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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

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, first of all, I want to be very clear about what the alcohol beverage industry is doing. It is spending $660 million a year on promoting its products and lifestyles. It spends only about $5 million a year on partnerships and programming. It is insignificant.

I would not even want to assess whether or not what it is doing is effective. Quite frankly, what the industry is spending on it is token just to say that it is doing something.

The member asked about what is happening in Yukon. In Yukon the warnings are put on manually.

Much of the debate about labelling has to do with the experience in the United States. Let me be clear about this. Studies have been done in the United States where they have concluded, even as the health committee did in 1992, that the labelling in the United States is not readable and not noticeable. Any attempt to assess the effectiveness of labelling used in the U.S. as a model is futile.

There have been no studies done. The best example we could do in terms of assessing a strategy, including labelling, would be to look at what has happened with the labelling of tobacco. I was a member of the health committee when this was done. The committee considered different kinds of things. I do not think there is anyone here who would say that it has not been a very strong success.

I understand what the member is saying. I am talking about a comprehensive strategy of which labelling is an important part.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:05 a.m.

West Nova Nova Scotia

Liberal

Robert Thibault LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, I join all the members in congratulating the member for Mississauga South on his hard work.

I would like to return to the question of the health benefits of alcohol. I remember the testimony at the committee from an expert in the field who indicated there is evidence that there are antioxidant effects or a mild health effect from a very small daily use of alcohol, particularly red wine. I understand that the tannins create an antioxidant effect. The expert went on to say that if a person went over that margin, it would have the reverse effect. It would have a negative effect and would lead to an additional risk of cancer or heart disease.

Is that the impression of the member for Mississauga South? Would he care to comment on that testimony?

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, there certainly are those who are opposed to labelling. They are the ones who make the argument about the health benefits. There are people who say that beer has health benefits. There are people who say that wine has health benefits. They should put the evidence on the table. Let us find out.

The Canadian Paediatric Association, the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, the Canadian Medical Association, the Canadian Nurses Association, the Ontario Public Health Association, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the Canadian police, the Canadian firefighters are the people who are involved in the health and safety of Canadians. They wanted to say to us absolutely nothing more than what is happening out there in terms of the misuse of alcohol consumption requires our immediate and critical attention.

It means that we have to start talking about preventive techniques, not to send mixed messages. If we start talking about maybe a little bit of this might be good, the evidence I heard was that there are some cases where it might be, but there are a lot more cases where the consumption of alcohol even in small amounts for certain people with certain physical conditions may have negative benefits. This is particularly with regard to other illnesses and diseases and, of course, the natural causes of alcohol which is like ether which tends to numb a person's ability to operate machinery and equipment, or to drive.

The consequences of alcohol misuse, even in small amounts, and binge drinking particularly are enormous. The costs are enormous.

It is time that we tabled a comprehensive strategy, as has been proposed by the member. We must seriously consider what we can do in the best health interests of all Canadians.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:10 a.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to take part in this debate on a motion introduced by my Conservative Party colleague relating to a report adopted by the Standing Committee on Health.

The entire debate started after the hon. member for Mississauga South introduced a private member's bill. I was listening earlier to the remarks by that member and sponsor of the bill, and I believe that the background needs to be given.

Nevertheless, I want to commend the member for his perseverance here. He has been interested in this issue for many years—a decade—already. There is also a lesson in it for us. In politics, it is essential to have motivations or beliefs. It cannot be said that the member has no convictions.

However, we must also admit that good intentions do not always make the best policies. If we have anything to learn from the history and experience of Bill C-206, introduced by our colleague from Mississauga South, it is that we must always listen to what witnesses have to say.

When this bill was studied in the House at second reading, most opposition health critics came out in favour of it in principle. We were, of course, in favour of warning labels being made mandatory on bottles containing more than 1% alcohol. That alone struck us as a good idea.

The beauty of the parliamentary system does not, however, reside solely in the work of the House, important as it certainly is, but also in committees. A good forty hours were invested in committee in studying this bill more closely. We came to realize that, unfortunately, scientific evidence did not support the solution proposed by the hon. member.

Everyone has acted in good faith on this: the government, the opposition parties, the parliamentary secretary, all have worked very hard. They all wanted to come up with the best possible legislation, keeping two objectives in mind: combating the harmful effects of alcohol and providing the most pertinent possible information.

