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.