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House of Commons Hansard #85 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was health.

Topics

Privilege

April 19th, 2005 / 10 a.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Bloc Rivière-Du-Loup—Montmagny, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to respond to the question of privilege raised by the hon. member for Gatineau on Friday, April 15.

During the debate on the Bloc Québécois motion on April 14, 2005, when I was expressing my concern over the fact that sponsorship money may have been used for election campaign purposes, it seemed as though I was directing my comments at the hon. member for Gatineau. That was not my intention.

I withdraw any comments that may have offended her and offer my apologies.

Privilege

10:05 a.m.

The Speaker

I thank the hon. member.

Canada's International PolicyRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Papineau Québec

Liberal

Pierre Pettigrew LiberalMinister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 32(2), I have the honour to table, in both official languages, Canada's International Policy Statement—A Role of Pride and Influence in the World.

Government Response to PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Beauséjour New Brunswick

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to table today, in both official languages, the government's response to four petitions.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Steckle Liberal Huron—Bruce, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am proud to present on behalf of the committee, in both official languages, the third report of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food entitled “From a Management Crisis to Becoming Better Crisis Managers: The 2004 Avian Influenza Outbreak in British Columbia”.

I might just add that this outbreak was a first in Canada, a great learning curve, not only for the industry but for all stakeholders, including the CFIA. I believe the exercise that was undertaken in Abbotsford was a worthwhile one, not only serving government but serving the primary producers in this case, and of getting to the bottom of this issue. The recommendations contained in this report speak very well to the kinds of things we heard on our visit there.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Anita Neville Liberal Winnipeg South Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present today, in both official languages, the second report of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women.

I am pleased to advise the House that the committee began a series of consultations with organizations to prioritize the issues that were most important to Canadians. These groups told the committee that many programs and policies over the past decade have had a negative impact on women.

The committee had a broad consultation with government officials and with members of the Treasury Board and the Privy Council Office, and we found that the federal government departments differ significantly in their ability to do gender based analysis.

The committee proposes that it is time to implement a new way of conducting the business of policy making in this House, a new way which gives increased attention to gender differences so that all Canadians benefit equally from legislation, policies and programs.

In its report, the committee outlines a comprehensive approach to ensure that gender based analysis is carried out throughout the federal government. It envisions a multi-partner effort whereby individual departments are involved. Status of Women Canada has a lead role, and the Privy Council Office, the Treasury Board Secretariat and Finance Canada coordinate and enforce accountability mechanisms.

Pursuant to Standing Order 109, the committee has requested a comprehensive report from government on this report.

State Immunity ActRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

Stockwell Day Conservative Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-367, an act to amend the State Immunity Act and the Criminal Code (terrorist activity).

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to introduce today the victims of terror compensation bill. This would amend the State Immunity Act and it would allow claims in Canada against foreign states which sponsor any of the groups that are listed as terrorist entities. By permitting this, it would allow those who have been hurt, injured or damaged in any way by acts of terrorism or suffered damages to actually pursue and take civil action for compensation.

The bill has been developed cooperatively with the Canadian Coalition Against Terror, an organization that is made up of Canadian terror victims and also community activists.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

Rob Merrifield Conservative Yellowhead, AB

Mr. Speaker, I move that the ninth report of the Standing Committee on Health, presented to the House on Friday, April 15, be concurred in.

This is a very important motion. The committee has discussed this issue and I must give accolades to my hon. colleague for Mississauga South. I salute him for his conviction and determination. For over a decade he has been working on trying to get warning labelling for alcohol. It is not so much because of the warning that we have to salute the hon. member, necessarily, but for his determination in his attempt to bring awareness to this issue.

The member for Mississauga South introduced Bill C-206 and the health committee took a serious look at this piece of legislation. The committee was looking for a more comprehensive program. Because of that, we listened to a number of witnesses from across the board and across the spectrum of industry and health groups and so on to understand what we should be doing with regard to this piece of legislation.

Before I get into the details, I would like to say that I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Oshawa.

When the committee took a serious look at this, we had to ask if we should do something with this or not. We concluded that the bill should not go ahead the way it is written. There was no testimony that would necessarily support moving ahead with this bill in a way that would do what the mover of the bill intended, which is bring awareness to individuals who are using and consuming alcohol to the point where they would refrain from using alcohol, which in turn would allow us to eliminate the terrible scourge of fetal alcohol syndrome in the country. The motion was eight to one, which is fairly unanimous.