With the exception of a few organizations such as MADD and the Canadian Medical Association, which were in favour of the principle, after considerable scrutiny, those who had analyzed the bill in depth did not recommend that we pass it in its present form.

I have heard my colleague draw a parallel with the regulations adopted a few years ago when I was on the Standing Committee on Health. I am, in fact, rather proud of being both the youngest member of the committee and the oldest, in years of experience, having been a member since 1999. So I was on the Standing Committee on Health when it reviewed the tobacco regulations. I think there was a considerable difference between those two bills, however. Why? When the government introduced the tobacco regulations, the difference was this:

First of all, the scientific studies. The Canadian Cancer Society alone submitted a pile of scientific studies on the harmful effects of tobacco, and these were provided to all parliamentarians.

Second, there was a fundamental difference in that the cigarette manufacturers are obliged to rotate the messages.

The regulations called for a dozen or so different messages a year, staggered at different times, so that no sense of easy familiarity with the medium could develop. If a person is exposed to the same message for months or years on end, it loses its effect. That is the first distinction.

Another distinction that was pointed out to us is that serving alcoholic beverages in a glass is not the same as in a bottle. People are served in glasses in licensed establishments and not in bottles. Consumers are therefore not directly exposed to the message. That is a very important difference.

Third, an organization as large as Éduc'alcool, with its likeable director general, Hubert Sacy, popularized what is probably one of the best known advertising campaigns. If people were asked—especially Quebec residents—what is Éduc'alcool's slogan, 80% to 90% would certainly say, “Moderation is always in good taste”.

Éduc'alcool is a not for profit organization, in this case, a consortium independent of the government. It brings together people representing brewers, the Société des alcools du Québec, universities and researchers, who have managed to implement far more effective educational methods than those proposed in the bill.

It is interesting that in Quebec we have a regulation adopted several years ago that requires alcoholic beverage producers to give a certain percentage of their revenues for awareness campaigns. Under the regulation, which is administered by the Régie des loteries et courses du Québec, they may give those funds directly to an organization that does preventive work or to one that does research, but one way or another, a certain percentage established by regulation must be given to ensure that there is an awareness campaign.

The scientific evidence, the facts and research that were available, did not point in a direction that would make us feel comfortable supporting the action suggested by the member for Mississauga South. That is why the Bloc Québécois proposed amendments. We would have felt better if the Quebec model had been used as the basis. We do not want an approach that says we are going to slap on regulatory labels if we are not certain they will be seen and read.

The hon. member for Mississauga South is right to remind us that it is their corporate duty. We cannot allow companies to make profits the way breweries and distilleries do without being good corporate citizens. Most of these companies do have in-house programs that provide safe ride home services, for instance, or information on the negative effects of excessive drinking on society.

Éduc'alcool submitted a research summary. They summarized the research available mostly in the United States and Canada, but also in Europe. They submitted a document outlining the impact of mandatory labelling.

We are not saying this was pointless. It is certainly not as black and white as that. In fact, the hon. member for Laval—who took an interest in this issue in committee—and I would never make such a blanket statement.

Consumers are indeed provided with some information, but there is no scientific evidence proving that mandatory labelling changes, in any way, the behaviour of people with drinking problems or a serious addiction to alcohol, people commonly referred to as heavy drinkers. Let us be honest, mandatory labelling has absolutely no effect on them.

Canadian Institutes of Health Research was represented at the committee by Ms. Nadeau, the Vice-Chair and herself a psychologist. She asked us to think about three consequences.

First, the approach of the hon. member for Mississauga South was somewhat lacking in nuance. He intimated that alcohol consumption of itself was reprehensible. In scientific terms, however, an occasional glass of red wine with a meal at the Cage aux Sports or elsewhere in good company, whatever may be your preference— The fact is that a little glass of red wine from time to time savoured in good company as one of life's little pleasures never did anyone any harm.

If we took a little survey here, even among my ascetic neo-Bolshevik friends, rigorous at work and disciplined in bed, I would be very surprised to find a member of the NDP caucus who has not at some time raised a glass of red wine in a toast. I would be very surprised if there were no parliamentarian here who does not consume alcohol in moderation on occasion. I would in fact be very surprised that the hon. member for Mississauga South is abstemious to the point of excluding any sort of alcohol from his life.

The fact is that the message the bill sent lacked subtlety, according to what Éduc'alcool told us. Terrorizing people is not the best way to educate them and neither is the cut and dried approach. A little glass of red wine never did anyone any harm.

