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House of Commons Hansard #145 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was price.

Topics

AgriculturePrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

Conservative

Garry Breitkreuz Conservative Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from Vegreville--Wainwright for raising an issue that is important to many agriculture producers in various parts of Canada, especially the Prairies.

The government has been very unresponsive to the problems that it created back in 1993. These problems may appear to affect a small group of people, but they are significant and affect the bottom line of farmers at a time when they are struggling against many other forces as well. The government always wants to deal with big programs and address huge problems, but here we have concerns by a large number of people who the government may regard as only 1% of the population, but it is a problem we must address.

I want to make a few comments about the previous speakers who have gone before and point out that what they are saying is factually incorrect. This is not a danger to human life and it is not a significant risk to the environment.

The government's own Pest Management Regulatory Agency has said that it is not a risk to the environment and it is not a significant risk to other birds of prey or other animals. If we look at this objectively, it in fact prevents pain and suffering for animals such as cattle and horses that break their legs stepping in gopher holes. The report also says it is not a risk to groundwater supplies.

I notice members make their speeches and then run out, but I hope they will read Hansard and some of the things that I will be saying in my speech.

Presently there are no alternatives. Other supplies that are being given and made available do not work and the government has not proposed any alternative. There is no viable alternative at the present time.

My colleague's Motion No. 253, for those who have been watching on television, says:

That, in the opinion of the House, the government should make available directly to farmers the 2% strychnine solution.

Let me give a little background, so people watching this will understand. Back in 1993, farmers were denied the use of liquid strychnine to control the growing population of gophers by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. It was decided that ready to use bait containing 0.4% strychnine would be the option available to farmers, and the reports indicate that it is totally ineffective and essentially too weak to do anything.

Gophers have become a plague in some areas, wreaking havoc on farmland and the environment. Many people have said they are concerned about the environment. Here we have something that is really having a very negative effect on the environment.

My colleague from Vegreville--Wainwright needs to be complimented because he has been working on this for quite some time and has not had an opportunity to have this voted upon. I am glad that we have this now and I am hoping members will read the record here, so that they will have their facts straight before they vote on this.

The damage that is done to crop, pasture and range land is in the neighbourhood of $200 million in some years. That is a very significant amount and it is a cost that farmers cannot afford. What they are asking is that the 2% liquid be allowed for use by them, that they can mix it themselves and not have to get it from Toronto or some other place. There is really no valid reason for the government to have removed this effective tool from farmers in the first place.

I want to now focus on the PMRA report. This is the government's regulatory agency. The summation of this report is that there is no good reason for not allowing farmers to use this particular solution to control pests that really have no other way of being controlled.

The PMRA, the Pest Management Regulatory Agency, which is a federal government agency, is responsible for registering pesticides. It stated that it had some concerns about the use of strychnine baits to control Richardson's ground squirrels, or gophers. However, a careful look at its evaluation document shows that these concerns are limited, specific, and can be easily managed by western farmers. That is the bottom line. Members should read the whole report.

There are several positive points that are made in this PMRA report. It includes:

Producers and the governments of Alberta and Saskatchewan consider Richardson’s ground squirrels to be the major mammalian pest impacting croplands, pastures and rangelands over the past several decades, for which the control option of choice has remained strychnine-treated food baits.

It goes on to say there is “the lack of practical alternatives at this time”, so “it is proposed that the use of strychnine to control ground squirrels be maintained for the short term”.

This report gives no reason for not returning to the 2% liquid strychnine for farmers to use except possibly in certain limited settings, such as areas where there are burrowing owls and the swift fox. Even in these areas, studies must be done quickly to determine whether the proper use of the 2% solution, or 0.4% when mixed with grain, has any negative impact on these endangered species. We are as determined as anybody to protect these endangered species and the environment.

One of the previous speakers said this was a risk to humans. This is not. If members read the report, it makes it clear this is not a risk to people. Neither is it a risk to other species of animals. Environmental assessment says there is no danger of movement in the soil. It will be persistent in the soil unless “specialized microbial populations are present”.