Why then would we bring this motion to the House and actually pass it at committee? I believe that the newspaper reports on this issue, most of the people who work in the Department of Health and most industry people have the wrong idea of the health committee regarding this issue. It was not that we disagreed with the issue. It was that we wanted to do something significant which would actually accomplish the goal and the intent of the mover. The goal is a notable one and is worthy of consideration.

What the committee decided was to have the House concur with the motion. We had the Department of Health come to committee and report to us and that was the most startling piece of testimony the committee heard. We heard that the Department of Health was not going to report on a comprehensive program at all in order to accelerate the work the department said it has been doing for a considerable number of years with regard to fetal alcohol syndrome. The department said it would not lay a comprehensive plan before the committee or the House or even the minister .

This is not the message we need to send to the Department of Health. It is not the message we need to send to the Minister of Health. What we need to send to the Minister of Health through the power of this House is a message to impress upon him and the department the need for that comprehensive program.

It is in light of this that we bring forward our motion. I will read the motion into the record because members must have all of the wording of the motion to understand exactly what we are saying. The motion is as follows:

--that the government present a new strategy for the prevention of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder to the Standing Committee on Health, to be developed by Health Canada and stakeholder groups, by June 2, 2005.

Many members in the House will say they cannot support this because we are asking the department to come up with something by June 2, but let us look at the testimony that came from the Department of Health to the health committee. The department said it has been working on this for a number of years. The department said the work was pretty well finished.

In fact, the testimony says that the department is much further along on this than it is on many other areas of alcohol use. When we look at the testimony given in committee and at what the department has said it is doing, compared to what it has said it is going to do, we understand very clearly that we must have some action.

We do not need more studies. We do not need more consultation. This has been consulted to death. We understand that we have a serious problem. Nine out of 1,000 babies born in this country are born with fetal alcohol syndrome. It is a significant problem. Fetal alcohol syndrome is very serious. It affects hundreds of children born each year. They begin life with a serious strike against them and it is something they have to live with for their entire lives.

We need to do something about it and Health Canada can do something about it, but only if we give officials the pressure that is needed to be able to push them to action. This motion that I am asking the House to concur in will do just that. It will impress upon the Department of Health and the minister the need to actually move to action.

I can already hear the other side suggesting that we cannot ask a department to do something within that short a time period. We certainly can because we know that it has the ability to do it. We know it is a long way along on this issue already. We know that this is just a matter of sitting down and tweaking.

We are not telling the department it has to actually do anything except come up with a plan of what it is going to do to be able to accomplish the goal of the intent of the mover of Bill C-206. That is very easy to accomplish. It is something that needs to be done, because failure to do it means that we will do nothing. Doing nothing on this issue is not appropriate for the legislators of the House, for people who come together to make the laws of this land to protect society, from itself in many cases and from issues in society that are harmful.

This is a motion that I believe everyone in the House should think very seriously about; I was going to say soberly about, but I do not want to use the pun lightly. I do want to impress upon the House how serious a problem this is and how important it is for us to look at it from all angles.

We did hear from the alcohol industry, which asked why we should put all of our attention on labelling. It would cost it a significant amount of dollars and dollars are not going to come out of thin air, said the industry; they can come out of either the consumers who use it or the already existing programs that deal with fetal alcohol syndrome disorder.

We did not think it was appropriate for us to just say “let us put a label on every bottle” and then walk away from it thinking we had done the politically correct thing while not actually accomplishing any good. I do not think that anyone in the House necessarily wants to play politics with an issue this serious. What we really want to do is accomplish the goal, which is to prevent individuals from having fetal alcohol syndrome. We heard testimony about how devastating it is when pregnant women are involved with alcohol. At each stage as the fetus is developing, the alcohol retards and destroys the growth pattern.

The argument was about whether this happens in the early days of pregnancy, the middle or the end, but the reality is that it happens in all of these stages. The testimony was compelling enough that we should impress upon anyone who has the potential of being pregnant to leave alcohol alone, to not become involved with it. It is also important to mention that a woman who is pregnant and has one or two drinks should not become alarmed. What this does say is that we should leave it alone if at all possible so that we do not retard the development of the fetus.

How do we win on these kinds of issues? We win the same way we won on drinking and driving. We have not won completely but we certainly have made a paradigm shift in society. Now if someone drinks at a party and wants to drive, people stop that person before he or she gets into that vehicle, whereas 30 years ago they would help the person into the car. That was a paradigm shift. Peer pressure becomes a powerful thing. We need to use that same pattern when it comes to fetal alcohol syndrome and mothers who are drinking.

My time is nearly up but I do want to impress upon the House how important this motion is, because it will be debated here for three hours and we will actually go to a vote in the House. Votes in the House should mean something. When they mean something, the department and the industry should take the nod from what the House is saying. We have a responsibility here and I ask members to consider that as they vote for this motion.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:20 a.m.

