House of Commons Hansard #51 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was trade.


Business of Supply

11 a.m.

The Speaker

Pursuant to Standing Order 81(14), it is my duty to inform the House of the motion to be considered tomorrow during the consideration of the business of supply.

That the House acknowledge the inadequacy of the assistance plan for the clothing and textile industries which was announced by the federal government following the closure of six plants in Huntingdon, and that it ask the government to further elaborate with regard to the following elements: the use of safeguards provided for in trade agreements, the implementation of measures to encourage the use of Quebec--and Canadian-made textiles and the creation of a program to assist older workers.

This motion, standing in the name of the hon. member for Joliette, is votable. Copies of the motion are available at the Table.

It being 11:05 a.m. the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

The House resumed from November 24, 2004, consideration of the motion that Bill C-206, an act to amend the Food and Drugs Act (warning labels regarding the consumption of alcohol), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.


Gary Carr Liberal Halton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Mississauga South for his work on this bill. If folks take a look at today's Globe and Mail , they will see a fine article dealing with this particular bill. It talks about how the member began the process.

I will be supporting the bill and I encourage other members to support the bill. It is good legislation. I want to say clearly that other jurisdictions have taken a look at this issue and are dealing with it. I believe we should be taking a clear look at it.

Let us look at the statistics: 45% of motor vehicle collisions are a result of alcohol related incidents; 30% of fires are a result of alcohol related incidents; 50% of family violence is related to alcohol; and 40% of falls are caused by alcohol, as well as 50% of the hospital admittances dealing with falls.

Ontario looked at this and passed a bill called Sandy's law, which deals with this particular situation. As a result of the new law, alcoholic beverages now have labels warning about fetal alcohol syndrome.

The member has put together a report on fetal alcohol syndrome. The statistics are very clear. Fetal alcohol syndrome causes permanent damage to the fetus. I encourage members to read the bill and decide for themselves on this issue.

Cigarette packages contain warning labels on the problems related to cigarettes. We are all aware of the problems dealing with drinking and driving. This will warn of those dangers as well.

I will talk a bit about fetal alcohol syndrome because it is a particular area on which many of us are not too aware. I must admit as somebody who had been involved in the provincial government for about 13 years I was not aware of all the problems of fetal alcohol syndrome. I guess it came to light when MPP Ernie Parsons' bill, which is called Sandy's law, passed in Ontario with the unanimous consent of all Ontario members. It highlights and warns people of the dangers of fetal alcohol syndrome.

As I mentioned, I think a lot of people are not aware of the particular concerns of fetal alcohol syndrome. Most people who are coming to understand it, understand it is a truly preventable disease. If we in this Parliament can do anything to highlight that particular concern, and if we can ensure that even one, two, three or a few people become aware of it and prevent this dreaded disease it will be extremely good work that we do in this Parliament.

We know that when somebody is pregnant, the alcohol goes right into the baby at that particular time. However the problem is that a lot of people who do not know they are pregnant will continue drinking during that period of time. These warning labels that would be put on alcohol as a result of the bill, would warn people who are trying to become pregnant of the danger.

I was particularly struck by one letter, which was quoted in Hansard , from a woman whose son had been born with fetal alcohol syndrome. She did not even know she was pregnant at the time. Many people who are trying to get pregnant do not realize the danger. This bill would warn people of the dangers. I think we all understand that one should not be drinking when one is pregnant

We hope to encourage people to talk about this issue in a way similar to what has happened with drinking and driving. Many years back, drinking and driving was not as taboo as it is today. That has changed. The reason it has changed is the public education program that now makes it totally unacceptable to drink and drive.

While we still have a long way to go in that regard, I think all members in the House would support stronger measures to ensure that we take measures against drinking and driving. We still have a long way to go, but we have come a long way, the reason being the education done during that particular process to educate people about it. I believe this bill would do that.

The bill calls for labels to warn of the risks associated with the misuse of alcohol. Specifically it calls for health warnings on containers for alcohol beverages to caution expectant mothers and others of the risk. It should be noted that beverage alcohol is the only consumer product that can harm individuals and does not provide a warning label.

I think the education process can begin. As we know, and it was outlined in this particular Globe and Mail report, this member has worked extremely hard. In past Parliaments he has had 95% support. I forget what the exact number was, but I believe it was somewhere in the neighbourhood of 211, which works out to 95%. We have come so close on so many occasions. I am hopeful that in this minority Parliament all sides will come together, because this is a non-partisan issue. This is not a particular issue like those we sometimes have in the House; I honestly and truly believe this is something that can be supported by all sides.

