labelling ingredients in cosmetic products right away?

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9:40 p.m.

Liberal

Ujjal Dosanjh Liberal Vancouver South, BC

Mr. Chair, I read it somewhere that we are looking at regulating cosmetics so that there is labelling with respect to the ingredients, if I remember correctly. I remember having read that somewhere in the last four months, having read mounds of paper.

I understand that those amendments to the regulations are coming. I understand that the regulations are to be published some time before March 31, 2005. They are to be gazetted and then they will go through the process.

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9:45 p.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Bloc Laval, QC

Mr. Chair, I would like to raise one other point. On page 23 of the document it is stated that Health Canada will be applying smart regulations, while page 56 refers to supporting innovation.

In light of what I have read, will the minister be allowing his department to approve two products for laryngectomies, the Provox HME System from Atos Medical, and the Cyranose from Ceredas, particularly since there are studies that prove the safety and efficacy of these products that have already been submitted? Does the minster plan to make these products available and accessible through the federal or provincial health program?

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9:45 p.m.

Liberal

Ujjal Dosanjh Liberal Vancouver South, BC

Mr. Chair, it would be difficult for me to answer questions about approval of drugs, two different substances, without really talking to those who actually approve the drugs, or devices, if that is what the hon. member is talking about.

I would suggest to the hon. member that she remain in touch with my office. I would be happy to talk to her and tell her when we can expect to have that done.

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9:45 p.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Bloc Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, as my colleague from Hochelaga has said, we can see that the department is going to invest $30 million to renew the Canadian diabetes strategy for 2004-05.

But at the moment there is nothing allocated for 2005-06 and 2006-07. The minister is aware that diabetes costs $10 billion a year, and that juvenile diabetes has a huge impact on the health system, as it has to bear the astronomical costs of kidney and heart problems caused by this type of diabetes.

Juvenile diabetes is a serious problem, and one that will continue to worsen. Canada already had the highest number of people with type 1 diabetes. Numerous experts, I might point out, feel that juvenile diabetes is one of the chronic diseases most likely to find a cure.

The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation tells us that an investment of $25 million a year for five years would help find a cure. That said, will the minister provide stable funding, at least $25 million, for the next five years to beat juvenile diabetes?

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9:45 p.m.

Liberal

Ujjal Dosanjh Liberal Vancouver South, BC

Mr. Chair, as I answered questions from another hon. member with respect to the fiscal issues in the coming year, the budget is not with us. Any Minister of Health hopes that money is always there and we will see when the budget comes what actually happens.

I do want to tell the hon. member that I agree with all of her comments with respect to the causes and the consequences of diabetes, both juvenile diabetes and the other diabetes. I was at an event just last weekend in Vancouver. The Juvenile Diabetes Association had a huge fundraiser. I have not been to my family doctor for a long time and my blood was tested in full view of the cameras and luckily my sugar level was just fine.

The hon. member makes a very good point. We all have to make sure that we deal with the issues appropriately. Health care is a priority. As the member knows, in the investments we make in the aboriginal communities as well, out of the $700 million agreed to between the first ministers and the aboriginal leaders, there is a significant amount that would be part of the upstream investments in issues such as suicide prevention and diabetes.

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9:50 p.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Bloc Laval, QC

Mr. Chair, at this time I would like to ask the minister a question, because we also see on page 91 that there is no expenditure allotted for the Canadian biotechnology strategy, genomics based research for the year 2004-05, and only $4 million in 2005-06 and 2006-07.

Why does the minister not intend to invest in biotechnology this year in order to allow stem-cell research to continue its progress toward rapidly finding a therapeutic treatment for diabetes?

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9:50 p.m.

Liberal

Ujjal Dosanjh Liberal Vancouver South, BC

Mr. Chair, with respect to diabetes, if I omitted telling the hon. member, there is $28 million for research in diabetes in terms of funding from the CIHR, if that was the question the hon. member was asking.

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9:50 p.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Bloc Laval, QC

Mr. Chair, I would like to point out to the minister that my question was actually about stem cell research, genomics and genomics R and D, as well as biotechnology.

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9:50 p.m.

Liberal

Ujjal Dosanjh Liberal Vancouver South, BC

Mr. Chair, obviously I am no scientist and I cannot distinguish at this time between what particular part of the research money is going to what particular area.

I can say that there is $28 million from CIHR this year that is going into research on diabetes. I believe $5 million or $6 million of that is going into juvenile diabetes. Whether or not it is going to the specific issue raised by the hon. member, I am unable to say at this point.