West Nova Nova Scotia

Liberal

Robert Thibault LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his speech in support of the intent of the motion, unanimously adopted by committee. There is some wording in the motion which I would like him to clarify.

I know his understanding of it, but the motion could appear unclear to individuals. I agree with the member that the department has done some work and that we want the presentation of that work and the plans for the future to deal with FASD, but I think the speaker would agree that it should not be confused with the comprehensive strategy. A comprehensive strategy on alcohol abuse would include other elements like the operating of machinery, general health concerns, family breakups and all the other problems that can arise from the abuse, misuse or overuse of alcohol.

The motion states:

--that the government present a new strategy for the prevention of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorder to the Standing Committee on Health, to be developed by Health Canada and stakeholder groups, by June 2, 2005.

I understood from his speech that the member does not expect there to be a full consultation and the developing in consultation with all the stakeholders of a completely new strategy by June; it would be a continuation of the work the department has been doing.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

Rob Merrifield Conservative Yellowhead, AB

Mr. Speaker, I do want to clear this up. The drinking of alcohol causes a number of problems. We have to do something about the comprehensive strategy on drinking and abusing alcohol. It has to be part of this. Drinking and using medication of any kind also has to be part of this.

We could have said to the Department of Health that by June 2 we wanted a comprehensive plan on all those items, but we do not want to lose focus. We want to focus on something for which the department came to committee and said, “We are so far along on this. We have actually been working on this for years”. The department said that it was ready to do something with regard to fetal alcohol syndrome. I am just taking the department's words and applying them here in asking the House to make the department put a comprehensive study and plan, which could or could not include labelling, before the House by June 2.

I am saying that because the departmental officials have said in committee that they actually can accomplish this. Did they say they could do it by June 2? No. They said sometime this summer. We know that nothing really happens in a department in the summertime. We want this done by June 2. It is achievable. There is nothing that actually focuses action more than a timeline and a directive. We can give them the directive. The timeline is in the motion. The Department of Health can accomplish it. Let us get on with making that happen.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

Jim Gouk Conservative Southern Interior, BC

Mr. Speaker, there were a lot of witnesses at committee. In fact, I ended up being one of them. I did not realize at the time I requested it that it is somewhat unprecedented for a member of Parliament to appear as a witness on a bill like this. I did so because it is a very important issue, both in terms of my representation of a region with a lot of wineries that would be impacted by this and as a person who supports the intent behind the motion that we have to deal with things like fetal alcohol syndrome. It is very serious and needs our concern.

However, with all those witnesses who appeared, we heard a tremendous amount of evidence. I used some figures when I made my presentation at committee. As it happened, the departmental officials were there and backed up those figures. What they said is that right now the department spends about $3.3 million a year on education to warn people and make them more aware of fetal alcohol syndrome, the need to abstain from alcohol and a number of other measures that they need to take. They also confirmed that the compliance costs for the department, the enforcement costs if this motion were to pass and the labelling were to come into effect, would be something in the neighbourhood of $27 million over a five year period.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Over five years.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

Jim Gouk Conservative Southern Interior, BC

If the hon. member had listened, he would have heard me say that it is over five years. He probably was talking over me and that is why he did not hear me say the very thing he wanted me to say.

Twenty-seven million dollars over five years is a lot more than the $3.3 million the government is spending now. I wonder if the hon. member could tell us if we heard witnesses suggest that this money could be well spent on education as opposed to the enforcement of a labelling program.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

Rob Merrifield Conservative Yellowhead, AB

Mr. Speaker, as my hon. colleague has suggested, he did come before the committee, as did many others. He was representing the small breweries and vintners, and had a specific focus on it. He was a little concerned, certainly with the cost and impediments of just putting a label on.

As he suggested in his question, what is that going to do as far as it concerns enforcement and the price of enforcement? We did hear that enforcement was going to be costly. The comprehensive program or strategy that we are looking for may or may not have labelling. It may have some labelling and not all bottles labelled. The argument is made with a bottle of wine, do we put a label on a bottle of wine since most people drink wine from a glass that does not have a label? All of those concerns were talked about.

It is important that we have a comprehensive strategy that actually shifts the paradigm, a paradigm in society, so that we understand the intense problem of individuals who are pregnant and drinking. That is where this motion is going and that is why I ask members to consider it.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

Colin Carrie Conservative Oshawa, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a real pleasure and an honour for me to speak on this topic.