The U.S. has warning labels. I noticed that in the article today the feeling was expressed by some people associated with the alcohol manufacturing groups that there would not be enough room on the labels. Clearly in the U.S. that is not the case. There are warning labels. The very fine picture that we see of the member in today's Globe and Mail also shows the warning labels.

There are those who say it will not work, but I believe that the education process will work, particularly when it comes to fetal alcohol syndrome, which is not very well known. I believe that putting this warning on labels will in fact cause a lot of people to take a look at this particular problem we are facing. It is a serious problem, as we can see when we look at the human tragedy on top of the social tragedy and the health tragedy which accompany it.

My friend from Mississauga South has done a great deal of work. As was stated in Hansard , he has the agreement of the Canadian Medical Association on this issue. He has the agreement of and support from the Canadian Nurses Association as well as the Addiction Research Foundation. All of them support the labelling proposed in this bill. I believe those groups are 100% correct in their support. We should be supporting these fine groups and the work they do. If we as a Parliament can pass this legislation, I think it will be good.

I want to say up front that alcohol is a legal product. A lot of us on occasion will drink responsibly, but that is what this labelling is about. It is about drinking responsibly. It is about ensuring that warning labels are there. I am also particularly concerned about the education of our young people. As we know, we spend a great deal of money on this. I was in the Ontario government when we spent a great deal of time on how to warn our young people about the ills of cigarette smoking. It did not always work, but we attempted to educate people.

I say to all members of the House that this is a good piece of legislation. It is something that can be supported. We can prevent human tragedy if we pass this bill. I would encourage members from all sides of the House to do that. In closing, I want to thank the hon. member for Mississauga South for his patience and dedication. This is a truly a good and worthwhile bill and I am pleased to support it. I look forward to the debate.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.


Dean Allison Conservative Niagara West—Glanbrook, ON

Mr. Speaker, before I begin my remarks, I want to mention that I have been talking about the bill with the member for Niagara Falls. We are not splitting time because there is not enough time, but we have consulted on bringing forward this thought process. Not discounting the serious nature of the bill, which is the reduction of impaired driving and the health risks associated with too much alcohol consumption, I ask the House to consider whether labelling is the most effective way to address this issue.

I am pleased to comment on the proposal requiring warning labels on alcoholic beverages. In general terms I am always supportive of measures that allow Canadians to make fully informed choices regarding their health. Product labelling certainly seems to fall under that philosophy.

Best intentions are obviously behind the bill, but I think we have to resist the easy choice of simply implementing what seems to be an innocuous measure to inform consumers of potential health and safety risks. On the surface the bill proposes what seems to be a straightforward item. Individuals may be tempted to support the legislation without looking at ramifications for the future and what this bill assumes about the average Canadian consumer.

Let us be realistic. Are there really millions of Canadians who are not aware that drinking alcohol impairs their ability to drive or operate machinery? I have yet to hear of a drunk driving defence claiming that a charged driver should be cleared because he was not aware that drinking alcohol is dangerous for driving. Are there millions of pregnant women who do not know that they should avoid alcohol for the sake of the developing baby?

To put it bluntly, I find the bill unnecessary and condescending. In many ways it is typical of a Liberal nanny state where the government believes that the public is not capable of personal responsibility without the benefit of government guidance. What is next? Should we put warning labels on buildings and other tall structures like hills and mountains telling people they would be harmed if they jump off them? How about labels on candies and chocolate bars: “Overconsumption combined with a lack of exercise may cause obesity”. How about bathtubs? “Breathing in contents of full tub may cause choking and/or drowning”.

The fact is, Canadians know the dangers of alcohol misuse. Warning labels will do nothing to enhance the awareness. Where is the science-based evidence that warning labels work? The U.S. has studied the effectiveness of warning labels due to an explicit evaluation requirement in the 1989 alcohol labelling act. The last follow-up data for the evaluation was collected in 1995.

The U.S. warning label reads as follows:

Government Warning: (1) According to the Surgeon General, women should not drink alcoholic beverages during pregnancy because of the risk of birth defects. (2) Consumption of alcoholic beverages impairs your ability to drive a car or operate machinery and may cause health problems.

The findings from U.S. studies show that the implementation of warning labels in the U.S. did not reduce the incidence of fetal alcohol syndrome. Perceptions of the risks associated with drinking mentioned on the labels, i.e. drinking while pregnant, drinking and driving et cetera, were high before the introduction of the labels. That did not change significantly after their introduction.