Second, my colleague from Laval will speak later and develop this idea further—the warnings proposed by the member for Mississauga South included one on driving under the influence of alcohol, which could indeed be harmful. However, there was a warning that alcohol consumption during pregnancy could harm the baby. This is true.

My colleague from Laval asked about funding for the publication of a brochure that was distributed wherever this information would be useful, with the result that surveys revealed that 90% of women were aware of the hazards of excessive consumption of alcohol during pregnancy.

Éduc'alcool shouldered its responsibilities and worked with the Quebec health and social services department and the Collège des médecins du Québec. I do not know how it works in English Canada, but the LCSCs and Quebec hospitals display posters with this kind of information. However, the intention is not to traumatize or terrify, but rather to gently provide relevant educational information, which is essential for reaching the target audience.

I believe that, at times, the member for Mississauga South had a small tendency to believe that the message had to be stern and categorical, rather like the Lacordaire movement of earlier days, sometimes neglecting the nuances. I think that this was not the best approach.

Once again, we believe that the Quebec model is extremely important; I am talking about the coalition created around Éduc'alcool, with awareness campaigns and obviously some in-house programs by the major national brewers, but above all with Éduc'alcool taking the lead. This organization visits, for example, the university campuses.

Éduc'alcool has raised our awareness with anti-binge drinking campaigns. I am addressing the pages in particular. I am asking students to always stay in control. The end of term and exam time can be stressful. People want to party. They wind up on campus, where there may be drinking games. This trend started a number of years ago. Such activities should be avoided. I am warning our friends in particular, the pages, who are so dear to us. They have done an excellent job this session. I ask my colleagues to applaud them for their devotion during the entire session.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:25 a.m.

Some hon. members

Hear, hear!

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:25 a.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Éduc'alcool went to university campuses to explain that this kind of behaviour is unacceptable. It told pregnant women the same thing. The most difficult audience to reach are those who drink and drive, the hardened drinkers who get behind the wheel in the evening. It is true that there is still more work to be done, as we learned from Ms. Nadeau of Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

Then there is another consideration, the motion made in committee by the member for Guelph to kill the bill, and let us not mince our words on that. There are terms like infanticide and regicide, but I do not know what the term for killing a bill would be. The member for Guelph moved to have the bill deemed not to have been adopted in committee, so it died. There was another possibility, which the Bloc members could not support, to have the federal government set up a national strategy on fetal alcohol syndrome.

We do, of course, acknowledge that this syndrome is a reality that must be addressed. When I represented the Bloc on the parliamentary committee reviewing the non-medical use of drugs, I recall visiting places—Winnipeg, Manitoba, for one—where FAS was a severe problem.

We believe, however, that it is not the role of the federal government to come up with such a strategy. Where fetal alcohol syndrome is concerned, the health facilities are often involved. We in the Bloc Québécois do not believe that this is the role of the federal government, nor that it is in the best position to set up such a strategy.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time the federal government might be tempted to intervene in the health care field. I remember, when we were studying the new reproductive technologies bill, how I warned the government that this bill was obviously unconstitutional. The Liberal MPs did not want to listen to me.

Now today they are faced with a court challenge. The Liberal government of Jean Charest—a government that does not show a lot of backbone in defending the interests of Quebec—has nevertheless felt obliged to appeal in order to challenge the constitutionality of the new reproductive technologies legislation.

The federal government is periodically tempted to intervene in the health field above and beyond its jurisdictional limits, which are aboriginal health, research, veterans and patents. We cannot, therefore, be in favour of such a strategy.

My congratulations to the hon. member for his enthusiasm and hard work. I would ask him to let the provinces do their job as far as fetal alcohol syndrome is concerned, taking as their model the Éduc'alcool program in Quebec, which has produced convincing results in the struggle to combat problem drinking.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his participation in the debate. He has done his job in representing the interests of Quebec. I am here as a member of Parliament trying to represent the interests of all Canadians who are concerned about this issue.

The member put amendments to the bill at committee which basically would create exemptions for small producers. There is more detail to it, but it basically would succumb to the argument that small producers would have a harder problem than the large producers in putting labels on their products.

That is probably mathematically true, but I am not sure whether or not it is a good enough reason when many of the small producers export to the United States and put warning labels on their products. Many of them have customized labels which they change from time to time depending on the season.