Somebody said previously that this was a risk to groundwater. It makes it absolutely clear in the report that it is not a risk in this area. The report says, “it is unlikely that aquatic organisms will be exposed to substantial quantities of strychnine”.

I wish I could go into more of the report, but I think members get the drift. A study in Saskatchewan, my home province, found three key things that I want to mention at this point.

First, freshly mixed bait is more effective than premixed bait. But only the premixed bait is being made available to farmers. This is a strong argument for a return to the 2% liquid which farmers themselves can mix.

Another point that the Saskatchewan report discusses is that there is a potential for non-target poisoning, but there was no actual evidence of this. Previous speakers have claimed that there is. There is not. If there is a limited non-target damage, is this acceptable? No. And if there is, it would possibly be with mice.

Any possible impact on scavengers was not determined. There was in fact, and listen carefully, no evidence of harm to birds of prey. Many people have made the claim that there is. There is not. The use of strychnine was deemed to be safe for use on northern pocket gophers, pigeons, skunks, et cetera.

There has been no attempt to measure the costs to farmers in terms of damage to crops, pastures and rangelands, and the high cost of purchasing the premix solution and of the labour costs of this ineffective premix.

I see no good reason for not supporting this motion. I think that we need to take a close look at this. This affects a significant number of people across the Prairies. Farmers are watching this debate today. They would like to be here themselves to tell the government how desperately they need this 2% liquid strychnine solution to control the gopher population.

The government has done nothing in the last 12 years. As a result, we as the Conservative Party and my colleague from Vegreville—Wainwright and farmers across Canada are trying to put pressure on the current government to do something. Until November 24, everyone who had lost crops and livestock, and suffered equipment and property damage can submit their briefs to the Pest Management Regulatory Agency here in Ottawa. They can get the address from my colleague. They should tell the government the damage that has been caused by gophers and the fact that they want to have this restriction removed from them.

I appreciate having the time to address this issue. I am hoping that people will have open minds on this and support my constituents.

AgriculturePrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Conservative

Dale Johnston Conservative Wetaskiwin, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to the motion of my colleague from Vegreville—Wainwright, the goal of which is to put a tool in the hands of farmers to combat this very destructive pest. This may not be the sort of issue that makes a lot of impact in downtown Ottawa or Toronto, but it is a very important issue for farmers.

The Richardson's ground squirrel, otherwise referred to on the Prairies as a gopher, does a lot of damage to farmers' crops and machinery and does so in many different ways. They are burrowing pests that dig holes in the earth, which could actually be construed as aeration of the soil, I suppose, but they put up big mounds of dirt behind the hole and they attract predators.

The main predator is the badger. The gopher makes a hole about the size of a drinking glass, just large enough for him to slip down into an enlarged borrow at the end of that where there is a very complex maze of tunnels. The badger comes along and digs out the gopher, because the badger is a meat eating animal and the gopher is his prey.

However, the badger digs a hole about the size of your head, Mr. Speaker, or maybe larger, and that is what really causes damage to machinery and livestock. When people ride their horses across their pastures in pursuit of cattle, for instance, and the horse steps in that hole, not only is it damaging to the horse, it is very perilous for the person who happens to be riding the horse.

One of the tools that farmers have traditionally used for decades and decades, with good results and with safety, is the 2% strychnine. Over the last few years we have been able to purchase a 0.4% strychnine premixed base. This comes in small pails, a 20 litre pail or a 10 litre pail, at a cost of $75 a pail, and there is only enough to use on a few acres.

Two of the biggest problems with the premixed strychnine are, number one, the solution is so weak that it is not all that effective, and number two, the grain is damp and sealed up, so if we do not have timely delivery of the stuff in the first place and the proper weather to put out the bait or if we are delayed in putting it out, it very rapidly moulds, making it worthless.

Then the farmer has a $75 per pail investment in a product that is, number one, useless and, number two, difficult to dispose of. Thus, it has to be disposed of properly and if the farmer tries to use it he gets very poor if not negligible results.

