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House of Commons Hansard #56 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was foreign.

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The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-24, an act to amend the Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts (fiscal equalization payments to the provinces and funding to the territories) be read the third time and passed.

Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

Before continuing our deliberations, I would like to briefly revisit something that occurred earlier today. The question on the motion at third reading of Bill C-24, an act to amend the Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts (fiscal equalization payments to the provinces and funding to the territories) was put. There was some confusion at that time.

In order to clarify the situation, after discussion among the parties, I wish to inform the House that the division on that motion now stands deferred until after government orders on Tuesday, February 15, 2005.

I thank hon. members for their cooperation in this matter.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-32, an act to amend the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Department of Foreign Affairs ActGovernment Orders

February 14th, 2005 / 4:55 p.m.

Pickering—Scarborough East Ontario

Liberal

Dan McTeague LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Speaker, this is quite interesting. Members of this party are ready to get all worked up over international issues as they relate to airlines and the aeronautic industry. They really want us to support this industry. I can understand clearly why they want to lump this in with foreign affairs issues.

I have just one question for the hon. member, since my colleague wants to ask a question too.

Since our government includes 15 departments that have an international involvement or presence, should I infer from the remarks she just made that all these departments should be consolidated into a single department?

Am I crazy about this? It does not make sense. What the hon. member is now proposing is that any department that has anything to do with international relations or foreign affairs should now become part of foreign affairs.

The policy she is advocating here makes no sense. Either she wants the foreign affairs department to keep its non-trade mandates, or she wants all our departments to be consolidated into one because they have something to do with foreign affairs. She cannot have it both ways.

Department of Foreign Affairs ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Bloc

Francine Lalonde Bloc La Pointe-de-l'Île, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will not say that this is the dialogue of the deaf, it would still be too much.

What I said was that there needs to be coordination. The closest coordination must include this foreign policy, which involves a relationship with the other countries and closely encompasses trade issues, international aid and human rights and even immigration, if possible. I say “if possible“ because as soon as we go to another country, all the policies we adopt regarding visas, quotas etc. are automatically thrown at us.

My colleague pointed out the fact that I had been, with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, on the Middle East visit. I would remind him that this is not the first mission in which I was involved. However, I had the opportunity to see that in this Minister of Foreign Affairs' mission, the most important meeting was within a meeting of the Canada-Israel Chamber of Commerce. It was the Minister of Foreign Affairs. He went to talk about trade because it was a good way to meet people.

During these missions, I often had the opportunity to see that, when the Prime Minister, the Minister of Foreign Affairs or perhaps the Minister of National Defence meet people in another country, they meet business people. They necessarily talk about trade as well. It is important for policies to be understood and coordinated. This is only what I am saying.

I would hope that, despite his firm denials, my colleague opposite will understand and report these statements. When we go on a mission, we deal with these aspects as a whole. It is impossible not to deal with them. If we do so, these aspects must be coordinated. When we think about the future and the treaties that are being negotiated, from NAFTA to FTAA, through a social fund, a foreign affairs aspect and an international trade, an international aid and a development aspect are always connected.

When we, the committee members, analyze the bills or the studies that we undertake to guide the foreign policy, we must take these aspects into account to make recommendations on human rights, international trade and so on. Let us take the example of the study on the relations between Canada and countries of the Muslim world, a study that was greatly appreciated. When we examined the issue, we studied all aspects of it and we made recommendations on each. Indeed, a way to help countries is to trade with them. However, we do not trade under any conditions. One of these crucial conditions is implementing human rights.

In short, foreign affairs is all the relations that we have with governments of foreign countries.

Department of Foreign Affairs ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Bloc

Marc Boulianne Bloc Mégantic—L'Érable, QC

Allow me first, Mr. Speaker, to congratulate the member for La Pointe-de-l'Île. Her expertise is important. Her work is valued and we are quite fortunate to have a person like her. A while ago, we heard the member opposite talking nonsense. If he were the only person we could rely on to develop a foreign policy, we would have problems.

I would like to raise an important point. The member spoke of it. This has to do with human rights. For her, protecting rights is something major, especially in the context of international trade and of foreign policy. Indeed, she mentioned it several times. She also said—and it is important—that her knowledge of this file helps not only Quebec, but also Canada. We need people like her to advocate points of view. She also talked of priorities and of slippage, as well.

I want to come back to human rights. In the current context—I would like to hear her opinion on that—will human rights be protected? Will we have the necessary tools for it? Is there a force to protect human rights?

Department of Foreign Affairs ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Bloc

Francine Lalonde Bloc La Pointe-de-l'Île, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague raises an excellent question. Indeed, international trade is a way to work for respect for human rights. When a country which purports to have values, can say to another that would like to establish closer relations with it that there undoubtedly will be trade, but that it should pay attention to this and that issue in terms of human rights, it clearly demonstrates that these elements are linked.

I thank my brilliant colleague for his brilliant question.

Department of Foreign Affairs ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

Is the House ready for the question?

Department of Foreign Affairs ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

Department of Foreign Affairs ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

The vote is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Department of Foreign Affairs ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Department of Foreign Affairs ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Department of Foreign Affairs ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

All those in favour will please say yea.