I am also concerned about something which the justice officials brought before the health committee, and which Health Canada confirmed. There could be a problem with regard to the charter, and I am not sure whether it would be under the section dealing with freedom of expression, regarding the producers' freedom to put whatever they wanted on their bottles. The argument would be whether or not there was an infringement and whether or not under section 1 of the charter it was demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society that the infringement made sense because it affects health, et cetera.

I am a little concerned that the argument is not fully developed and that we are not giving conflicting messages, or we are not giving consideration where maybe it is due and also, whether it might not impair the argument before the courts on a charter challenge. The tobacco industry went before the courts and Health Canada won that case.

I hear the member and I understand. Nobody wants to be draconian in dealing with the problems with the misuse of alcohol, but we certainly want to make absolutely sure that we look for that win-win where everybody can play a role. Would the member please comment?

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:30 a.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his kind words and his questions.

I think that my colleague was present at the committee when the Bloc Québécois proposed a motion to have justice department officials appear. They have not really taken a position, it must be said, in the debate raised by our colleague. Would it be prejudicial to freedom of expression? What we know for sure is that there was a risk. I think that this scenario was even mentioned in a brief to cabinet, which the committee members did not see.

What we know is that the freedom of expression guidelines were determined by the Supreme Court in two decisions: the Sharpe decision on child pornography and the Irwin Toy decision on advertising children's toys. It is acknowledged that freedom of expression basically depends on three things, in particular not being harassed on the basis of one's beliefs.

The government's objective must obviously be considered. For example, if the Supreme Court had been asked to rule on such a question, it might have looked into whether it is in the public interest to ensure that alcohol is consumed responsibly. I think that the Supreme Court might have answered yes to this question.

Then there would have been other questions. First, it would have asked whether the means that the government used were proportional to the objective. Is it proportional to want in a way to limit the space on the label for producers and manufacturers? I think that the Supreme Court might have answered yes to this question. Second, the Supreme Court would have tried to determine the effectiveness of such a measure. I think that this is where the member's bill might have been a bit more vulnerable. In any case, we are in the realm of speculation here because the Supreme Court was not asked to rule on this.

Insofar as microbreweries are concerned, I think that our colleague was also present at the committee when the Association des microbrasseries du Québec came to see us in the person of its utterly charming president, Ms. Urtnowski. It is necessary to know that some microbreweries use very traditional methods. In some cases, labels are put on manually. Microbreweries would obviously have had to acquire technologies costing hundreds of thousands of dollars, even though they do not have the same wherewithal as the national brewers or the same market share.

That is why the Bloc Québécois put forward an amendment to the effect that manufacturers who produce less than 300,000 hectolitres would not be subject to the regulation proposed by the member for Mississauga South.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:35 a.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to make a comment and to question the hon. member from the Bloc. He is a very able health critic for his party. I have listened with interest to his comments about the labelling issue for fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.

I think the member is aware that the NDP did support labelling. In fact it was our member for Winnipeg North who introduced a motion several years ago. The motion was approved by the House, but unfortunately the government has been very slow to move on this issue.

I certainly understand and am aware of the concerns as expressed by the members from the Bloc in terms of how this might impact microbreweries. In fact there are microbreweries in my own riding of Vancouver East.

It seems to me that there are two issues here. One is a public health issue in terms of providing a broad dissemination of information about fetal alcohol syndrome and the massive consequences for individual children and families but also for society at large. The idea of some sort of public labelling is a very important measure. People can always find technical reasons why something should not be done. It is a matter of looking at the principle that is involved and then determining how one applies that principle.

I certainly understand the position of the Bloc, but I have to say that the NDP is firmly in support of the idea of labelling as an important public health measure, a public policy measure, that needs to move forward.

The second point I would offer to the member is perhaps he would agree that the issue around fetal alcohol spectrum disorder also relates very much to class and economic issues in our society. It relates to poverty.

In my own riding of Vancouver East if we had much more emphasis on preventive health, on adequate housing and nutrition and income, which is a big issue, we would be able to address these concerns. It would provide a much healthier environment for families and children and we would be able to prevent this kind of syndrome from taking place.

I would ask the member to comment on that.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:35 a.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her question. I recalled her taking part, as I did, in the deliberations of the committee on alcoholic beverages in Canada. Our colleague tabled a report in this regard. The issue is not whether we want there to be information available on fetal alcohol syndrome, because all parties support this principle. The issue is whether the measures are effective. As legislators, we must ensure a bill will be effective, before it becomes law.