These findings suggest that warning labels by themselves are not particularly effective in increasing the perception of specific risks associated with drinking. Studies published four years after implementation of the warning labels did not show significant behavioural changes attributable to the warning labels, especially among heavy drinkers. Most disturbing was that the number of women in the U.S. who reported drinking while pregnant actually increased between 1989 and 1993.

These findings suggest that over the short term or medium term alcohol warning labels are not effective at changing problematic drinking behaviours.

There is also a lack of testing of existing labels in Canada. Warning labels have been in place in the Northwest Territories and the Yukon for several years now. Over that time, the incidence of alcohol abuse has not decreased and we are not aware of any studies that have been undertaken to prove the efficiency of the labels.

In the province of Ontario, as my colleague on the other side of the floor mentioned, there was Bill 43, more commonly known as Sandy's law, which was passed in 2004. The regulations were proclaimed just this month.

As of February 1, licensed restaurants and bars, LCBO stores, beer stores, beverage alcohol manufacturers' stores and licensed brew-on-premise facilities will be required to post a fetal alcohol syndrome warning sign in a prominent location where it can be seen by all patrons. In my opinion, that is the better way to do this. Is it not better to post the warning at the place where one is able to purchase alcohol? The effectiveness of these existing warning signs should be tested before proceeding with another type of warning.

Another problem is that warning labels are a blanket approach and do not directly target the most affected populations. According to a 2004 Canadian addiction survey released on November 23 by the Canadian Executive Council on Addictions, or CECA, Health Canada and the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, over 85% of the population either drinks responsibly or abstains from alcohol, so once again, we are looking at targeting a very small minority of the population.

This legislation would direct limited resources to a vast majority of the drinking public that does not require the education and/or the assistance. Among those Canadians who consumed alcohol during the past year, it is estimated that 17%, or 13.6% of the entire population, are defined as high risk drinkers. I submit to the House that this is probably where our education dollars should go: toward these high risk groups.

When the problem is examined from a gender based perspective, the data is particularly revealing. The proportion of women identified as high risk drinkers is only 8.9%, whereas the figures for men are nearly triple that at 25.1%.

A more effective response to labelling would be to target these high risk groups, such as youth and mothers-to-be, with education and awareness programs. We certainly do not have any problem with that at all.

Warning labels will cost the beverage producers time and money and this is where I have some concerns for my constituents. The member for Niagara Falls and I represent a large number of wineries run by small business people who quite frankly depend very largely on being able to sell their product. They are not opposed to having labels in prominent positions, but certainly the issue of labelling right on the bottles is a concern. It is a concern not only from a cost point of view, but also from an image branding of the product. Suddenly having to revise all existing labels, if they have to replace them on all bottles, is going to be expensive and it is going to be a problem.

If someone can show me some concrete proof, which is not the kind of proof that former prime minister Jean Chrétien talked about in the context of a proof is a proof, that this measure would actually do something to prevent health and safety dangers, I would support it without hesitation. Labelling is an attractive measure for government. It does not require any effort or thought by the government, but it gives the appearance that the government has acted. That is a cop-out.

We can all vote in support of warning labels and pat ourselves on the back for doing something, but unfortunately the labels will not result in a reduction of traffic accidents due to alcohol or fewer babies born with fetal alcohol syndrome. We know that programs like RIDE are effective in decreasing impaired driving. If we want to have a further impact on decreasing alcohol abuse, we need to put further resources into enforcing underage drinking laws and impaired driving laws and into targeting education campaigns at high risk groups. Further financial support for medical and behavioural research would also be money well spent because it would allow us to focus our efforts where they would be most effective.

I suspect that some members will support the vote on the bill because they do not want to have their opposition misinterpreted as being against health and safety, but I will be voting against the bill for two reasons. It is ineffective and it misleads the public into believing the government is taking some sort of action. I hope that those who feel the same way will not hesitate to make their position known through their vote.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

11:25 a.m.


Nicole Demers Bloc Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, as chair of the Standing Committee on Health, I am extremely pleased to speak today on this bill introduced by our colleague, the member for Mississauga South. This bill has already been introduced twice before, in 1995 and 1999.

It is often said that prevention must be promoted in health care, and I think the present initiative is based on this theory. Naturally, the Bloc Québécois supports this bill, which informs and puts the focus on prevention.

Alcohol consumption during pregnancy can have side effects such as miscarriages, intrauterine growth retardation or fetal alcohol syndrome.