Some people who have talked about this have made it quite clear to me that they have no idea of what a gopher even is. They hear “squirrel”. It is not the red squirrel, which we have in western Canada. It is not the grey squirrel, which is common to most of the boreal forest across Canada. It is certainly not the big black squirrel that people see around the Parliament buildings here in Ottawa. These are just nice furry little friends that basically live in the trees. They do not do any harm. They do not do a whole lot of good. They are just there.

What we are talking about is a Richardson's ground squirrel. They are prolific breeders. They have two and three broods a year. If left unchecked, they can ruin a farmer's cropland. Their method of living is to graze off the grain as it comes out of the ground. Each family of gophers will clear off an area that is probably 40 by 40 feet square. They will completely graze that grain off when it is growing up. The reason they do this is that most of their predators come from the air, so they like to be able to see their predators coming. If they are in high grass, it is difficult to get away from their predators and they rely on their speed and the fact that they can go down into their burrow to get away from their predator.

Therefore, when the crop grows up, not only is there the danger to livestock of stepping in the holes made by the badgers that go down digging for the gophers, but there is a loss of crop and a loss of grade.

“Grade” means the quality of the grain that is harvested. There was a grade of oats years ago called “gopher oats”, because after a while the crop did get ahead of the gopher and it headed out way too late to be harvested. When it was harvested the crop had immature and green kernels of oats, so the grade went down the drain. Of course it reduces the yield.

That is the problem. What is the solution?

For years and years the solution has been to use strychnine. Every agricultural service board in the provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, in the areas affected by Richardson's ground squirrels, has been utilizing these poisons very reliably and very responsibly with good results for decades and decades.

This problem has resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue for the farmers who cannot really afford to lose any more money. The farm community is really struggling now with poor commodity prices and high input costs. Farmers do not need another blow like this that restricts their control of this rodent.

The other method, other than poisoning, was to trap them. Trapping gophers on a thousand acres of land is a formidable task. It is very time-consuming and very labour intensive. If we were to advocate in the House for trapping with leghold traps, there would be a hue and cry even from the speakers we have heard from today who have been opposing the bill. If they oppose the poison, they would certainly oppose using leghold traps. So not only is that ineffective, it is expensive and labour intensive and there would be great resistance to it from our urban friends.

The other method, of course, is to shoot them. The problem with that is that we never get rid of the problem. If even 1% of the gophers are left on the land, they will do what gophers do and that is reproduce. The more they are hunted and the more pressure put on them, the larger their litters are. Then we end up with more gophers, so we would not get the results that we need.

This is a tool that farmers need. The question that we have to ask ourselves is whether the House cares whether farmers need that tool or not. If members do care, then either we should give them this 2% solution strychnine so they can mix it with their own grain, putting it on a timetable so that it is going to be effective and do the job that it is intended to do, or else we should come up with an alternative.

Has anyone offered an alternative in the 12 years that the 2% solution has been outlawed? No. Nobody has come up with any alternatives. Besides that, no one has done any studies to see whether or not birds of prey and pets and other unintended animals get into the poison. No one has done any of those things. They have just made a lot of assumptions. What has been assumed is that it is poison, it has to be dangerous, and therefore it has to be bad.

What has been done is that this tool has been taken away from the farmers. We might just as well take away their fuel as do this. It is one of those things that farmers must have. Farming is a very complex business. It has become a very marginal business as well, so anything farmers can do to improve their bottom line is absolutely essential for the economy of the farm.

Why have there not been any proper studies done on this? The government has to answer that question. There have not been any proper studies and I want to know why. I am certain that my colleague from Vegreville—Wainwright would like to know as well why there have not been any studies on this. I commend him for having stuck with this issue since 1993. Basically he has been the lone voice crying out for a method to control this pest.

If this were a pest causing as much damage to Highway 401 in Toronto, for instance, there would be a solution to this by now. Somebody would have come up with a solution to make sure that the 401 was freed of such a pest if it were causing the same kind of havoc to that highway as the Richardson's ground squirrel is causing for the farmers that my colleague from Vegreville--Wainwright and I represent.