The Bloc voted in favour of labelling tobacco products and the 10 rotating warnings. Although the labelling was appealed right to the Supreme Court because it was considered to take up the commercial space of the tobacco manufacturers, that did not stop us. However, in the case of alcoholic drinks, we had no study on the benefits and the scientific evidence.

I think the Quebec model, with Éduc'alcool, the college of physicians and the health department, was a lot more successful with the target clientele. I think the member for Mississauga South was involved in a moral crusade, which deserves our respect. However, we cannot stop here. As we know in the business, good feelings do not always make good politics. We cannot stop at good feelings. Further analysis is needed.

In terms of effectiveness, unfortunately, we did not have these studies. We had them when the Standing Committee on Health reviewed the matter of regulating tobacco products. The Department of Health had presented studies.

Here again, a minimum standard of rigour requires us to consider the consequences and effectiveness of the bills we pass. In this case, scientific evidence was not on the side of the member for Mississauga South.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:40 a.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Mississauga South for his dedication, commitment and perseverance in raising the issues around fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and about the impact of drinking, for example, underage drinking. It shows a tremendous amount of commitment to a cause. He has been very passionate about it.

The member for Hochelaga suggested that members of the NDP might occasionally resort to tippling. He is absolutely correct. I do enjoy a glass of wine on occasion, and as any responsible drinker, I am sure to use it in a responsible fashion.

In talking about the issue of labelling alcoholic beverages, many people who came before the committee said that this was absolutely not to be seen as a strategy.

Mr. Speaker, I just want to advise you and the House that I will be sharing my time with the member for Vancouver East.

When we were talking about labelling, many people saw labelling as one tool in a tool box. Many people saw labelling as a way to signal the government's intention to develop a full, comprehensive strategy around fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. Many people saw labelling as that critical first step, a signal that people were committed to ensuring that this issue stayed front and centre on the health agenda.

It was with great disappointment that I saw the bill killed at committee. It was with great disappointment I recognized that this is the third time this matter has come before the House.

Much has been made around the fact that there have not been any substantive studies to point to the fact that labelling would decrease alcohol consumption. The question that should have been put to people was whether labelling would increase awareness around the risks. It troubles me that we would not agree that labelling would increase awareness around the risks. We label many other products. Alcohol is one of the products that can have risks for a population and which does not carry a warning label. Much has also been made around the validity of studies.

It is interesting to me that hot off the press today a headline in the Saint John Telegraph Journal reads, “Few drinks a day may not protect against strokes, heart attacks”.

Much has been made about the benefits of alcohol but the article states:

The U.S. government warned Tuesday that a few drinks a day may not protect against strokes and heart attacks after all.

Some studies in recent years have touted the health benefits of moderate drinking. Some have even said that up to four drinks a day can significantly reduce the risk of heart disease in people 40 and older.

But researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analysed data from 250,000 Americans who participated in a 2003 telephone survey. They found that the non-drinkers had many more risks for heart disease -- such as being overweight, inactive, high blood pressure and diabetes -- than the moderate drinkers.

Based on those results, the agency could not say that moderate drinking actually was a factor in reducing the risk of heart disease.

The findings were published in the May issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine

“We're feeling the pendulum has swung way too far and Americans are getting sort of the wrong idea” on alcohol, said the study's lead author, Dr. Tim Naimi of the CDC's chronic diseases division. “The science around moderate drinking is very murky.”

The CDC has long worried about alcohol abuse in the United States. Studies have shown that drinking excessively - five or more drinks daily - can increase the risk of heart disease. The CDC says nearly one in three Americans drinks too much.

The agency said people should follow dietary guidelines that limit daily consumption to two drinks for men and a single drink for women.

Other groups -- such as the American Heart Association -- say drinking alcohol increases the dangers of alcoholism, high blood pressure, obesity, stroke, breast cancer, suicide and accidents.

There have been several studies, but it is very interesting that now there is a study which is saying wait a minute, maybe moderate drinking is not so great for us after all.

The only reason I have brought forward this study is that throughout the discussion at committee, people consistently said there was no conclusive evidence that labelling would affect drinking behaviour.

The committee heard evidence from a variety of sources. One of the groups that came forward was the Canadian Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. In April 2001 it indicated, “Warning labels must not be considered in isolation, since knowledge alone rarely results in changed behaviour. Warning labels reinforce rather than replace other forms of education. Labelling should be seen as just one part of a broader public health effort to reduce alcohol related harm. That effort should also include ongoing public education, responsive public policy and availability of effective treatment services”.