Preventing fetal alcohol syndrome, FAS, is essential, because, as we know, alcohol consumption during pregnancy can cause fetal abnormalities, the most obvious of which are low birth weight and distinct facial features. However, these are not the most serious. The neurological consequences of FAS are much more serious handicaps, and include damage to the central nervous system, intellectual impairment and developmental delay, poor cognitive skills, attention deficit disorder, learning disabilities, language deficits and poor motor skills.

Fetal alcohol syndrome is considered one of the principal causes of congenital abnormalities and developmental delay in Canada. It is estimated that more than 350 infants in Canada are born with this syndrome every year. With the current decline in birthrate, we have even more of an obligation to ensure that the few children who are born have every possible opportunity to grow up physically and mentally healthy.

Let us not forget that today's babies are tomorrow's leaders. We also need to keep in mind the health and other costs this syndrome generates. It is estimated that the additional costs for health, education and social services alone over a lifetime in the case of this syndrome total $1.4 million. That is a great deal when we realize that the already astronomical costs of our health system are growing yearly as the population ages, as certain health problems increase in frequency, and as research makes it possible to find treatment or cures for these problems. Research, however, is extremely costly. So when $1.4 million is spent on problems that can be prevented, I think we need to pay attention.

Quebec has the highest number of women reporting having consumed alcohol during pregnancy. A study carried out in 1997-98 and 2000-01 as part of a report on the fetal alcohol syndrome in Quebec, indicated that one woman in four in Quebec did so, as did one in ten in Canada.

We all have a social responsibility as citizens and an even greater one as representatives of our fellow citizens, to make the choices required to protect people's health and to raise their awareness of what is bad for their health.

I feel obliged to object to my colleague's statement that it is not up to us to interfere with people's health and well-being. It is not a matter of interfering with their health but of raising their awareness of unhealthy practices. It is a matter of informing them, not deciding for them what is good or bad for them. It is a matter of providing them with the information they need to reach their own decisions. That is what this bill is all about.

A human life is priceless. Naturally, we cannot state with certainty that this means will be 100% effective, as the brewers' lobbyists have pointed out. Nevertheless, a descriptive label indicating the dangers of alcohol consumption would reinforce the advertising and educational activities already being carried out by the various intervenors concerned about this plague.

The breweries tell us that labelling will not be effective; that only action by groups and help lines, in which they say they are investing great deal of money, will make a difference. When they talk about investments, community assistance and preventive measures, I would like to know what their financial involvement is in the most seriously affected communities, especially among the Native people, where the fetal alcohol syndrome is most prevalent.

We must not forget the damage caused when young drivers use alcohol. Under its influence, they are four to five times more likely to have an accident, perhaps even a fatal accident, given their inexperience.

As critic for the family, I consider both prevention and the education of young people very important. This social responsibility I am speaking of is already in effect in the Northwest Territories and Yukon. Part of the liquor board's website is entirely devoted to this and explains that the warning labels have been in use in that province since 1992.

Of course it is difficult to determine whether it has a positive effect, since women whose pregnancies are at risk because of alcohol abuse have left the province. They are taken away from the Northwest Territories and sent elsewhere to give birth. Therefore, there are no data on the rate of fetal alcohol syndrome births in the Northwest Territories and the Yukon to support the fact that the new law has had an impact.

The province even printed warnings on bags with a message for each season on drunk driving and drinking during pregnancy. These are not unlike the warnings on medication and cigarette packaging. It was not easy to introduce such warnings, but this type of information has helped people change their consumption habits.

It is our responsibility to ensure that people know the impact of these habits, especially when the lasting effects are so serious. We know full well that we cannot stop people from drinking or smoking, but we can make them aware of the risks to their health and we can make them think about it. It thus becomes a matter of prevention over healing and it is a step in the right direction in reducing health costs.

It is highly important for such legislation to be passed by all parliamentarians to show how important we consider health and, especially, our duty to inform the public.

In conclusion, I want to add that all members of the Bloc Québécois are always there to defend the interests of their constituents regardless of the origin of a bill. That is why we support our colleague in this matter. I encourage all hon. members in this House to do the same because this will be an excellent informational and preventive tool.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.


Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I too am rising to support the bill. It is a sad commentary though that we are debating this issue once again. We previously approved a motion, with overwhelming support from the House. What we are seeing is a lack of action. We need to urge the government to do something with the bill, and hopefully it will pass.

I quote from a previous health committee meeting on April 26, 2001, where the former health minister said:

In connection with this, I want to draw attention to the motion adopted by the House of Commons only the other day, which was presented by my colleague [from Winnipeg North]. Her initiative, supported as it was by [the member for Mississauga South] and members of our own party, has focused attention again through another means on this challenge of FAS/FAE. I want to assure the committee—and particularly my friend, the member for Winnipeg North—we shall follow through with a sense of urgency on this issue.