I would like to commend the member for Mississauga South for fighting for this issue for so long. The fight against the negative effects of irresponsible alcohol use, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and drunk driving to name only two, has been inspirational. He deserves much credit for the momentum building toward a comprehensive fetal alcohol syndrome strategy.

It has been estimated that nearly 1% of live births are children with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. These statistics are certainly alarming, as many families and women are not getting the warnings or are failing to be properly educated about consuming alcohol during pregnancy.

Consumers of alcohol must choose if they want to drive or operate machinery. They have to choose to consume the alcohol, knowing that it may affect their health. However, a child born with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder did not choose to have this disorder and perhaps the parent did not have the opportunity to choose as well. However, children born with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder will have to deal with the disorder for the rest of their lives.

What are the effects of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder? Health Canada has included some as being: intellectual defects and learning disabilities, hyperactivity, attention and/or memory deficits, inability to manage anger, difficulties with problem solving, pre-natal and post-natal growth deficiencies, early school dropout, alcohol and drug abuse problems themselves later on, problems with securing and maintaining employment, homelessness, trouble with the law and mental health problems. Indeed, the latter are very serious and a public threat.

The Public Health Agency of Canada has further estimated that lifetime extra health care, education and social services, and costs associated with the care of an individual with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder are $1.4 million U.S.

Other studies have suggested that over 25% of those behind bars may have been exposed to alcohol in the womb. I learned so much about this disorder in committee. A statement was respectfully submitted to me by Sheila Burns, the project coordinator of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder in Durham region. She said:

Since the identification of the teratogen Thalidomide, the medical community has been examining the damage caused by alcohol exposure to the developing fetus. Research is now clear that even moderate drinking during pregnancy can cause damage. No culture, no socio-economic group is spared.

Health Canada reports 1:100 Canadians have some level of damage caused from in-utero alcohol exposure. The results: high suicide rates, family breakdowns, criminal behaviour, drug and alcohol addictions, mental illness and homelessness. The implications are staggering and the toll enormous. The disability is life long and cannot be cured. It can be managed, but only at a huge cost to our society. The disability is preventable.

Durham region has been working hard to coordinate awareness initiatives, promote education and coordinate support services. They have longed for more support and warning labels are a part of that.

We have learned in the health committee that we need a comprehensive approach. We, in the Conservative Party, wholeheartedly share the concern of the member for Mississauga South about fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and drunk driving. The party supports the intent of the member's bill, but not the bill itself. Put simply, there is a more comprehensive way and a better plan to address the problem it seeks to solve.

The eighth report of the committee recognizes the ineffectiveness of alcohol labelling, highlights the costs associated with it, and recommends that the House proceed with a comprehensive fetal alcohol spectrum disorder strategy that may or may not include warning labels.

The Standing Committee on Health voted almost unanimously in favour of a more comprehensive strategy. The eighth report contains reasons why the committee recommends that the label only strategy proposed by Bill C-206 be replaced with new comprehensive fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and drunk driving strategies.

All witnesses and committee members agreed that fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and drunk driving are serious problems that demand action. We know that these issues cause untold suffering on those who are affected by them.

However, very little evidence was put forward to indicate that alcohol warning labels in themselves are effective at preventing either fetal alcohol spectrum disorder or drunk driving. Labelling certainly works for a variety of purposes. It will help improve awareness. However, for fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and drunk driving, given the intended targets of messaging, labelling by itself is ineffective.

The implementation of Bill C-206 would have cost the federal government significant dollars to implement and maintain. The diversion of these resources into labelling at the expense of targeted programs would not have been cost effective. The implementation of the bill would have likely raised trade and charter questions, which would have imposed further costs to the government.

Many witnesses called for a comprehensive fetal alcohol spectrum disorder strategy. They did not feel that the first dollars should be committed to just this labelling initiative. There was consistent concern that if the government moved ahead with labelling, it would be able to claim that the problem was addressed and would not feel compelled to do what is really needed. That is why I am so encouraged to see this motion and how it is unfolding today.

The cost of labelling would have crippled many smaller breweries, distillers and wineries. For an economic impact, this was significant and we had to address these concerns.

What surprised me was a leaked cabinet document which indicated that Health Canada is aware of the ineffectiveness of labels in themselves in preventing fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and drunk driving; but in the letter, Health Canada acknowledged that not to support Bill C-206 would look bad politically.

This is no way to craft legislation; this is no way to govern. Laws should not be justified based on how they will be perceived; laws should be based upon sound research and well-proven facts.

The majority of witnesses who appeared before the committee told members that established targeted programs currently in place to address fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and drunk driving have a much better chance of success than warning labels alone.