Department of Foreign Affairs ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Department of Foreign Affairs ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

All those opposed will please say nay.

Department of Foreign Affairs ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Department of Foreign Affairs ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And more that five members having risen:

Department of Foreign Affairs ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

Call in the members. And the bells having stopped :

Department of Foreign Affairs ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

I have been requested by the chief government whip to defer the division until Tuesday, February 15, after government orders.

The House resumed from December 14, 2004, consideration of the motion that Bill C-28, an act to amend the Food and Drugs Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Food and Drugs ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have a few minutes to address the contents of Bill C-28 and to raise some concerns that we in the New Democratic Party have with respect to the bill and the general approach of the government.

The Liberals in the House would have us believe that the bill is a very small technical matter that would simply clarify matters with respect to interim marketing authorizations and in dealing with the very specific issue of authority for those authorizations.

It is our view that the bill may represent a step in the direction of further deregulation in the vital area of protecting Canadians from any hazards in our food products.

Some may say that is a bit of a leap and may wonder why we are raising concerns in the context of the bill. The House may be interested to know that the government has been working overtime to dismantle, erode and get rid of the Food and Drugs Act.

How many times have we dealt with issues pertaining to the Food and Drugs Act? How many times have we been faced with decisions by the government that seek to move us in a very questionable area pertaining to the health and protection of Canadians? That is the issue at hand today.

There is a fundamental issue. What is the plan of the government? How does the bill fit in terms of the overall strategy of Liberals to dismantle what used to be considered a very reputable and solid health protection system.

Food and Drugs ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Alexa McDonough NDP Halifax, NS

An exemplary system.

Food and Drugs ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North, MB

An exemplary system, as my colleague from Halifax has just stated.

However over the period of the life of the Liberal government, we have seen dramatic changes and significant movement with respect to the original solid foundation upon which our health protection system was built.

Time and time again we have seen the government take steps to off-load responsibility for the fundamental authority it has under the Food and Drugs Act to protect, beyond a reasonable doubt, the safety of our food. We have seen the integrity of scientists questioned at every stage when they have raised doubts and concerns about the scientific surveillance of food and drugs on the market today.

We have watched as the government has dismantled every office of oversight that is so vital to the broad requirements to ensure the precautionary principle, which is to ensure that the food we eat, the water we drink, the air we breath and the drugs we must take for our health requirements are safe beyond a reasonable doubt. It is not the other way around, which is to allow industry to put products on the market and then for the consumer to prove there is something wrong. However that seems to be the prevailing thinking of the government these days.

This is not something recent. This has been happening on a very insidious basis over many years. I think back to the first day I was elected to this chamber and named the health critic for the New Democratic Party. The very first announcement we had to deal with was a decision by the then minister of health, Allan Rock, to dismantle the drug research laboratory.

In 1997 the Liberals made the decision to shut down the one office in Health Canada that had responsibility for ongoing research into drugs that had been placed on the market, to check the side effects and any kinds of adverse reactions when that drug was taken with food, with another drug or with a natural health product. It was gone in one fell swoop. The bureau was shut down and oversight ended.

Food and Drugs ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Alexa McDonough NDP Halifax, NS

The drug companies could do it.

Food and Drugs ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North, MB

Yes, as my colleague from Halifax has said so aptly, the government argued at the time that the drug companies could monitor the drugs themselves.

Even more ridiculous was the suggestion that the universities could do it, even though they were not given any resources to do the task. That was all just a charade. In the end, no one took up the job of the bureau that was closed down in 1997. Since that time, we have had a steady onslaught of other developments that have put us on a path of destruction of our health protection system.

Let us look at the developments around the food research laboratory and the treatment of some of the scientists who raised concerns in that area. Let us look at the veterinarian drug research bureau and the abuse scientists took when they raised concerns. At every step, whenever concerns were raised about the safety of any of these products, rather than accepting that advice and further investigating the problem, the government got rid of the scientists and shut them down.

I am sure members will remember Shiv Chopra and Margaret Hayden, two outspoken scientists. What happened to them? The government got rid of them because they were a thorn in its side. Whenever there are obstacles put in front of a government that is determined to off-load responsibility and move toward to a self-regulating model on the part of the industry, it gets rids of the obstacles, the problems and the barriers.

Scientists have been threatened and intimidated. Some have been fired and demoted. There has been a steadfast erosion of the essential ingredients of a good health protection system.

What we want to know today is why we are not hearing from the government and receiving legislation about its statutory obligations under the Food and Drugs Act to protect the health and well-being of Canadians beyond a reasonable doubt. Why are we not hearing about its statutory duty to protect health and not to protect the industry?

Why are we dealing with a bill that appears to give power to the minister, which he did not have previously, to give interim market authorizations for products that contain hazards that are believed not to be harmful to human health? What does that mean? Why does the minister need this kind of power? Why has that power been removed from the normal workings of the department's responsibility, which is to uphold the Food and Drugs Act?