If a sense of urgency means that three years later we still have no action on labelling, I am concerned about the government's definition of what is urgent.

Since 2001, if the estimates are correct, on average 3,000 children a year have been born with FAS-FAE. What does this do to our overall society and our health care costs? We continue to not take action on this initiative, which has been well identified and well supported by a number of people in the country, including medical associations and other organizations that work with children and women. We are dealing with one of the most preventable birth defects in our society, yet we are continuing to drag our heels. That it is a shameful statement on our commitment to our children. One has to ask why we have been unable to move forward on this.

Warning labels are not a panacea in and of themselves. Warning labels are simply part of a larger and overall strategy to educate and raise the level of awareness of the impacts of FAS-FAE. People who are going to drink anyway will not leave the bottle on the shelf just because of a label. However, what we have seen with other education and awareness campaigns is it broadens the level of awareness in society as a whole, so it does put peer pressure on people. The drinkers themselves may not look at the label but perhaps their friends will, and they will encourage them not to take that drink.

It is important that we also look at this in an overall education and awareness strategy. I know money is being committed right now to FAS-FAE. In fact, in my community a active FAS society is working very hard with the public in terms of education and awareness. One pub owner in my riding of Nanaimo--Cowichan has voluntarily put labels on all alcohol sold through the Cold Beer and Wine Store. This very progressive and forward-thinking pub owner should be commended for being concerned about alcohol and unborn children.

Yes, there has been a labelling campaign, which is interesting to me, although my colleague from across the House talked about the study of the U.S. labelling campaign from 1989, indicating that there was no demonstrable impact. I would argue that sometimes those numbers can tell us whatever they want to tell us. If a country like the U.S. could go ahead and label alcohol, since 1989 I might add, without any noticeable decrease in the industry, I would argue that Canada could do the same thing.

We have a number of tools at hand to increase education awareness around alcohol consumption, and labelling is an important part of that. Consumers should be made aware of the possible impacts of their behaviour through things like labelling. It certainly has been done in the tobacco industry for a number of years. It just seems reasonable that we follow through and have the same kind of initiative in the alcohol industry as well.

This is a very important initiative that could go a long way to continuing to raise the level of awareness, and we would like to see it included in a continuing overall education and awareness strategy about the impact of alcohol on unborn children. I would urge all members of the House to support this very critical and important initiative, and then I would urge the government to actually implement it.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.


Werner Schmidt Conservative Kelowna, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to address the House in terms of an experience that I had shortly after I moved into the Kelowna area of British Columbia.

Within three months of moving into the area, a serious accident occurred involving a gentleman under the influence of alcohol. He drove his car through a red light on a main highway and killed a beautiful young lady who was a college student and doing exceptionally good work. She was a bright young lady and beautiful to behold. She had tremendous marks during her second year in university and it seemed like she had a major professional career before her.

She was killed by someone who had consumed alcohol in an irresponsible manner. The man who drank that excessive amount of alcohol knew the effects of alcohol. He had been told about them many times. In fact, he had been incarcerated from time to time because he had been drinking while driving and doing other things he should not have been doing. He knew what the difficulties were. I am quite sure labelling would not have made any difference to this man.

I want to refer to another case. Driving in a traffic circle and on her way home, a teacher was hit broadside by a person under the influence of alcohol. She is now in a wheelchair. She had a successful career and was an excellent counsellor. Both teachers and students went to her for advice. Even though she has a physical disability now, caused by someone who used alcohol irresponsibly, she is still an effective person.

My wife was a kindergarten teacher who has since retired. She saw the evidence of fetal alcohol syndrome many times. She was sad about the fact that young women would consume alcohol while they were bearing a child.

One could argue that there is absolutely nothing good about the fact that alcohol is being consumed in the world. That is not the issue however. The issue is the excessiveness and the irresponsible use of alcohol by certain individuals.

All of the speakers so far this morning have not referred at all to the other part of this issue which is the health benefit of drinking wine. Science has documented very clearly that responsible and moderate consumption of wine, particularly red wine, has significant health benefits, including decreasing bad cholesterol, raising good cholesterol, and contains anti-oxidant cancer fighting properties.

If we were to label wine bottles in the same way as we label other alcoholic beverages, and there is no distinction made in Bill C-206, then we should tell the world as well that there are some benefits in drinking certain kinds of alcoholic beverages. Moderate and responsible consumption of wine has been linked with helping to guard against coronary heart disease and prostate cancer.