The Conservative Party of Canada believes that a comprehensive strategy that may or may not include warning labels is the best way to tackle fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. We therefore support the motion to concur in the eighth report of the Standing Committee on Health.

The Conservative Party of Canada will demand that the alcohol beverage industry play an active role in this new strategy. Although the industry has played a part in previous initiatives, it must do more and will therefore be called upon in taking a leading role in developing the strategy. The committee supported Mr. Merrifield's motion:

Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), and a motion adopted by the Committee on Thursday, April 7, 2005, your Committee recommends that the government present a new strategy for the prevention of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder to the Standing Committee on Health, to be developed by Health Canada and stakeholder groups, by June 2, 2005.

This motion will be tabled. The health minister has indicated he is serious about preventing fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and he has told the House of Commons that his department is working toward a comprehensive strategy for fetal alcohol spectrum disorder based on proven and established best practices.

The Conservative Party of Canada hopes that Health Canada will develop, release and implement its strategy as soon as possible. Mr. Merrifield's motion will--

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:35 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I would remind the hon. member to use the name of the riding during his debate.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:35 a.m.

Conservative

Colin Carrie Conservative Oshawa, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member for Yellowhead's motion will hopefully accelerate this process.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:35 a.m.

Conservative

Rob Merrifield Conservative Yellowhead, AB

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for supporting me. He certainly was a valuable member in the committee.

It was obvious to us as we listened to the witnesses, and as we moved into the debate and listened to all sides of the argument, just how important an issue this is and how important it was for us to send a solid message to the department.

I am wondering if my colleague would comment on his perspective of what he heard in committee with regard to the department. It is important for us to really highlight this because that was the turning point in the committee. When the Department of Health actually presented the issue before the committee, we realized that the department was just going through the motions. It had been playing with this for two years at least, had a committee struck, was doing a significant amount of work, and yet was not going to come forward with any kind of a report.

I wonder if my colleague would comment on what he heard from the Department of Health and how this motion would be seen by them.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:35 a.m.

Conservative

Colin Carrie Conservative Oshawa, ON

Mr. Speaker, as a new member, one thing I realized in the health committee and became quite frustrated with was I really did not understand how government worked. I saw how bureaucracies put programs in place just for the sake of it without an implementation plan or any plan to put it into effect in any reasonable amount of time.

I learned that this had been studied already and I saw the inaction on fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. As a Canadian, I find that disturbing. It is very important for the government and Health Canada to look at all the issues and protect the health of Canadians. To see the delay, when we knew programs were already in place, some put in by the breweries themselves, was disturbing. British Columbia has put programs in place, and labelling is not part of that, which have helped decrease the significance and severity of this.

To use a word that has been overused lately, the government is dithering on something that is so important, something of which many Canadians do not realize the impact. One in a 100 Canadians are born with this disorder. It was a big surprise to me. Hopefully with this motion we can move it forward a more quickly.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:40 a.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Bloc Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened closely to my colleague's speech. As he said so well, the current government is procrastinating a great deal when it comes to health for Canadians and Quebeckers.

In that case, does my colleague not think it would be better for the provinces to develop their own fetal alcohol syndrome strategies that would respond to their own problems? Would this not be better than developing a strategy that might never be implemented because it comes from the federal government?

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:40 a.m.

Conservative

Colin Carrie Conservative Oshawa, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want a strategy for all the provinces in this country.

It is very important for the federal government to work with every province to develop a strategy. This problem is not just a provincial issue. It is a problem across the entire country.

We have learned through the committee that different things are happening in different provinces. As a federal government, we can learn from the initiatives that have been taken. In Quebec, for example, Éduc'alcool is moving ahead a little quicker than some other areas in Canada. I mentioned that British Columbia was moving ahead quicker than other areas of Canada.

We have to address this as a Canada-wide program, through consultation with all provinces, so all Canadians can benefit.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:40 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to the concurrence motion, the effect of which is to ask Health Canada to table with the House a comprehensive strategy to address fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. I very much support it and I will do as much as I can to ensure that other members in the House support the initiative. It is very important and it is time.

Let me talk very briefly about fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. Maternal consumption of alcohol during pregnancy is the leading known cause of mental retardation in Canada. As was indicated earlier, about one out of every 100 live births results in a birth defect. That means, and testimony has said, that up to 5,000 children each year will suffer from alcohol-related birth defects. It is very important that we understand the enormity of this and the attendant costs.