Why are we moving this power from the bureaucratic level, the level of public service scrutiny, to the minister and political oversight? What does that mean? What is the real agenda here? Does it give the government more power to intervene when lobbied and pressured to approve a certain product? Does it take us a step away from objective, scientific surveillance of our food supply? Those are important questions that need to be addressed in the context of the bill.

It is certainly one of the reasons why we in the New Democratic Party are very cautious about giving our support to the bill. At this point we will refrain from supporting it and will be looking for some explanation and accountability over these issues when the bill goes to committee. However, at this point, it would be very foolish for us to support such a bill given the track record of the government and given some of the speculation about the real motives behind it.

If the minister, through the bill, has the power to exempt certain hazards in our food supply from regulation, who does that serve? What is the purpose? Will it help enhance the health of pregnant women? Will it be good for children? From my vantage point, it seems that this kind of move, along with all the others we have seen over the years, means it is something that is only good for agri-business, the chemical industry and the giant food industry. It does not seem to be a move that would help ensure Canadians are further protected from hazardous pesticides and other additives in our food supply and products.

When we opened the paper today, we saw news about another example of problems with our food supply. Surely that would give us all cause to pause and reflect upon the intentions behind Bill C-28 and the interest of the government to take a proactive stance on behalf of Canadians.

My colleague from Elmwood—Transcona raised a question about today's news. It is scary for Canadians, for pregnant woman or women who are breastfeeding their children to hear that basic products we consume every day, such as salmon, ground beef, cheese and butter, are laced with chemical flame-retardants. The fact these filter into the food supply that goes from mother to baby is surely something the government would want to address and act on decisively and immediately.

However, what did we hear from Minister of Health today? It is being studied. They are looking into it. They cannot comment. How many times have we heard that over the last 10 years when the government has been confronted with issue after issue of food toxicity and of hazardous ingredients in our food supply? The list is quite endless.

I can think about dozens of times I stood in the House to ask the health minister about a particular study showing further damaging ingredients in the food supply. I can remember raising the issue of lead in raisins, mercury in fish and honey, contaminated lettuce, recalled hot dogs, imported raspberries, pressure-treated wood, side effects of Propulsid, brain tissue transplants, Carbadox, the reuse of medical devices, adverse drug reactions, Dursban pesticide, phthalates in plastics and when chewed on by babies causes serious problems in development, chronic wasting disease, BSE, GMOs, et cetera. The list is endless.

Every time there has been evidence of serious adverse effects on human health because of one of these products being digested or ingested by human beings is showing a direct link to ill health and serious health problems, the government has said that it will study it. It never comes back and says that it has studied it and fixed the problem, or that it has banned the product, or that it has taken it off the market or has phased it out. It studies and studies but does not nothing about these kinds of issues. That is a symptom of what has happened with the government in terms of the Food and Drugs Act and specifically in terms of the health protection responsibilities of the department.

The government has a criminal responsibility under the Food and Drugs Act to ensure that the food we eat is safe beyond a reasonable doubt. It is legislation that falls under the Criminal Code. It is legislation that requires the government to take it seriously and to act judiciously.

We are very skeptical about the bill and are concerned about the real intentions of the government. We would like some explanation as to why the bill is necessary at this time. We would like to know the long term plans of the government. For many months the government has said that it plans to overhaul the Food and Drugs Act. It has said that we are dealing with antiquated legislation and that it needs to be updated and modernize. Every time we see draft legislation in that regard, we realize this is not about updating old legislation. It is about using that as the excuse to change the very nature of government regulations and government responsibilities in the area of human health and well-being.

Every step of the way the government has found a way and is intent upon finding a way to diminish its responsibilities, to offload them wherever it can and to ensure that it is not held responsible for any wrongdoing or serious problem in our society today pertaining to our food supply. Perhaps that comes from the hepatitis C fiasco. Perhaps the blood scandal and the Krever inquiry have made the government aware of its responsibilities. Perhaps it has chosen to go in the opposite direction of the recommendation of Krever, which is for government to recognize that there is a fundamental role for it. It has a major responsibility to ensure that the food we eat is safe beyond a reasonable doubt.

When there is evidence of an adverse reaction, or of toxicity, or of contaminants, or hurting the health of a baby, or certain foods being adjusted that affect pregnant women, it is the role of government to put on hold the sale of that product or to ban it if the evidence is conclusive. To do nothing is to be negligent, some would say criminally negligent given the Food and Drugs Act. I will use the words negligent and derogation of duty. The Food and Drugs Act is so specific and clear about government's responsibility and roles.

We could argue for weeks on end about what the appropriate role of government is in this modern age, this new era of globalization and rapid technological change. Some will argue that the least government is the best government. However, many of us in the House and across Canada still believe that there is a clear role for government in many areas, none more important than when it comes to human health. We on this side of the House cannot accept any legislation that contributes to an agenda where the role of government in this vital area is diminished and where the authority is passed along the line to industry and individuals to be aware, without much information about what they are eating, drinking and the dangers to their health and well-being.

That is our position today. We are very concerned about Bill C-28 and the overall intentions of the government to carry out its responsibilities for protecting the health of Canadians. We are anxiously awaiting some explanation for the government's actions in the days ahead as the bill proceeds to committee and beyond.