We look forward to the day when we can use 2% strychnine, mix it with our own grain, and create our own bait to get this job done.

AgriculturePrivate Members' Business

November 1st, 2005 / 6:20 p.m.

Conservative

David Anderson Conservative Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Mr. Speaker, we are here discussing gophers this afternoon. I noticed as my colleague from Wetaskiwin was speaking that you were listening intently, Mr. Speaker, and all the pages were paying attention to his informative and educational speech on gophers and what they are about.

I was a little concerned this afternoon, because I heard a couple of colleagues asking what we were doing talking about gophers and I overheard someone saying that just what he came here for was to talk about gophers. I need to remind the folks here of the old saying that all politics is local.

In this situation, I think that applies very strongly, because this is an important issue for a group of people: our farmers and our producers. Although some people may think it is a bit of a joke, I can assure them that it is not a joke for people facing this problem.

This government has really damaged farmers' ability to control these pests through a couple of different means, one of them being Bill C-68, which we are all familiar with. First, the government refuses to back off in its support of a gun registry that is costing Canadians billions of dollars and which in my part of the world is affecting farmers' ability to control these rodents. Second, the government has interfered with our ability to control them by interfering with the application of strychnine.

I have to compliment the member for Vegreville--Wainwright because he has been persistent in this fight to try to make sure that farmers have access to 2% strychnine. I know that it is not a new issue for him. I was here during the last Parliament and this was an issue for him then as well. He has been very persistent. In this Parliament alone he has brought two private members' bills forward, Bill C-377 and Bill C-381, both dealing with this issue. He has also brought this motion forward. My colleague should be commended for his strong work in this area.

I know that my time today will be brief, but I want to make sure, as my colleague from Yorkton--Melville did, that farmers once again are reminded of a call to action. There is an opportunity for them to influence the government's decision in this area. Until November 24, anyone who has been affected by this issue has the right to submit a brief to the government. They can send it to: Publications, Pest Management Regulatory Agency, Health Canada, 2720 Riverside Drive, Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 0K9.

It is essential that people participate in this process. The government needs to know that farmers are being affected by this so that it will take the issue seriously. Those submissions should outline things like the type of damage that has been caused by gophers and the estimated cost for farmers in a bad year. I know that the costs can be huge. We have had areas in my riding where these gophers have wiped out 50, 60 or 70 acres of crop just because there are so many of them in a small area. They can be a significant problem. In 2001 and 2002, they had a huge impact on certain areas in western Canada.

In their submissions, farmers need to talk about the effectiveness of the chemicals that are available to them now. The stuff that is 0.4% is just not working and I think is probably more of a danger to the environment than the stronger strychnine solution because it ends up just being left around. The gophers do not eat it. They are not using it up. Farmers need to talk about that.

Farmers also need to talk about the cost savings and the convenience to them of having the 2% liquid strychnine solution that they can mix with their own grain. I encourage as many as possible to send in their submissions.

We only have about four ways to control gophers. Poison is one and we are here talking about it today. We think we need an effective way of doing this. Some people have suggested that we trap the gophers. That might work in somebody's city yard, but it certainly will not work on a large scale. Trapping is barely enough to control gophers in a garden. Some people have tried different methods of fumigation. It has had limited effectiveness. As I mentioned, of course, shooting gophers is getting to be more difficult because of the restrictions this government has brought in. The government does not seem to mind inconveniencing farmers. It is a bit disturbing that the government would continue to make this a problem for them.

In conclusion, let me say that we should step forward and support this bill. The environmental issues certainly can be controlled. It is our obligation to do things to help out our farming community. In a tough situation and tough times, this is something we could do that would not cost the government a lot of money and would be very effective for our producers. It would be an important step forward.

I am eager to hear what my colleague from Vegreville--Wainwright has to say in conclusion on this matter. I ask members to support his motion.

AgriculturePrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

The member moving the motion has a five minute right of reply to conclude the debate.

AgriculturePrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Conservative

Leon Benoit Conservative Vegreville—Wainwright, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleagues for their thoughtful presentations on the issue.