That was just one of many witnesses who said that labelling in their view was an essential part of a comprehensive strategy.

The position statement of the Australian Drug Foundation in March 2003 stated that labelling provides a counterweight to alcohol marketing which promotes that alcohol is safe. It said that labelling also protects the fundamental right of the consumer to know the risks of the product.This is a critical point which seems to have often escaped the discussion. We are talking about the fundamental right of consumers to know the risks of a product.

The Motherisk program at the Hospital for Sick Children also saw labelling as a critical part of the strategy. It said, “The alcohol industry first denied the existence of FAS and later did very little to prevent it. The main reason that they oppose warning labels is their fear of losing revenue. They claim that they oppose warning labels because they are not an effective method of FAS prevention. That contradicts their lack of effort to find other means. Warning labels are an effective way in changing the culture of drinking, similar to the change in attitude toward smoking, or drinking and driving. In the implementation of the alcohol warning label, nothing can be lost, only gained”.

Another issue which often was not discussed was that people talked about labelling being ineffective. The industry spends a substantial amount of money designing labelling to encourage drinking of their particular product. If labelling is not effective, why would the industry spend so much money labelling bottles?

That issue came up in a study at the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University in the U.S. in February 2003. This study was done in the U.S. so I am not suggesting that Canadian industry does the same thing.

The study said, “They saw action as being urgent. The decline in alcohol consumption among minors over the past 20 years appears to have promoted campaigns such as the increase in marketing malternatives and gelatin shots, Zippers, both appealing to children, and the efforts of the liquor industry to mount major advertising campaigns on television”.

We have also seen all kinds of different labelling. Some of the samples we saw at committee really encouraged some behaviour that many of us thought was highly questionable.

A number of people went before the CDC, including three surgeons general. Those three surgeons general called on the alcohol industry to include in its advertising and product labels “clear warnings of the dangers of underage drinking and adult excessive drinking”. They also called for “endowing an independent foundation with no ties to the alcohol industry to work exclusively to curb underage drinking”.

The Betty Ford Foundation said that the findings demonstrated that the alcohol industry had an inherent conflict of interest between public health and industry profit.

I could go on with quotations at length. In 1992 the subcommittee on health in “Fetal Alcohol Syndrome: The Preventable Tragedy” said that government warning labels on containers of beverage alcohol sold in the country had been done since 1989. It was referring to the United States. It said that labelling had been happening in the United States since 1989 and the wheels of industry had not ground to a halt, despite the fact that the industry had to put labels on bottles.

It is ironic that Canadian brewers are shipping alcohol with labels to the United States. If it is good enough for the U.S., it should be good enough for Canada.

Ways and MeansGovernment Orders

April 19th, 2005 / 11:50 a.m.

West Nova Nova Scotia

Liberal

Robert Thibault LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, there have been discussions on all sides of the House and you will find that there is consent for the following motion:

That Ways and Means motion No. 8, standing in the name of the Minister for Veterans Affairs on the Order Paper, be deemed moved and adopted on division.

Ways and MeansGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, because of the translation kicking in late, I heard part of the motion. I am not sure if I fully understood it and wonder if the motion could be reread for the House to understand it.

Ways and MeansGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I am going to repeat the motion in French:

Que la motion numéro 8 des voix et moyens inscrites au Feuilleton d'aujourd'hui au nom de la ministre des Anciens combattants soit réputée mise aux voix et adoptée.

Does the hon. parliamentary secretary have the unanimous consent of the House to move the motion?

Ways and MeansGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Ways and MeansGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Bloc Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, if I understood right, my colleague added at the end, “moved and adopted on division”, which you omitted.

Ways and MeansGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Yes, I think that the words “on division” were included.

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Ways and MeansGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Motion agreed to)

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to start off by giving my sincere personal thanks to the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan for helping to inform Canadians about this important issue and for her hard work in committee.

I attended each of the committee meetings and I know she always asked questions to inform herself and challenged positions. I want her colleagues to know that this hon. member did an excellent job on behalf of Canadians concerned about this issue.

The member raised a broad spectrum of issues and concerns. To me the most important point she raised is the argument about the synergies between having a label on a product and a strategy to complement it, and the converse, that the strategy also has to link itself to a product as well.