Here are a few of the secondary symptoms associated with FASD. Sixty per cent of these children will drop out of school or be suspended. Sixty per cent will get into trouble with the law. Fifty per cent will go to jail or be put in an institution. Fifty per cent will show inappropriate sexual behaviour. Thirty per cent will become abusers of drugs or alcohol. Eighty per cent will be unable to live independently in adult life. Eighty per cent will have problems with employment,

Binge drinking is the worst kind of risk to an unborn child. Binge drinking is more than four drinks on one occasion. It is not being an alcoholic. Binge drinking is something that probably everyone in their adult lives has encountered. It is like going to a wedding, or an anniversary or a picnic and over that occasion having four drinks.

Back in 1992 when a report was before Parliament, the then health minister and the Department of Health said that they had evidence that one drink alone could negatively affect the heart rate and respiration rate of the fetus. As well, the evidence has shown that days 15 to 22 during pregnancy is the most vulnerable period in fetal development. The health committee spent years studying reproductive technologies. It is well aware that up to day 14, research on embryos is permitted, but past day 14, even the medical profession says that the embryo cannot be touched. It is called the primitive streak. This is when all our basic features and organs get the trigger points where they start and are set for the rest of our lives.

Fetal alcohol syndrome, in its full blown manifestation, involves facial and cranial deformities. It means that during this period, when one's features are established, which is after day 14, very early in pregnancy when nobody knows they are pregnant, is when the damage is done in many cases.

The issue with regard to FASD is that if pregnancy is possible, one should abstain from alcohol. The reason for that is that 50% of pregnancies are unplanned. This is the message for women. If they are in their birthing years, if they are sexually active, if they are not using protection, they should abstain from alcohol; 100% abstention, not just a bit. The problem is the message that has gone out in the past is that one should limit or cut back. People have not been informed that even small amounts of consumption at the wrong period of time may have tragic consequences to the unborn child.

Over the last 10 or 11 years of my career as a member of Parliament, no issue has affected me more deeply and involved me more fully than the issue of fetal alcohol syndrome and fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.

In 1992 the Standing Committee on Health actually prepared a report called, “Fetal Alcohol Syndrome: The Preventable Tragedy”. The issue of whether Health Canada has been doing its job is relevant to what timeframe? Let me explain to the House what happened in 1992.

The subcommittee recommended requiring health warning labels on the containers of alcoholic beverages, just as the U.S. had introduced in 1989. It reported that the alcohol industry was opposed to health warning labels and every other witness was supportive of these labels. The brewers industry position was that awareness was very high, but labels were not effective and the funds would be better spent on targeted programs.

If we look at the transcripts and testimony of what we did in 1996, when the bill before the health committee and again this year, we find that the results and observations are precisely the same. The industry is on one side and the health people are on the other. Everybody is aware that there is risk associated with alcohol consumption and the money would be better spent on something else. The presumption is somehow that labels will operate in a vacuum. That is nonsense. We obviously do something now, but it is not enough because the impact on unborn children still is very high.

In 1992 the non-industry witnesses testified that warning labels should be part of an overall strategy to raise public awareness. We have heard that before. They also based their support on a public's right to know if the use of the product carried certain risks. Experts testified that information on product labels and the nature of the package could enhance the overall product offering and that the product label would play the role of salesmen and for advertising. The label on the product is the thing that is promoting at the point of sale.

Warning labels on the other hand would be a form of de-marketing. All of a sudden they would intrude upon that sacred space where the fun theme of beverage alcohol is being promoted. The product label is part of an extremely delicate balance of a product mix which is based on lifestyle and aspirations. Beverage alcohol advertising is all about that. In 2002, the last year reported, the beverage alcohol industry made a profit of $700 million. It spent $660 million promoting its products. Today Health Canada is spending $3.3 million on fetal alcohol syndrome.

Can we believe that $3.3 million a year has any hope in hell of competing against $660 million a year promoting the use of a product? We need to do better. The concluding statement of the subcommittee was as follows:

The design and presentation of a warning label is vitally important to its effectiveness. The Sub-Committee has examined several examples of warning labels on alcohol products from the United States. In all cases, the warnings were generally inconspicuous and difficult to read. It is essential that warning labels adopted for Canadian products not emulate the United States examples, but be carefully designed for maximum visibility and impact. We believe that warning labels, properly designed and printed, are an essential part of a comprehensive strategy for increased public awareness and education about the risks that maternal alcohol consumption poses for the foetus.

The report from 1992, the year before I became a member of Parliament, has stated the position that the House learned again in 1996 and again this year. Nothing has changed.

Let me deal with the issue of what a label might do. The program, Motherisk, is part of the Hospital for Sick Children. Let me quote from a paper about labelling from January 2004. It says:

It is interesting that the strongest opponents of alcohol warning labels are industries manufacturing alcoholic beverages. These industries first denied the existence of FAS...