I was somewhat disappointed that the Liberal member today gave a departmental speech. It really was not very helpful.

At least the Bloc member expressed some concern about the issue and went on to say that he thought there were some environmental concerns. He obviously had not read the report because it dealt with the possibility of environmental concerns.

Who shocked me was the member from the New Democratic Party. Obviously she does not understand farming and does not care about farmers. I thought she was going to propose that we put in place a program of live capture for gophers, give them counselling and then relocate them. That is where I thought her speech was heading, quite frankly. I do not think that would be too successful.

This problem has been in place since 1993 when the government at that time said that it had to get rid of this liquid strychnine. Under a motion passed in the House, I received all the documentation that was used by the government to make that decision. It was shocking. The information showed that the decision was based on virtually nothing. There were submissions by fewer than a dozen people in total. It should never have been removed. That was clear from the documentation we received.

Finally, the department has done a bit of a study. The problem is its study was based mostly on a larger study done by the environment department in the United States. The government took that information and tried to apply it to the Canadian situation.

Even with that, the report did say some positive things. The report said that the Richardson's ground squirrels are the major mammalian pest for crops. They are the most damaging pests for pastures, range lands and crop lands and that they do cause substantive damage. The report did say that. It went on to say, “there is a lack of practical alternatives at this time”. It will be retained for at least three years and will be reviewed at that time but in the premix form only, which is ineffective. The report did say that and it was somewhat helpful.

The report gave no reason for not returning the 2% solution of strychnine to farmers. It gave no reason at all for not returning it, except possibly this one issue. To be fair, I think this should be pointed out. There is a genuine concern regarding the swift fox and the burrowing owl. In those areas there may be a problem, although the report done by the PMRA in fact had no evidence that it is a problem.

I would suggest to be cautious in this regard where those endangered species are in place, but a study should be done to find out whether or not there is a problem. We will see as time goes on whether or not the PMRA bothers to do that study.

The study went on to say there is no danger to people. It went on to say that bystander exposure is considered to be minimal. The environmental assessment said that there is no danger of movement in the soil, that it will be persistent in the soil, which means it is not going to move anywhere. It went on to say as well that it is unlikely that aquatic organisms will be exposed to substantial levels of strychnine.

What the report did not say is something which I think farmers should put in their presentations to the PMRA. What it did not say is that shipping the mixed product is of some concern. Why ship a mixed product when securely closed little cans of the 2% liquid could be shipped and farmers could mix on their own? That is exactly what I am proposing.

Now is the time for farmers to get involved in this issue. If the PMRA gets enough pressure applied by farmers right now, before November 24 of this year, it may be able to have the 2% liquid solution of strychnine returned to farmers.

A point to be made is if farmers mix the 2% strychnine with their own grain, as they have safely done since 1928, they end up with a .4% solution that the premixed product actually provides. It really would not be doing anything different, except it would be doing it in a safer fashion where farmers mix their own and it would cost them a lot less money.

In summary, I want to encourage farmers to get involved. They have a real opportunity to get back the 2% liquid solution which is effective and which will save a lot of money. We should do it. Let us get on with this issue and save farmers up to $200 million a year.

AgriculturePrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

It being 6:30 p.m., the time provided for debate has expired.

Accordingly, the question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

AgriculturePrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

AgriculturePrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

AgriculturePrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

AgriculturePrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

AgriculturePrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

All those opposed will please say nay.

AgriculturePrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

AgriculturePrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And more than five members having risen:

AgriculturePrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

Pursuant to Standing Order 93, the division stands deferred until Wednesday, November 2, 2005, immediately before the time provided for private members' business.

Pursuant to order made Thursday, October 27, 2005, the House shall now resolve itself into committee of the whole to consider Government Business No. 20.

I do now leave the chair for the House to go into committee of the whole.

(House in committee of the whole on Government Business No. 20, Hon. Jean Augustine in the chair)

Cross-Border Drug SalesGovernment Orders

6:30 p.m.

Hamilton East—Stoney Creek Ontario

Liberal

Tony Valeri LiberalLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

moved:

That this committee take note of the sale of cross-border Internet drugs.