The member will probably know that in the United States there was an effort made to fix the label in the United States because it was not readable or noticeable. The bureau of alcohol, tobacco and firearms rejected the move to improve the label in the United States primarily because the beverage alcohol industry said that it was working and doing its job. It was informing people and awareness levels were high.

I wonder if the member would care to comment on that in view of the fact that in the United States the beverage alcohol industry was saying that the label in the U.S. was working, and in Canada the beverage alcohol industry was saying the label was not working.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:55 a.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, that is a very interesting point because the member for Mississauga South brought examples of some of the labelling in the United States to the committee and challenged us to find the label. We could not find it. It was placed vertically; the colour was the same as the bottle. It was virtually unreadable. So of course the industry was going to say the labelling was effective because it was effective in its view of not reducing any alcohol consumption.

We really want Canadians to understand the potential for risk. One of the witnesses that came before the committee, Tim Stockwell who was the director and professor for the centre for addictions research of B.C. at the University of Victoria, specifically talked about how we could make labels effective. He talked about the fact that tobacco packages have essays written on them about quite simple health effects of tobacco in huge detail.

However, he also talked about how else we could make those messages effective and this is what we really wanted to see. The message could be rotated and be illustrated with pictures. He went on to talk about the low risk drinking guidelines that were developed in Australia with which he had been involved. A whole series of punchy messages were developed that the alcohol industry actually climbed on board with.

Initially there was a huge resistance; the world was going to end if labels had to be put on bottles. However, eventually the industry came on board and has actively supported a very proactive campaign in Australia. It would be a model that we could look at in Canada for effective labelling.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:55 a.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, with all of the work that has been done by our member for Winnipeg North and the member for Mississauga South, I was very concerned, perhaps even shocked, by the committee's decision not to proceed. I wonder if my colleague could make a quick comment on why she thinks the committee decided not to proceed.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:55 a.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am relatively new to the House and it was interesting to me to watch how the witnesses at the committee divided. On the one hand, many of the advocates in the health care community and the addictions and substance abuse community, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Motherisk, a whole series of advocacy groups and health professionals talked about the importance of labelling as part of a comprehensive strategy.

On the other side of the coin, industry representatives talked about the fact that labelling would actually impact on their economic benefits and impact on jobs in the community. I would argue that we need to take both of those pieces and come together, so that we are looking at how jobs might be affected, but also taking seriously into consideration the health and welfare of citizens in our country.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

Noon

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank you for recognizing that I was sharing my time with the hon. member for Nanaimo--Cowichan.

I would like to thank the member for Yellowhead for bringing forward this motion today, so that we can actually have this debate in the House. Obviously it took place in the health committee, but now it is taking place in the House. I think it provides a good opportunity for all members to express their viewpoint on this very important public health issue.

I would like to recognize the work that is being done by my colleague from Nanaimo--Cowichan, the NDP health critic, and the role that she has played in the committee of basically sticking to the principles. As she said, in responding to a question from my other colleague from Windsor--Tecumseh who asked why the health committee of Parliament decided not to proceed with any further proactive measures to ensure that labelling took place, the witnesses were divided.

There were witnesses who were advocates and who understood the importance and the imperative of this public policy health proposal. Then there were industry representatives. It has become very clear that in the health committee a majority of members, in fact I believe all but the member from the NDP, the member for Nanaimo--Cowichan, voted down a proposal to proceed with the labelling. Instead, the committee adopted this report that is now before us which is to have a further consultation and report through Health Canada with stakeholder groups.

That is fine as far as it goes, but I think it begs the question as to why this issue has been stalled for so long and why so little has been done? I want to draw to the attention of the House that my colleague, the member for Winnipeg North, brought a private member's motion before the House several years and it was approved. Her motion to place warnings and advisories on alcohol beverages was approved by the House. Since that time very little progress has been made by the federal government and Health Canada to move on that motion passed by Parliament to have labelling.

I think that is very disconcerting. It is one of these issues where there are a lot of vested interests involved, but it is critical that as members of Parliament representing our constituents and representing the broad public health of the community, that we not lose sight of the importance of requiring a comprehensive strategy of which labelling should be one component.

I represent the riding of Vancouver East. In my community we are dealing with very huge issues of discrimination, poverty, people who are facing unemployment, who are working in part time jobs, people who are living below the poverty line, and who have very poor access to health care in the city. We have seen massive privatization take place in British Columbia under Gordon Campbell who has allowed it to happen. We have seen this government be completely silent on that question and not do anything to enforce the Canada Health Act.