In 1996 I was on CTV being interviewed with the head of the brewer's association and he denied the existence of FAS. However, if we look in its report to the committee in 2005, it says that it has been involved in FAS for decades. There is a contradiction there. The article from the Hospital for Sick Children confirms that. It says that the industry first denied the existence of FAS “and later did very little to prevent it”. It says:

The main reason for the industry to oppose warning labels is their fear of losing revenue. Their claim that they oppose the label because it is not an effective method of FAS prevention contradicts their lack of efforts tofind other effective means.

It is business.

I can remember when we discussed tobacco labelling. Everyone wondered if labels would be effective. What happened with tobacco labelling? Health Canada saw some action once the labels were put on. Once we put in the comprehensive strategy that linked the product to the strategy and the strategy to the product, suddenly the use of tobacco went down, particularly among the targeted groups.

In 2000, Health Canada commissioned Environics to do a study on labelling and fetal alcohol syndrome. It was an excellent report and can be found on Health Canada's website if anybody wants to see it. Environics basically concluded that there were about four or five target groups whose behaviour was out of line with the facts that we knew about fetal alcohol syndrome. Environics laid out a comprehensive strategy on how to communicate with these people.

Every target group involved one common element and that was public health information found in doctors offices, in hospitals and in clinics where people get their health needs dealt with. It makes sense. The rest of the program had to do with targeted television marketing, with magazines, with literature and other areas.

One of the things the report said, however, and it was concurred by experts, was that the beverage alcohol industry should not be part of it, that it has to be divorced from the activities, and that we did not need the beverage alcohol industry money. As a matter of fact, as was confirmed in testimony before committee, brewers spend $2 million a year on their partnerships and responsible use message when they spend over $300 million a year promoting their products. They do not mind doing certain things as long as they do work.

It is important that we understand that labelling and a comprehensive strategy go hand in hand.

Beverage alcohol is not just another beverage. It is not milk, juice or pop. It is a drug, but it does not say that on the product. How can we not have at least that first starting point indicating that it is a consumer product that can harm us if misused. Beverage alcohol is the only consumer product that could harm us if misused but does not warn us of that fact.

The public has a right to know and the industry has a duty and a responsibility to inform. That is why I am supportive of the motion to encourage Health Canada to get this comprehensive strategy in place. The Environics study back in 2000 showed that it already has the foundation for its strategy. We have all of the experience that Health Canada attained through its battle with the tobacco industry on tobacco labelling.

That was successful. It was an integrated strategy of putting the information on the package to caution, to inform and make the consumer aware. All of the other things that were happening, not just within the Government of Canada but also province by province and territory by territory, were complementing and working with this. Synergies were involved. No one item could ever be clearly demonstrated to have been effective because the only way to prove that something is effective is to hold everything else constant while at the same time one thing is being changed and then allow that to be in place for some reasonable period of time then do a study of it. Maybe five years later we will be able to make a determination. It is not possible to hold the world constant while one thing is changed.

It would be premature for members to somehow suggest that labelling does not work. I do not think anybody can prove that anything really works without having control over all the elements that affect behaviour.

I do not believe anybody really expects one item to change somebody's behaviour. However I do think they would expect that one item would at least contribute to information and awareness so that it could be linked to other things that happen.

That was 1992, some 13 years ago, and Health Canada is still studying it. It is important to continue to be aware. When Allan Rock was the health minister, he set up the national advisory committee on fetal alcohol syndrome and, because of all the work I had done on this, I was asked how it should be set up. I was sent a model which was the traditional model. Everyone had to be involved and experienced in fetal alcohol syndrome. We needed it to be gender and visible minority balanced and we needed to have someone from each province and territory. This is the precise model that the bureaucracy follows for any committee or advisory group that has ever been set up.

I remember working until about 3 a.m. responding to this suggestion. I said that we did not need people who knew all about fetal alcohol syndrome to preach to each other about how terrible it is. I said that we needed people who knew how to deliver results on programs, to design and develop programs and a comprehensive strategy on how to address this.

How do we reduce the incidence of alcohol related birth defects and all of the other attendant problems associated with misuse of alcohol because there are many more? We needed people who were in business, in marketing, in sociology and psychology. We were talking about trying to influence behaviour. It never did happen. There was a little bit of money given to the advisory committee but the advisory committee died for lack of funding. There was no commitment on behalf of Health Canada of the day.

I am very confident that the Minister of Health today is very committed to dealing with and addressing the issue of fetal alcohol syndrome and fetal alcohol spectrum of disorders.