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9:50 p.m.

Liberal

Bonnie Brown Liberal Oakville, ON

Mr. Chair, over the past few years the government has responded to calls for action on health through a series of important program commitments, and with the dollars to back them up.

With that in mind, I would like to check on one of those commitments from the 2002 Speech from the Throne: to speed up the regulatory approval of drugs. The reality is that there is a range of new pharmaceuticals and other therapeutic products being produced by researchers and companies in many countries. If we talk to people in the health sector, we learn that they are now using drugs to treat conditions that once required surgery or conditions for which there were no adequate treatments at all. That makes access to these new medications very important.

At the same time, common sense tells us that we need to take a good look at drugs before they come to market and afterwards too. We need to ensure that a new drug not only does what it purports to do but that it has no unexpected side effects or impacts, either on the people who take them in general or on specific groups.

On the issue of speedier review of these pharmaceuticals, may I ask the minister how this project is coming along?

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9:50 p.m.

Liberal

Ujjal Dosanjh Liberal Vancouver South, BC

Mr. Chair, we did invest I believe over $190 million some time ago in this process of attempting to deal with the backlog. I understand that 80% of the backlog has been dealt with. I also understand that this money was invested in 2003 for the next five years in the amount of $190 million.

We are hoping that the drug approval process is shortened, that it is as robust as before if not more so, but shortened so that drugs can be accessed more quickly by Canadians who need them. It is very important that we balance the issue of access with the issue of safety. That is why, if we cannot do it any faster than 300 days for a particular drug, I would seek to be forgiven, because we need to make sure that there is also the balance of safety on the other hand in terms of use by Canadians.

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9:55 p.m.

Liberal

Bonnie Brown Liberal Oakville, ON

Mr. Chair, I think most would agree that the progress Health Canada is making on improving the performance times in reviewing new drugs is laudatory. However, as the minister himself has pointed out, this is only one part of a safe pharmaceutical strategy.

As the minister knows, the Standing Committee on Health completed a report on prescription drugs. It recommended, for one thing, a public database to provide information on clinical trials in progress, trials abandoned and trials completed. We wanted to know about trials abandoned because that would give us an indication of which new drugs were having negative effects, so much so that the company cancels the trials.

Is Health Canada moving to set up a public database or registry of clinical trials which include these components of in progress, abandoned, and completed?

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9:55 p.m.

Liberal

Ujjal Dosanjh Liberal Vancouver South, BC

Mr. Chair, I understand that CIHR, which is our premier research institute that does funding of about $752 million per year for all kinds of research across the country, has announced that it would have a registry of all the clinical trials in the country that it funds or for anybody else that might want to register with it.

I said some time ago shortly after I became the Minister of Health that I believe in full disclosure by all drug companies with respect to the clinical trials they engage in. I want to know the good, the bad and the ugly of the clinical trials before and as those drugs are approved for use in Canada, because it is important that with the exception of commercial interests and some other confidentiality interests we provide full disclosure to Canadians. It is in the interests of Canadians that they know the good, the bad and the ugly of all the clinical trials in Canada. I am in favour of toughening up on this issue.

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9:55 p.m.

Liberal

Bonnie Brown Liberal Oakville, ON

Mr. Chair, I am glad the minister is committed to this.

I have some concerns about CIHR managing a database of projects it funds. It would seem to me that it might be loath to report that certain trials had been abandoned when in fact this would indicate that the public money it put into that project might not have been such a good idea. I would really rather have Health Canada carry on from an initial database started by CIHR to monitor the clinical trials in progress or abandoned or completed. I feel that would put an outside source other than the funder in charge of an analysis of the material.

The second thing that the Standing Committee on Health wanted to have included was increased post-market surveillance activities in responding to and making public reports of adverse drug reactions from consumers and health professionals. We have heard a certain amount of evidence about the lack of reporting on adverse drug reactions. It had been suggested in our committee that we might try to get this kind of activity online with a simpler form for health professionals to fill out and then we might get more action.

But today in the health committee we heard from the Canadian Medical Association that only 50% of physicians, its members in Canada, are online and have the facilities to communicate with Health Canada online, or with anybody else for that matter. That of course makes this goal a bit more difficult. However, there might be other ways to accomplish it. I wonder if the minister is planning any changes to the post-market surveillance area with respect to prescription drugs.