What this produces is an environment where we are basically creating a society where there are people who have access to resources, often private resources, they have good jobs and good incomes, but there are growing numbers of people who are now joining a part of society where the gap between wealth and poverty is growing.

Certainly, in a community like mine in east Vancouver, we can see the visibility of that. We can see the impact of that in the local community in terms of lack of housing, lack of accessible affordable health care, and lack of education.

I raise those issues because to me they are all part of the environment that creates a situation where there are a growing number of families who have very little access to real resources and support by which to make informed decisions about what they do to live in a healthy community.

In fact, we have removed many of those supports over the years, so families become more and more isolated. More and more people live below the poverty line. They struggle to make ends meet every month. They struggle to keep food on the table and feed their kids.

It is within that environment in my community and I know in many communities across the country that we need to address these fundamental health issues. We need to look at the determinants of health. We need to look at the things that will help produce healthy communities in terms of housing, resources, income, stable work, family support and child care. These are the basics for healthy and livable neighbourhoods.

I very much see this issue of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder as a part of that debate, because I think we can see this as we experience a society where more and more dysfunction takes place. We have people feeling the stresses of everyday life and trying to keep their families together. We can see that with a lack of support and resources people make decisions, and they may be engaging in practices such as consuming alcohol without the awareness about what the direct consequences are for unborn children and for children as they are growing up.

These are very critical issues and I feel a sense of dismay. I have now been in this House for almost eight years. I do not know how many throne speeches I have heard, but I have heard enough of them, and I think I can safely say that every single Speech from the Throne that I have heard has addressed this issue. It has always supposedly been on the government's agenda to address this issue, particularly within the aboriginal community where we have seen the incidence of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder happen at very alarming rates because of the lack of supports.

It is very alarming to look at this place and hear the speeches and the fine words laid out in those speeches when the result is that really nothing takes place. I have to say for the NDP members here that we are very concerned about the direction the government has taken in sort of moving off this agenda, from the big picture of not enforcing the Canada Health Act and allowing privatization to take place to other parts of the picture. The government is being completely passive and non-active on this issue of FASD.

This has tragic consequences in local communities. I think we have to question ourselves. What is the weight and what is the balance we give to different interests who come before us?

I think there are legitimate concerns from the industry about labelling. There are questions that industry has, but surely there are also some broader principles at work here in terms of public policy and health policy. Surely if we can adopt those principles then we should be able to figure out, with all the resources that we have in this place, how to design a system that can mitigate the effects the industry is concerned about while still bringing forward a strong public message about the dangers of alcohol consumption that can result in FASD.

Surely we are able to accomplish that. This is not an insurmountable task. I think what it comes back to is a lack of political will to carry this out. With this government, this lack of political will is something that we are unfortunately all too familiar with. How many times do we have to hear about the commitment to this and that, whether it is child care, health care, housing, education or help for aboriginal people? How many times do we have to hear this rhetoric but see a complete lack of follow-through? We do end up feeling very cynical about what this government's record is all about. I think Canadians feel very cynical about that record.

While we are here today to support this report or the need for a report as far as it goes, let us be very clear that this issue could have already been dealt with if this Liberal government had decided to act even when the member for Winnipeg Centre had her motion approved by this House several years ago.

Here we have yet another example of this Liberal government dragging its feet, not following through on its agenda and dropping the ball on a significant public policy issue that has to do with the health and welfare of our children and our families. So yes, we will have this debate here in the House, but it is this government that has dropped the ball on this issue.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Lynne Yelich Conservative Blackstrap, SK

Mr. Speaker, I want to make a comment and ask a question of the member. She talked a lot about how it is important for government to realize how the addictions are troublesome and how labelling will help.

In our province, our provincial government owns all the liquor stores. I am wondering if she would agree, then, that probably it should put up big signs to tell people that whatever they buy out of those stores is definitely a detriment to their health.

I want her to comment because in our province we seem to encourage drinking. Our premier wanted to lower the liquor age. He is putting up three brand new beautiful buildings throughout the province. While we are closing schools and hospitals we are going to have three of the nicest looking liquor stores in the nation, I am sure, because the NDP does believe that people should have choice. Now we are down to the same topic as liquor. That is all these stores sell. The government has a monopoly. It controls these liquor stores. Should there be warning signals and warning signs posted on their doors as well?