I quote from the minister's speech February 7. He states:

I only truly understood the impact of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder when I became the Attorney General, and I talked to judges and lawyers and advocates. One day the Chief Justice of British Columbia took me aside and said, “I want you to know that at least 30 to 40% - if not 50% - of the people that appear in the criminal courts every day are FAS-affected.

He went on to say:

--I do recognize that dealing with FAS labelling, which is what the Bill is about, isn't the panacea that some people might think it is.

He recognized that labelling in a vacuum would not get the intended results by itself. He went on to say:

But I believe that it is perhaps the first very public, very concrete step in beginning the debate that you've been engaged in for many, many years in the positions that you have.

And it is a debate that really hasn't as high a profile that I would like it to have. It is a debate that hasn't always made the front pages of the newspapers, as has the debate on smoking and cigarettes and tobacco control.

I know that sometimes some people say we are creating too many laws and too many regulations and too many conditions for living our lives, but I think it's important in the context of what's been happening on alcohol abuse that we do this - that we do take a steps to ensure that FAS labelling takes place in Canada.

I take the minister at his word that he wants to take some concrete steps with regard to addressing fetal alcohol syndrome and fetal alcohol spectrum of disorders and that he is committed to moving this comprehensive strategy forward.

Since we have had this strategy from Environics in the year 2000, I believe framework discussions have been going on and that intense discussions with the beverage alcohol industry on ingredient labelling and on allergen labelling have been going on for some time. Now is the time to table a comprehensive strategy and let us get on with reducing the percentage of alcohol related birth defects.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11 a.m.

Conservative

James Lunney Conservative Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

Mr. Speaker, I compliment the member for Mississauga South for his hard work over many years on this particular file. All the members in the health committee appreciate that it is a hard issue, a very serious concern and that the member has driven this issue, brought it before the House many times in the past and continues today to be a very eloquent advocate of trying to correct a very serious problem.

As part of a comprehensive plan, labelling may have a role but sending messages to young people and a whole range of other issues could be targeted to the people at risk. Was the member encouraged by some testimony we heard about new research being funded by the CIHR? I believe it was Dr. Gideon Koren from Motherisk and the Hospital for Sick Children who brought before the committee new research showing the benefits of antioxidant vitamins in reducing the effects on the fetus of exposure to alcohol.

Studies are going on now with vitamins E and C, antioxidant vitamins that are inexpensive, readily available and part of a comprehensive strategy that may well encourage people, especially women of child bearing age, to make sure they are getting a substantial dose of antioxidant vitamins that cannot possibly do them any harm, can bring in a range of other health benefits and can certainly help protect the fetus from the effects of alcohol.

That research is going on and is not conclusive yet, but I wonder if the member found that encouraging and something that we would want to include as part of a more comprehensive package.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I cannot imagine a time when I will ever want to promote the health benefits of drinking alcohol. That is not what we are all about. When we consider that 3,000 to 5,000 children are being born with birth defects every year and it is costing Canada $15 billion each and every year for additional health care, social programs and criminal justice costs, we have to deal with the health problems now.

The member talks about targeting young people. In June 2003 the National Centre on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University in the United States did a research study, along with the Betty Ford Centre Foundation. What they found was that 19.5% of the purchasers of beverage alcohol were underage youth and 30.5% were adults who were abusing alcohol. When we add it together we find that over half of the beverage alcohol sales in the United States were to underage drinkers and abusers of alcohol.

We have much more work to do. Even with regard to the tobacco strategy, the studies had shown that if people did not start smoking by age 19, chances were they would never smoke. That is why the strategy was aimed at young people, why so many good things have happened in that respect and why substantial progress has been made.

Targeting young people, yes, but we cannot give women mixed messages about consuming alcohol during pregnancy. It is extremely important that we be very clear. Motherisk and the Hospital for Sick Children also came out with research in which they said that the incidence of alcohol consumption during pregnancy is actually 10 times higher than they previously thought through interviews with mothers. The research is clear.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:05 a.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Bloc Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, I agree with my hon. colleague from Mississauga South on many points. Unfortunately, he should be careful when he says that the strategies supported by the industry are not working and this is probably one of the reasons to support them.

Strategies such as Éduc'alcool, Mother Risk, the Student Life Education Company and Taxiguy are working.

However, I want to ask my colleague whether he truly believes that labelling has a real impact. Why did he not consider it important to obtain data on the effects of labelling legislation enacted in 1992 by the Yukon and the Northwest Territories? In both jurisdictions, warning labels are highly visible. In the NWT, these labels are even fluorescent.

I want to know why he did not consider it important to provide us with this data?