I must presume that the premise of the bill is to educate the public. If that is the case, then I suggest that labelling would not be the best educative tool that we could find in the world. There are many ways to educate young people and adults. There are many ways to appeal to the responsibility of adults.

The other day I was in the presence of a group of young people in a pub. Some of them were consuming too much alcohol, but they had identified one of their group to be the designated driver. They knew they were going to be driven by a person who was not under the influence of alcohol. These young people would have been judged impaired, but they were going to be the passengers in the vehicle, not the ones driving.

We need to educate our young people. I was so proud the other day of a group of young ladies, some of whom were pregnant, and they would not touch one drop of liquor. They were very responsible. They knew exactly what the implications were. None of those people needed to have a label on a bottle and here we are making absolutely no distinction between one kind of consumption and another kind of consumption, as if it is all bad.

It is the universality of this, almost as if any rule could affect absolutely every situation. This is illogical. It does not square with the facts and there is no truth to the matter that doing this would in fact decrease the consumption of alcohol.

I want to refer back again to the American experience in this regard. In 1989, the following label was put on alcoholic beverage bottles:

Government Warning: (1) According to the Surgeon General, women should not drink alcoholic beverages during pregnancy because of the risks of birth defects. (2) Consumption of alcoholic beverages impairs your ability to drive a car or operate machinery and may cause health problems.

I agree. There is no difficulty with that at all. I have a tremendous aversion to the excessive consumption of alcohol.

However, to suggest that this is going to prevent drinking is a very long stretch because here is what happened. Between the years 1989 and 1993, the number of women who reported drinking while pregnant in the United States increased. Four years of experience looked at this and did the labelling do anything to solve the problem? It did not. Therefore, why do we not focus on educating young people and ensure that they understand what the implications are? We can do anything we want with the knowledge that is around this.

The person who invented dynamite never, ever understood that it was going to be used to destroy other people. But we have that knowledge. We can do with that knowledge what we will. We can do good with it or we can do bad with it. We can misuse it and be bad or we can use it for benefit. Look at what dynamite has done. It has done tremendously good things in our society. It has helped construction everywhere.

Therefore, let us not take one rule and simplify it in such a way that suddenly it is going to solve all our health problems, that we will solve the excessive and irresponsible use of alcohol and that it will be done by labelling a bottle to say that this could cause trouble. It will not work.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.


Alan Tonks Liberal York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate and thank the member for Mississauga South for his dedication in trying to reduce the irresponsible use of alcohol. I would also like to compliment him. It would not be an understatement to say that he is a great parliamentarian. He works very hard on these issues in attempting to bring his case on behalf of the issue to all members of the House.

A great deal has been said about research and statistics. We are absolutely unanimous in the House that people should not drink and drive, that women should not drink during pregnancy, and that the irresponsible and prolonged use of alcohol can harm health.

However, public awareness of these facts, according to research, has already shown that 99% of Canadians are aware that drinking can impact their ability to drive a vehicle. It has been very clear and poll results show that 96% of Canadians and 98% of women of childbearing age know that consuming alcohol during pregnancy increases the likelihood of birth defects in fetuses.

Is the approach to continue to have markings on bottles or whatever to remind people of the truth that they know? Today people drive irresponsibly, not because they do not know there are risks, but because they either do not care or they are unable to help themselves on their own. Who are we targeting and what is the best method to do that?

On drinking and driving, Canada has made major progress in the past three decades, as has been pointed out, in reducing the incidence of drinking and driving. These gains have been made through the joint efforts of government, police, interest groups and the beer, wine and spirits industries, not through measures such as warning labels, but through serious and seriously funded intervention programs. We should not digress or be diverted away from the cause and effect of what has been a problem, the quantifying of that problem, and the balanced reaction to it.

The biggest remaining problems related to drinking and driving are the hard core drinking drivers. These people drive while drunk, fully aware that they should not, and often with blood alcohol levels 200% or 300% above the legal limit. That is the extent of irresponsibility. How do we couple that with a very focused program to deal with it?

With respect to the fetal alcohol syndrome disorder, it is interesting to look at the kinds of programs that have been jointly funded with public and private sector initiatives. The mother risk program at the Sick Kids Hospital provides a toll-free information line with financial support from Canadian brewers where callers can turn for information on alcohol and substance use during pregnancy. Since 1999 mother risk has provided information to more than 28,000 callers.

Health Canada partners with the industry to support the fetal alcohol syndrome information centre, which was developed by the Canadian centre on substance abuse. The centre provides information on FAS and FAE, gives people access to directories for FAS-related organizations and inventories of prevention and education programs.