Cross-Border Drug SalesGovernment Orders

6:30 p.m.

Vancouver South B.C.

Liberal

Ujjal Dosanjh LiberalMinister of Health

Madam Chair, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to this very important issue.

The cross-border sale of pharmaceutical drugs is an issue of paramount importance to myself as Minister of Health and indeed to all Canadians.

With a series of initiatives now under development, Canada has an opportunity to address a practice that could threaten our access to a safe and secure supply of life-saving pharmaceuticals.

The initiatives will put Canada ahead of the curve where we are acting, not reacting, to serious challenges that we are facing. Canadians should expect no less particularly on such an important issue.

Cross-border drug sales are not an entirely new phenomenon. For a long, long time, American seniors have routinely visited Canada to purchase particular drugs, such as those related to arthritis. The Internet has greatly facilitated this practice. Americans living far from the border for a personal visit can now simply submit a prescription online. With a Canadian doctor co-signing the prescription, a pharmacy up here will dispense and ship the drugs to the patient. The process is both painless and popular. The sales figures reflect this reality. In 2002 cross-border drug sales were worth about $7 million a month. By 2004 that number had soared to almost nine times that amount.

The phenomenon is driven by a number of factors. The cost of drugs, however, is the paramount variable. Our Patented Medicine Prices Review Board sets the maximum allowable price for brand name drugs in Canada. No such limits are imposed in the U.S. Consequently, our drugs are on average 40% cheaper than they are in the United States. For American patients with chronic conditions, finding a Canadian supplier for their medicine is often well worth the effort.

We cannot allow a situation where Canadians will be deprived of life-saving heart medicines or indeed any other kind of drug we might need even on short notice. For example, with the prospect of a viral influenza pandemic hovering on the horizon, we need to protect our domestic supply of vaccines and anti-viral medications.

I do not want to suggest that Canadian drug suppliers are incapable of meeting the needs of individual Americans who may wish to buy one or the other type of medicine. We have, of course, world class manufacturing capabilities in Canada, but an important development is taking shape in the United States and we need to be vigilant to ensure that the health of Canadians is not jeopardized.

The U.S. Congress is considering several bills to permit the bulk purchase of Canadian drugs for distribution in the United States. Under those circumstances it is entirely conceivable that they might order up vast amounts of a particular medicine, quickly depleting the supply in Canada.

The Government of Canada recognized some time ago that Canadian interests were at risk through the cross-border sale of drugs. Either in the event of a catastrophic health event, like a pandemic flu outbreak or whenever bulk drug purchases are legalized in the United States, it was clear to us that we need a strategy to protect Canadians' access to a secure supply of much needed medicines.

As much as we support international trade and want to do what we can to help other nations meet their needs for safe and affordable medications, the primary responsibility of the Government of Canada is to protect the health and safety of Canadians. Therefore, last summer we unveiled our cross-border drug sales strategy. The strategy has three principal elements.

First, it would establish a national pharmaceutical drugs network to give Canadians a more complete real time overview of our drug supply. By linking manufacturers, wholesalers, distributors, pharmacies and others, the network would allow us to gauge quickly and reliably the actual supply of any medicines at any given time. That way, if a sudden or unexpectedly large demand arose, we would know if Canada could meet it in whole or in part.

The second element involves export controls. In the event that our domestic supply of an essential drug was dangerously low, we would have the authority to preserve the supply for Canadian patients.

The third piece of the strategy speaks to the process involved in dispensing drugs. Under our proposed policy, prescriptions can only be signed by a medical practitioner who actually sees and treats the patient in question.

From a health and safety standpoint, it is self-evident that physicians should not be prescribing potent medications to somebody they have never so much as met. This is of concern to me as Minister of Health, and it is entirely unethical, in my view. Various regulatory bodies in Canada share this opinion. Simply put, this practice needs to be addressed.

These, in broad strokes, are the components of our proposed strategy to safeguard Canadian interests at a time of increasing cross-border drug sales. Because Canadians have such a direct stake in this matter, we want to hear from them. We have reached out to ensure the various opinions on this issue are heard.