Further, Health Canada has also worked with these partners in the past to develop programs like the alcohol risk assessment and intervention program. The program, which was put together by the College of Family Physicians of Canada, provides doctors with the tools they need to intervene at an early state with those likely to have a problem with alcohol abuse.

These are examples of interventions which quite frankly are more focused and understandable and are in keeping with the nature of this human behaviour oriented problem. These are the things which, when applied, research showed worked.

It is my belief, and I heard this in the words of many members from both sides, that we want to seriously engage the public in this issue. We must ask ourselves seriously, do we do that when we put a cloud over a whole industry in which the research has said the intervention programs are working? There is a risk that we would divert attention away from the essential issue that is before the public and which we want our public to embrace.

I am not going to say that this would be window dressing; that would trivialize a very serious issue. It might give us the happy feeling that we are doing something to show to the public that we are doing something serious about the issue, when in fact we are doing quite the opposite. We are giving the impression that this very serious issue can be answered with simple solutions. Taken in its total context, I think the public expects more from us in terms of dealing with this issue.

There have been joint ventures and joint initiatives taken with the brewing industry and the wine industry that have seriously engaged this issue. They have been very successful.

I would hope the message that comes from the House is that we are not interested in appearances, the appearance that we think we have a very serious issue and the appearance that, eureka, we have the answer to it. We must deal with the total context of its seriousness and develop a joint program with the private sector interests. We must deal with it with the seriousness and the effectiveness that we know to be true.

I say that with great respect to the member who has put forward the bill. I believe that is his objective. We have to ask ourselves whether this is the approach that we want to embark upon, or whether there are better ways that we can make serious inroads on this issue.

I believe that the kinds of programs and working with industry in the manner that I have outlined is the way we should go. Therefore, I personally will not be supporting the bill.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.


David Kilgour Liberal Edmonton—Beaumont, AB

Mr. Speaker, with great respect to what my colleague just said, the member for Mississauga South has written a book on the subject of fetal alcohol syndrome. He put an enormous amount of work into researching the matter for the book. It is an extremely important matter to an awful lot of people in this country. If he has put forward this bill in good faith thinking it would be part of the solution, with great respect to the hon. member from Toronto, to simply say we should not do anything until we have the perfect solution, which seems to be what he is suggesting, is not fair to the member's bill.

A lot of members this morning have said how the bill will be part of reducing the terrible toll of fetal alcohol syndrome. I would urge members to vote for this measure.

I was on a plane the other day with a professional pollster who told me that those horrible photographs on cigarette packages actually do work. There are 18 different photos. I do not know whether anyone knew that. She told me that some of the photos are much more effective than others; some work with certain groups and some work with other groups.

It is pretty clear whom we have to reach with these announcements or photos. If we could save one mother from doing something that would cause her to have a child with this terrible disability, I think it would be worth doing.

As part of the solution, I salute the member for Mississauga South for bringing forward this issue. I congratulate other colleagues in the House who have spoken favourably to it.

A colleague from the Conservative Party said that we should put warning labels on bathtubs, if I heard him correctly, because bathtubs can cause accidents. I confess that as a lawyer I have heard a lot of ridiculous arguments in the courts over the years, but I have never heard one quite that bad.

I hope colleagues will consider voting for the bill as being a step in the right direction.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

Etobicoke North Ontario


Roy Cullen LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-206, an act to amend the Food and Drugs Act (warning labels regarding the consumption of alcohol). I too would like to congratulate the hon. member for Mississauga South for all the work he has done on this issue over years. I know how passionate he is about the issue. I congratulate him on bringing this issue before the House of Commons.

I know what he has been going through. I strove for a number of years to get my private member's bill into the House. I know he certainly has the best of intentions. However, I will not be supporting the bill.

There are two large breweries in my riding, Labatt and Molson. I have worked with the brewers for many years. I am told on some pretty good authority that these warning labels will not be effective. They have shown not to be effective in the United States. They have had no appreciable impact on the amount of drinking that goes on when women are pregnant, or when people are operating machinery or driving.

Surveys done in Canada have shown that some 96% of Canadians are aware of the relationship that exists between excessive alcohol consumption and birth defects. Among women of child bearing age the level of awareness is even higher. It moves to 98%. When it comes to drinking and driving, the researchers do not even track that any more because a full 99% of respondents in the early 1990s recognized that drinking alcohol impaired a person's ability to drive a car.