On October 6, we launched public consultations soliciting consumer and patient feedback on our proposed strategy. We also have conducted extensive consultations with stakeholders, including the provinces and territories, health practitioners, pharmacists, the pharmaceutical industry, distributors and exporters. We are looking for an endorsement of our three key principles as well as input on how these principles ought to be implemented so as to fully protect Canadian access to a safe, secure and affordable supply of lifesaving drugs.

The issue of cross-border drug sales in person, over the Internet or through bulk export is of pressing importance to all Canadians. On the surface, it may appear like an economic issue or perhaps a matter of international trade. But it is, first and foremost, about health, the right of every Canadian to a secure and uninterrupted supply of affordable medicines, medicines that could save their lives either during an outbreak of a dangerous pathogen or simply for the daily management of a chronic condition.

We created the PMPRB so Canadians could access prescription drugs at reasonable prices. This mechanism was not intended to regulate or oversee Canadian drugs sold outside of the country. We must act now to safeguard that all important access.

In that context, I have said before that Canada cannot be a drugstore for the United States of America. That is why we intend to implement a comprehensive strategy that will furnish us with the information and tools. We need to act swiftly and decisively in the best interest of Canadians.

I will be tabling the legislation on this issue by the end of November. I encourage all Canadians to get involved in this process, to participate in public consultations and to speak up in favour of this very important initiative. I believe this is the right thing to do and I welcome and invite my colleagues to support this initiative.

Cross-Border Drug SalesGovernment Orders

6:40 p.m.

Conservative

Steven Fletcher Conservative Charleswood—St. James, MB

Madam Chair, a motion was passed by the health committee to have the health committee study this issue and a commitment to have that wish followed through.

The minister has made many misstatements in his comments. Cross-border drug trade is decreasing due to the appreciation of the Canadian dollar and the fact that many of these pharmacies are moving offshore. This industry has grown under the Liberal government's mandate. It is ironic then that, as the industry is in a decline, the Liberals have decided to take action.

The other comment I would make is in regard to co-signing our prescriptions. Due to Canada's geography there are many examples of where physicians do not actually meet the patient. What about nurse practitioners? Is the government going to go after them? What about people in remote communities?

Furthermore, is the minister saying that a doctor from the Mayo Clinic is not qualified to prescribe prescriptions? There are many unintended consequences that may result from this and it is very disappointing that the minister is going to take action without proper deliberation.

Cross-Border Drug SalesGovernment Orders

6:40 p.m.

Liberal

Ujjal Dosanjh Liberal Vancouver South, BC

Madam Chair, I must confess I find it very difficult to discern the hon. member's position from time to time on this issue. He has changed his position innumerable times. It would be very difficult for me to document that now, but I would be happy to go through Hansard and provide examples to the hon. member.

I believe it is incumbent upon us as government to act in as speedy a fashion as possible to ensure that the issue of bulk exports is dealt with right away.

Cross-Border Drug SalesGovernment Orders

6:40 p.m.

Conservative

Steven Fletcher Conservative Charleswood—St. James, MB

Why don't you respect?

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6:40 p.m.

Liberal

Ujjal Dosanjh Liberal Vancouver South, BC

I know the hon. member is trying to heckle me. I welcome the heckling, but I would be happy to respond to all the concerns he has raised.

Let me deal with one issue at a time. He raised the issue of the sales levelling off. The fact is that sales in the last three or four years have multiplied many times. The last figures I checked several month ago, sales were about $1 billion a year through the Internet. I am concerned at this time about that issue, but more important, I am concerned about the issue of bulk exports.

There are several bills currently before the United States Congress and there is a very good likelihood of one of those bills being passed. When I visited Washington D.C. several months ago, Senator Vitter from Louisiana told us very clearly that it was their intent to ensure that our pricing regime, which provides affordable drugs to Canadians, was targeted. They want to dismantle and demolish that pricing regime.

Therefore, it is important for us to act. We have consulted on these issues. I understand from the hon. members present here that the committee has been engaged in some other adventures in terms of determining other issues while it could have been utilizing its time more appropriately, perhaps dealing with this issue on its own.

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6:45 p.m.

West Nova Nova Scotia

Liberal

Robert Thibault LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Madam Chair, could the minister explain to the opposition health critic the fact that a bill presented in the House, prior to it becoming law, goes to the committee, which can study the bill? It generally is not very restricted in the elements that it studies outside the bill.

Also, the minister alluded to the fact that it has been on the intense list of the health committee for a long time. At every committee, quite often at the instigation of the member opposite, we deal with a whole bunch of motions and things that are sometimes brought there for political intent. We spend a lot of time on that rather doing the work of the committee. Work like this would be important.

The minister perhaps could consider what the health critic would find objectionable and he could take advantage of that and consult Canadians about it. Is it the question of having a drug supply network, knowing exactly the state of our pharmaceuticals in our country? Is it the fact of restricting the export of drugs when it would be hazardous to human health in Canada? Is it the fact of having proper links or established relationships between physicians and patients prior to prescribing them potentially dangerous drugs?

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6:45 p.m.

Liberal

Ujjal Dosanjh Liberal Vancouver South, BC

Madam Chair, I welcome the intervention by the hon. parliamentary secretary. Our intent is to ensure that we are able to have a continuing secure and affordable supply of drugs for Canadians. One way to deal with that is to deal with the issue of bulk exports and to create a supply network to monitor the drugs available at any particular time or the quantity available in the market so we are able to act expeditiously to deal with these issues.

On the issue of prescriptions on the Internet, there are issues around Telehealth. We know that within Canada nurse practitioners are engaged in their practice under the supervision of a doctor. That is an appropriate connection to have for these kinds of processes.

The hon. member knows well that the medical practice in Canada is intensely supervised and monitored by the regulating bodies in the country. They deal with unethical practices. One of the reasons they have not been able to deal with the practices of pharmacists or doctors who supply drugs on the Internet to U.S. residents is because it is cost prohibitive to even begin to gather the evidence to deal with those issues.

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6:50 p.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Bloc Laval, QC

Madam Chair, I hope the minister does not consider all of the questions from the Standing Committee on Health to be without importance. I can assure hon.members that the matters we debate in the Standing Committee on Health are generally very important, for the health of the women of Quebec and of the women of Canada.

I hope that the minister will agree to take as many precautions on the matter we are addressing at present, Internet drug sales, as he will on the reintroduction of silicone gel breast implants.

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6:50 p.m.

Liberal

Ujjal Dosanjh Liberal Vancouver South, BC

Madam Chair, the implant issue is being dealt with by the committee. I also understand that a panel has been dealing with it. The health regulator, which is independent of the minister, would make that decision based on the evidence before that regulator, and the panel's recommendations would be taken into account.

I understand from the way the process works that the regulator, Health Canada, which is independent in the process of either approving or not approving breast implants, can take into account the opinion of the panel but is not bound by that opinion. Let me respond in that fashion.

On the other issue, I know we in Health Canada are eager to share as much information as we can with the committee under the circumstances on those issues. I always take my critic's questions, advice and suggestions very seriously.

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6:50 p.m.

Conservative

Dave Batters Conservative Palliser, SK

Madam Chair, the minister talked about the pressing need to ensure access to medications for Canadians, and I could not agree more. It is crucial that we protect the drug supply for Canadians for all different types of ailments.

However about a year ago the minister gave a speech at Harvard in which he said that it was essential that something be done to safeguard the Canadian drug supply and he talked about the importance of banning bulk exports.

It is almost a year later and the government has done absolutely nothing to date to protect our drug supply and to ensure that the drugs will be there for Canadians. The issue recently reached great importance with the avian flu and all the attention with regard to Tamiflu.

My colleague, the member for Yellowhead, put forward a motion that was supported by this House to ban bulk exports. Given the importance that he places on this issue, why has it taken the minister so long to bring forward legislation? I understand the minister will be tabling legislation late in November but after almost a year why has it taken so long to ban bulk exports?