Those are important statistics. While we all agree that irresponsible drinking is something we should not be supporting, the brewing industry in Canada has been working on a lot of very important and effective programs with respect to the responsible use of alcohol, and beer in particular. In fact the industry is very proactive in discouraging people from the irresponsible consumption of alcoholic products, especially beer.

The brewers have also done a lot of work on the effects of fetal alcohol syndrome, fetal alcohol effect. As my colleague from Weston pointed out they have been supporting mother risk. There is a toll free line which helps women understand the importance of the linkage between drinking and pregnancy.

With respect to the comments by my colleague from Alberta, there is a natural tendency to say that if it works for cigarettes, it should work for beer, spirits and wine. The problem is that if one has a few cigarettes probably no one would argue that it is good for one's health; whereas if one drinks responsibly, a couple of beers a week, in fact it is good for one's health. It is the abusive drinkers who are the problem. We are not going to get rid of abusive drinkers by putting labels on bottles. What about draft beer? What about beer that comes in bulk, in taverns, et cetera?

Respectfully, I will not be supporting the bill.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business



Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, clearly it is important to address some of the concerns that have come to the attention of members. I am hoping this matter will go to committee where the concerns can be addressed fully by our colleagues in the Standing Committee on Health.

I want to reiterate some of my concerns. Maybe a few of the statistics might help to grab the attention the members.

Over 19,000 deaths each year: 45% of them motor vehicle collisions, 30% of fires, 30% of suicides, 60% of homicides, 50% of family violence, 65% of snowmobile collisions, one in six family breakdowns, 30% of drownings, 5% of birth defects, 65% of child abuse, 40% of falls causing injury, 50% of hospital emergencies and over $15 billion of additional cost to our health care system are all due to the misuse of beverage alcohol.

Beverage alcohol is the only consumer product that can harm us if misused that does not warn us about that effect.

Why does the beverage alcohol industry have this insulation from public education messaging?

This morning in the newspaper the beverage alcohol industry basically said, “There is not enough room on our bottles. There is already too much information”. What it did not say is that for every package, can and bottle of beverage alcohol that it exports to the United States it already puts a health warning label on it to conform with the U.S. law, which has been in place since 1989. The argument, therefore, that there is no room is nonsense. In fact, the beverage alcohol industry would save money by not having to have two different labels. it could have the same label for both countries and in fact save on different packaging.

Fifty per cent of the inmates in the jails of Canada suffer from fetal alcohol syndrome or other alcohol related birth defects. Thirty percent to 40% of women admit to consuming alcohol during pregnancy. Maternal consumption of alcohol is the leading known cause of birth defects and mental retardation in Canada. Fifty per cent of pregnancies are unplanned. The most vulnerable period of a fetus to alcohol is between days 15 and 22. Most women do not even know they are pregnant at that time.

The messaging that has been put out by Health Canada, by NGOs and by the beverage alcohol industry is wrong. People cannot wait until they know they are pregnant. They need to know that if pregnancy is possible and they are in their birthing years, then they should abstain from alcohol. It eliminates the risk to the unborn child.

A number of members have somehow suggested that this might not be effective, that it might not eradicate FAS. If we have to wait for solutions that are 100% guaranteed to eliminate the problem, we would never have legislation in Canada. Let us be realistic. It is important to understand that in itself warning labels are a part of a comprehensive public education program to make sure Canadians are aware of the risks to unborn children and also to others as they do their work.

The last time this bill was before the House we had the support of all of the provincial and territorial ministers of health, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the national Crime Prevention Council, the Canadian Medical Association, the Canadian Nurses Association, the Canadian Police Association, the Canadian Fire Chiefs Association and dozens of NGOs.

Regardless of the outcome of the voice vote here, I want to have a unanimous vote to take it to a recorded division. I am asking five members to stand so that tomorrow night we will have a vote on this to gauge the full support, or opposition, to this bill so that when it goes to committee we know exactly where the bill stands.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

12:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

It being 12:07 p.m., the time provided for debate has now expired. The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

12:05 p.m.

Some hon. members


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12:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

The motion is adopted.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

12:05 p.m.

Some hon. members


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12:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

I asked if it was the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion and all the ones who answered said yes.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

12:05 p.m.


Charlie Penson Conservative Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, what I heard was that you called for yeas but you did not call for nays.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

12:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

I am sorry to tell you that the question was “Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?” Let us start over again seeing that it seems that I've been misunderstood.

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

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

12:05 p.m.

Some hon. members


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12:05 p.m.

Some hon. members


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12:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

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

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12:05 p.m.

Some hon. members


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12:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

All those opposed to the motion will please say nay.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

12:05 p.m.

Some hon. members


Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

12:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And more than five members having risen: