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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

12:10 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I know that the hon. member is from the province of Saskatchewan. I have to say that I think it is far preferable that we have government control of liquor licensing and liquor distribution.

I come from a province where the Liberal government has for years tried to privatize liquor distribution and basically get rid of all the rules. It was only because of a massive public outcry in the community that the government had to back off from its privatization plans. I think the Saskatchewan model, where at least there is a clear accountability back to the government for liquor regulation, licensing and distribution, is a preferable environment to operate in.

In terms of notices or labelling in that province, it is obviously for the people of Saskatchewan to decide how they want to urge their government to follow through on that.

I think that what we are debating here today is the critical role of the federal government in taking up its responsibility. This is part of the problem. We can look at it province by province, but the question before us today is what we should be doing in this federal jurisdiction to ensure that there is a comprehensive strategy, to ensure that we have education, awareness and prevention right across the country.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like the hon. member for Vancouver East to comment on this statement because I know that her riding is one of the ridings in Canada with the lowest income per capita. One of the things that came out in 1992 in the standing committee report on fetal alcohol, where Mrs. Betty MacPhee, the manager of Vancouver's Crabtree Corner, was a witness, was that every woman should know that “there is no known safe amount of alcohol” for women who are pregnant.

Subsequently, results of a national survey done for Health Canada by Environics said that part of the major findings of the study was again that there was “confusion about the safety of 'small amounts' of alcohol”. This was many years later so clearly there had not been an improvement in women's knowledge. I wonder if the member for Vancouver East could comment on how labelling would benefit her community in that many people there probably struggle a bit with literacy and just finding out information.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, the organization the member refers to is a family child care centre in the downtown east side. This is a place that is overwhelmed by the stresses and the demands that are placed on families in that community.

The member makes a very good point. It seems to me that labelling and providing public information about the devastating effects of consuming alcohol during pregnancy is one measure. It must be part of a comprehensive strategy. As well, information must be delivered in a way that is accessible, noticeable and usable to people. I think labelling is a part of that, but it cannot be the only part of that. We need to have information that is delivered right at the grassroots in terms of community education and awareness campaigns.

Some of these organizations work tremendously hard under very difficult circumstances to get that message out, but if we had a clear strategy from the federal government to assist that I think those organizations would be a lot better off in working that message in the local communities and bringing about the understanding and awareness for women who are pregnant.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:15 p.m.

West Nova Nova Scotia

Liberal

Robert Thibault LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, we could say a lot of words here. A lot could be said about why the private member's bill did not succeed through committee in its current form. More importantly, though, I think we should talk about why this process did work and how it did work. Perhaps it did not achieve the outcome that we would all have liked, especially the mover, the member for Mississauga South, who has done a lot of arduous work on this. He has done a lot of hard work for a number of years. He is an expert in the matter.

A lot of people in the House supported sending the bill to committee so that it would have full study. I think we have to see that where the system worked for the private member's bill was in bringing an increased level of awareness to the House, to all parties and to Canadians to make sure that people understand the horror of diseases like FASD, fetal alcohol syndrome, the risks in the operation of machinery, the danger to general health with misuse of alcohol and other drugs, and the effects that improper use has on families and on communities generally.

We have had a very good debate on that. Now we have a follow-up to one element of it. We listened to reports. Committees should do that. All parliamentarians from all parties worked very hard at the committee. Perhaps Canadians become disenchanted with parliamentarians when they watch the House and listen to the arguments, name calling, screaming and accusations, but I think those who followed the committee would have seen people working very hard and very seriously, asking good questions of a lot of experts and of people with their protected interests, of course, who came to the committee, were able to testify and were asked questions by all members in a very good manner.

At the end of the day the decision was made that perhaps it was not the time to go alone in a stand-alone fashion on labelling, but that we needed a comprehensive strategy. The committee reported on that and the member for Yellowhead put a motion to the committee, which was supported nearly unanimously if not unanimously, if my memory serves me. It was very well supported that we get a report and get some action from the Department of Health, that the Department of Health appear and talk about its comprehensive strategy on FASD and that we see what it is preparing.

I think that is very good. If we get that element out and get people working together in the right direction, then the member's work is not lost. I believe he worked very hard. We cannot lose it. We cannot have that work go for nothing. No member of Parliament and no Canadian benefits from that. We have to build on the work that has been done to date and look forward to a comprehensive strategy in the future, which may very well include labelling. It has to have the participation of all players. The alcohol industry, I understand and I certainly hope, has been served notice that it has to be a player at the table. It is the product the industry profits from that is a risk to our society in many ways and society has to be informed. The question remains on what is the best way to inform.

We are now talking about one element of it, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, about which the member for Mississauga South has written and with which he is very familiar. He will be encouraged, I hope, by the moves that will be made by government and by other sectors of our society over the coming years. I hope we see a day when we have the complete elimination of FASD; certainly we have to see a reduction and that starts with awareness.

It is our intention to be present at the committee with the future strategic directions of the government's activities on fetal alcohol syndrome, as stated in the motion. The government will support the motion. We will present a document that will highlight the involvement of key partners and stakeholders, as well as the gaps, the challenges and the opportunities in current fetal alcohol spectrum disorder activities. We will speak on how we plan to address these challenges and opportunities.

The health portfolio has been working with other departments and agencies, the provinces and territories and aboriginal groups as well as a host of community based partners on a comprehensive approach to fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. Its objective is to address the critical gaps and pressures caused by FASD and provide individuals and organizations working with groups that are at risk with the tools and resources they need to reach and educate prospective parents.

As profound as the impact may be for affected individuals and their families, the cost of FASD is steep for society. Canadian taxpayers will spend an additional $1.5 million over the lifetime of each affected individual in extra health care, education, welfare, policing and criminal justice costs.

Consider that given the incidents of 9.1 cases of FASD per thousand births, there are an estimated 280,000 people in Canada currently living with this fully preventable disability. We believe that the most effective approach is one which focuses on awareness and on prevention. That is what the experts and academics who have studied this issue tell us works best.

For example, research shows that women are more likely to turn to their health care providers for information on alcohol during pregnancy. This reinforces that it is important to educate the range of health care professionals. Supporting health and allied professionals will enable them to deal more effectively with their people at risk and help reduce the risk factors.

To this, a lot has been accomplished already. Among the many activities completed to date, the department has published a framework for action on FASD. The Public Health Agency of Canada also conducted and published a national survey of health care professionals on their knowledge and attitudes on FASD. It has also supported the development and publication of Canadian diagnostic guidelines to assist teams of health care providers in identifying affected individuals.

In 2000 and again in 2002, Health Canada conducted public opinion surveys to gauge public awareness and general knowledge about FASD and alcohol use during pregnancy. The intelligence gathered through this process helped to shape common messages on FASD. Those were developed by the department in partnership with the provinces and territories. Posters and pamphlets using these messages were prepared and distributed to the public. Health Canada subsequently conducted limited awareness campaigns using these materials.

That is not all. Working in partnership with Thyme Maternity and News Canada, the department had newspaper articles published aimed at increasing public awareness of FASD and the need to avoid alcohol during pregnancy. Of particular importance to organizations working with high risk groups, the Public Health Agency has funded eight projects the country through the national FASD strategic projects fund. Through these projects, tools, resources and training programs are being developed and are used by community-based organizations to prevent FASD and to improve the prospects of people living with this disability.

A lot of work is also being done at regional levels to support local projects that will help reduce the incidents of FASD and improve outcomes for those affected.

This is just the beginning. Work currently underway will create greater knowledge and understanding of the impacts of pre-natal alcohol exposure and support prospective parents and affected individuals and their families. For instance, focus group studies are being conducted among women to gauge their acceptance of the current messages. The information obtained from these studies will help form a healthy pregnancy campaign, which is under development, targeting women of child-bearing age with health messages around pregnancy, including alcohol and FASD.

Another sample is a series of literature reviews being undertaken that focuses on alcohol use by pregnant women and the alcohol consumption rates of women of child-bearing age. Research is also being carried out on FASD training opportunities and public awareness activities across Canada.

Momentum is building all across the country to address many of the challenges Bill C-206 proposes to resolve. National multi-stakeholders meetings were recently held in Ottawa, including one to follow up on the publication of the diagnostic guidelines. A symposium on FASD was held as part of ongoing discussions on Canada's alcohol strategy and a national framework in substance use and abuse.

A survey of allied professionals' knowledge, attitudes and behaviours regarding FAS is currently being planned. The result of this survey will provide baseline information on FASD knowledge among such groups as correctional officers, teachers, social workers, nurses and other front line workers dealing with affected individuals. The public health function that they provide is paramount to FASD harm reduction and prevention.

An analysis of disability laws and regulations and the evidence necessary to declare FASD as a disability is also being compiled. The first nations and Inuit health branch of Health Canada is developing culturally appropriate screening and diagnostic tools. There will be a new call for proposals for the national FASD strategic project funds.

This says nothing of the plethora of activities taking place in the regions of the country. Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada are working hard to ensure that their efforts merge seamlessly with those of community based organizations in the provinces and territories. They are ensuring that prevention and awareness measures are not limited to the health care domain.

FASD is an issue that cuts across sectors and jurisdictions. All these activities contribute to a comprehensive approach that seeks to reduce the risks and tragic consequences of prenatal alcohol exposure. That, as witness after witness told the Standing Committee on Health, is exactly what is needed if we are to produce meaningful results.

Make no mistake. This is precisely what the Minister of Health has indicated he intends to do. All parties are well aware that the health minister is serious about preventing FASD. He has told the House of Commons that his department is working toward a comprehensive strategy for FASD based on proven and established best practices.

Do not forget that while I have focused on challenges specific to FASD, I remind my hon. colleagues that there is a broad range of important programs at play, including Canada's drug strategy, the alcohol and drug treatment and rehabilitation program, the drug strategy community initiative funds and the national native alcohol and drug abuse program, in addition to the national fetal spectrum disorder initiative.

It is important to remind ourselves that while the committee did not see fit to go through with the bill as proposed, the committee did not say, or I certainly did not as a member of the committee, that there was not a benefit to alcohol labelling. I believe what has been said by most witnesses at the committee and by the committee's decision at the end is that it is not in the interest of Canadians to proceed on a one-off basis on this one element, but that it is important to have a strategy. It is important to inform Canadians on the risk of alcohol abuse and drug abuse generally and to give the tools to the communities so they can help those affected individuals and so they can identify those who are at risk.

We should all be thankful of the hard work done by the member for Mississauga South, the information that it gives to the public, the baseline work that it provides to committee in the House of Commons and the anticipation of resolutions to these very serious matters in the future.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, let me begin by indicating to all members and to the public, which is very interested in this subject, that the concurrence motion that I have on the order paper with regard to Bill C-206, which would allow it to continue to report stage and third reading, is still on the order paper. As a result of having this concurrence motion, which will require a comprehensive strategy by June 2, I will defer in calling that motion on the bill itself and the eighth report of the health committee until we receive the comprehensive strategy. If it calls for health warning labels, I would be more than happy to move the concurrence motion so we could continue working on Bill C-206.

Therefore, for those who are interested the bill is not dead.

I want to ask the member a question about a matter which appeared in the Globe and Mail on February 7. There was an interview with one of the representatives of the beverage alcohol industry. The individual was quoted as saying that there had been extensive meetings with Health Canada in regard to the framework and strategies, even to the extent that discussions were held on labelling beverage alcohol with regard to ingredients and also allergens.

It appears Health Canada already is quite engaged with the issue of labelling as it relates to ingredients and allergens. It would then raise this question, and I hope the member could shed some light on it. If the argument is that labelling does not work, why would we consider labelling of ingredients and allergens, but not consider information with regard to the risks associated with misuse of alcohol?

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

Robert Thibault Liberal West Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, again I do not want to defend either side of the argument. I supported the motion presented in the House that we not proceed with the bill at this current time based on the evidence that was provided. I understood that this type of labelling would not be effective as a stand-alone measure.

On the question of other labelling for other purposes, there are rules and regulations under the Food and Drugs Act that allergens have to be reported on and labelled. While I have not researched this matter, I presume that would be to what the member has referred.

Many people spoke on the question of labelling at committee. This is particularly true when it comes to questions like FASD and other problems associated with the abuse of alcohol. We have to reach the individuals at risk before they buy the bottle because often that decision will not change at that time.

For women of child-bearing age, who are considering pregnancy, it is important they have that understanding in the information and education provided to them prior to them buying a bottle. We heard the evidence of experts that it was too later for people who had problems, those who we refer commonly to as alcoholics, or women who continued to drink through pregnancy because of an alcohol or drug dependence. We have to work with them before it becomes a problem.

Those are elements that were provided by experts who appeared at committee on the strategy on comprehensive drug use. In this motion we talk about FASD. However, let us remember we heard at committee, and it was brought to light by the private member's bill, that there was more than the risk of FASD from the abuse of alcohol. There are general health risks such as liver disease, heart disease and cancer. There is also the risk in operating machinery while intoxicated or drinking and driving. Mothers Against Drunk Driving made an excellent presentation on those risks and costs to society and families due to alcohol abuse. Many of us know first-hand of the excesses of alcohol and the stress it can put on the family, the community, individuals and all our systems.

When I consider a comprehensive drug strategy, I go beyond FASD. This motion deals with FASD which is a very important element within that strategy.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Steven Fletcher Conservative Charleswood—St. James, MB

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Nanaimo—Alberni.

I commend the member for Mississauga South for fighting on this issue for so long. His fight against the negative effects of irresponsible alcohol use, fetal alcohol syndrome disorder and drinking and driving, to name only two, has been inspirational.

The member deserves much credit for the momentum building toward a comprehensive FASD strategy. I and the Conservative Party wholeheartedly share his concern about FASD and drunk driving. My party supports the intent of the member's bill but, unfortunately, not the bill itself. Simply put, it has not been proven yet to be the best way to address the problem it seeks to solve.

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

The Standing Committee on Health voted almost unanimously in favour of a more comprehensive strategy. In fact, the vote was ten to one.

The eighth report contained reasons why the committee recommended that a label only strategy proposed by Bill C-206 be replaced with new comprehensive FASD and drunk driving strategies. All witnesses and committee members agreed that FASD and drinking and driving were serious problems that demanded action.

We know that these issues cause untold suffering on those affected by them. However very little evidence was put forward to indicate that alcohol labels would be an effective way of preventing either FASD or drunk driving. Labelling certainly works for a variety of purposes but for FASD and drunk driving, given the intended targets of the messaging, labelling may be ineffective.

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

Many witnesses calling for a comprehensive FASD strategy did not feel that the first dollars should be committed to labelling initiatives.

There was constant concern that if the government moved ahead with labelling that it would be able to claim that the problem was addressed and would not feel compelled to do what was really needed. The cost of labelling would have crippled many smaller breweries, distillers and wineries.

A leaked cabinet document indicated that Health Canada was aware of the ineffectiveness of labels in preventing FASD and drunk driving. In the letter, however, Health Canada acknowledged that to not support Bill C-206 would look bad politically.

This is no way to draft legislation. This is no way to govern. Laws should not be justified based on how they will be perceived. Laws should be passed based on 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 FASD and drunk driving had a much better chance at success than warning labels.

The Conservative Party of Canada believes that a comprehensive strategy that may or may not include warning labels is the best way to tackle FASD. We therefore support the motion to concur in the eighth report of the Standing Committee on Health. The Conservative Party will demand that the alcohol beverage industry play an active role in the new strategy. Although the industry has played a part in previous initiatives, it must do more and will therefore be called upon to take a leading role in a comprehensive strategy.

The committee supported the motion by the member for Yellowhead that the committee call upon the government to present to the Standing Committee on Health a new strategy for the prevention of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder to be developed by Health Canada and its stakeholder groups by June 2, 2005. The motion will be tabled at a later date.

The health minister has indicated that he is serious about preventing fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and has told the House of Commons that his department is working toward a comprehensive strategy for FASD based on proven and established best practices. The Conservative Party hopes that Health Canada will develop, release and implement that strategy as soon as possible and the motion by the member for Yellowhead will hopefully accelerate that process.

As a member of Parliament for Manitoba, FASD is a serious problem. I was also involved with Teens Against Drinking and Driving at a very young age. In fact, the program was set up at my high school so I am aware of these challenges. However I want to ensure that if efforts are made they are not done in a haphazard way but in a manner that will ensure we get the maximum impact on the population that these programs will be targeting.

Therefore I hope that we will work together as a nation to reduce the occurrences of FASD and drinking and driving to basically nothing. Only together will we make that happen. I ask that we all support the member's intent of Bill C-206 but that we wait to see a comprehensive strategy that may or may not include alcohol labelling. We have to do the work required.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:40 p.m.

Conservative

Diane Ablonczy Conservative Calgary Nose Hill, AB

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate my colleague on his intervention in this matter and would ask him if he could tell the House how this matter has directly impacted Canadians.

Sometimes when we talk about policy in the House, certainly if we are not intimately involved in the issue as my colleague is, we can lose sight of how real Canadians are impacted. I would be interested in my colleague's comments on that dimension of the issue.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:40 p.m.

Conservative

Steven Fletcher Conservative Charleswood—St. James, MB

Mr. Speaker, one of the interesting aspects of the bill that struck me as helpful was that the labelling targeted two areas of harm by alcohol consumption that are completely preventable. There is no need for babies to be born with FAS and there is no need for drunk drivers to be on the roads. We all know that each year too many people are killed by drinking and driving. We all know the terrible effect that fetal alcohol syndrome has on the population, especially the most vulnerable part of our population, the children.

Not only is it terrible for a child to have that health challenge at the beginning of life but it is also important that prevention measures are implemented so we do not have to deal with children with FAS. For the unfortunate children who do have FAS, we need to provide the resources to allow those children to live meaningful and productive lives. However that is a heavy drain on the resources in society for something that is completely preventable. It seems that we could do a lot more as Canadians.

Alcohol labels, in and of themselves, may or may not reduce the effects but we know that the existing programs reduce the effects. It would be great to have a program that incorporates the best policies from all stakeholders to ensure that FAS and drinking and driving are reduced to zero.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Charleswood--St. James--Assiniboia for his thoughtful and constructive participation in the hearings at committee and the counsel he gave to all his colleagues on the issues facing us and the difficult question about warning labels and the likelihood of their affecting behaviour as opposed to simply informing people or improving their awareness.

Some suggestion was made that labels in a vacuum would not do anything special other than satisfy the obligation or the duty to inform.

Should Health Canada table with the House a comprehensive strategy laying out its argument that the strategy would be enhanced by having health warning labels on the containers of alcoholic beverages, would my colleague support Bill C-206 calling for those labels?

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

Steven Fletcher Conservative Charleswood—St. James, MB

Mr. Speaker, if a comprehensive strategy is put forward I hope it would include elements that would require Bill C-206 to be redundant. If they decide that labels are necessary, then that needs to be given serious consideration.

The one thing that really struck me during the hearings was the fact that one of the industry representatives said that if it were part of our constructive strategy and it were shown that labels would in fact change behaviour then they would have no objections to doing so. That buy in by stakeholders is important and that may be one of the great legacies of their participation in this process.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

James Lunney Conservative Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to enter the discussion on this very important issue calling for concurrence of the House in the ninth report of the health committee. This basically it is a motion where the health committee is asking that Health Canada work with stakeholders to complete and present a comprehensive strategy and plan to address fetal alcohol syndrome.

I will begin by acknowledging the member for Mississauga South. I did mention this earlier in a small intervention but I think all members appreciate the efforts of the member over many years to advance this cause before the House. I personally, as a member of the health committee who sat through the debate and discussion, am pleased that it came before the committee. I think we all learned a lot about it and I am hopeful that we will see this issue advanced.

What is fetal alcohol syndrome? It is the leading cause of developmental disability among Canadian children. It was first established as a medical diagnosis in 1973. That makes it rather modern as something that has been recognized in the medical world.

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, FASD, is not one set of symptoms alone. It is a spectrum of disabilities associated with prenatal exposure to alcohol. The issues range from very mild symptoms to very severe mental disability and deformity.

While preventable, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder is a complex, multifaceted public health and social issue. It affects Canadians from all walks of life but, interestingly enough, we know that there are some communities that have been affected far more significantly and more profoundly. Certainly in our first nations and Inuit communities it has been disproportionately devastating.

The bottom line is that alcohol for a pregnant woman is a disaster and the only way to ensure or guarantee a safe pregnancy is to avoid alcohol entirely. However the message is not that a single glass of wine for a pregnant woman will be a disaster in itself. It is the multiple drinks, the binge drinking or the heavy dose of alcohol that can be extremely destructive to the fetus.

There is a huge range of serious physical and mental defects. It varies with the amount, the timing and the frequency of alcohol consumed and depends upon a number of factors, perhaps the genetics of the fetus and the mother or the overall state of health.

What has been done? I think this is significant. Since the early eighties there has been a patchwork of awareness campaigns and activities that have grown to support women at risk as well as to meet the needs of people in communities affected by FASD. More research, monitoring and evaluation of individual initiatives have increased in recent years.

Some of the programs that came before committee were quite significant. In the province of Quebec, statistics show that fetal alcohol syndrome is even more prevalent in Quebec than in other provinces. The province has responded with a very good educational program. Some of the tools that Éduc'alcool has put out for public awareness are actually very good. They are making an impact. They are out in the schools. They are being used in the communities and in the clinics and there is a real effort to get the information out.

The program promotes moderation; how to behave with our children, whatever their age; and that prevention begins with the family. It provides very good practical advice for parents on how to behave with children, whatever their age and whatever the risk to which the children are exposed.

It also provides advice on how to interact with 8 to 11 year olds and what type of messaging parents should have. It provides advice on how to behave with 12 to 14 year olds who are now increasingly in the risk range as their possibility of pregnancy rises. It also provides advice on dealing with 15 and 16 year olds. Statistics show that some 24% of 16 year olds drink alcohol just about every week. These, I believe, are Quebec statistics because it is the Éduc'alcool program that is providing the information. Just 23% of 16 year olds have never had a drink. They are at risk.

The program goes on to give advice on how to behave with 17 to 18 year olds who increasingly are vulnerable to peer pressure and have more access and more economic capability of accessing alcohol in quantities that could be destructive.

Some of these programs include influencing young people not to drink and drive and to make the right choice.

Efforts have been made in recent years to address education, important initiatives to getting the information out.

It is estimated that 9 babies in 1,000 born in Canada have fetal alcohol syndrome, which is about 1 in 100. It is the leading cause of developmental disability. The costs to society are high. Without taking into account the lost potential and opportunity, which is not measurable for individuals, the direct costs have been estimated to be about $1.5 million per person. That is a huge cost to society.

It is also known that we are facing a lifelong disability when a fetus is damaged at this early developmental stage, that it can be prevented and that we need to be taking some action to reduce the cost of morbidity and the terrible affliction on society.

The essence of Bill C-206 was that we should go out and label alcoholic beverages. I think there are some advantages to be later addressing this with other nations because we have with the United States, for example, some 15 years' experience with labels. The member for Mississauga South had brought us examples of labels from some products. The label on a beer bottle, for example, was around the neck. It was in a text that was either vertically orientated or in a colour that made it nearly invisible. We might wonder why some of those labels are ineffective but when we look at them it is clear that we need a microscope and some special lighting to read the message at all.

We saw other labels that were brought in that were clearly visible. The problem is that after a whole range of initiatives were tried, no one could really provide the committee with any evidence that these labelling initiatives had actually had an impact. In fact, it seems that in spite of the labelling things have become worse and the incidents of fetal alcohol syndrome continues to increase.

The significant thing about Canada addressing the latter issues is that in spite of the fact that some people think it is a good idea to put labels on there and it might feel better that we are doing something, we do not want to take an initiative just so we can feel a little better if the initiative will not be effective. It seems to me that the government has enough initiatives that turn out to be ineffective or misdirected.

We might mention some common examples, like a gun registry that turns out to be ineffective or misdirected, or a range of other issues that are actually misdirected, or the criminal justice with concurrent sentences. Someone gets a five year sentence but in fact receives concurrent sentences. People have committed crimes that are maybe two crimes that call for five years, but they get only a five year sentence and then get statutory release and are released early.

We have a lot of messaging that goes out that turns out to be ineffective.

On the labelling issue, while we want labelling and there may be a way to make labels effective, the evidence is not clear that is the primary direction in which we should be going, and the committee has therefore asked for a comprehensive plan.

We were startled, as committee members, to hear that although Health Canada officials had been working on a strategy for several years and meeting with stakeholders, they were giving indications that although they felt they were closer to a strategy for fetal alcohol syndrome, they felt they were nowhere near a comprehensive plan for the whole range of managing alcohol.

What the committee wants and what we want to propose is that Health Canada put some emphasis on this matter and come up with a comprehensive plan that would include a wide range of issues.

I want to bring up an issue that came out of committee that many people listening to the debate may not have heard. I actually raised the issue with the member for Mississauga South earlier in a question but I think he missed the point I was trying to raise.

The point I was trying to raise came out of a report to the committee by Dr. Gideon Koren, who is involved with Motherisk and the Hospital for Sick Children. The good news is that after some 10 years he reported that some 15 studies in animals showed that administering antioxidant vitamins, vitamin E, vitamin C, vitamin A, lowers or eliminates the risk to the fetus in animals. Thank goodness CIHR has funded some studies to demonstrate this in human beings.

A little good news came out of the study and it is an inexpensive way to begin protecting people. The information did not surprise me because we know antioxidant vitamins mitigate a whole range of chronic degenerative diseases. It would be very good news indeed if we could recommend and make sure that people at risk, particularly young mothers and women who are consuming, were getting antioxidant vitamins to reduce the risk.

We are asking the House to endorse a comprehensive strategy which might include labelling, include greater public awareness and put some real funds into making sure we advance a program that works.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:55 p.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Bloc Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened to my colleague very carefully and I agree with him when he says that Health Canada has been working on this for years. It is very true. I also agree with my colleague from Mississauga South, who is right to say that after ten years of studies and evaluations, it is time to take vigorous action to fight the tragic but avoidable effects of fetal alcohol syndrome and excessive alcohol consumption by young people, and I would add to that, drunk driving.

Anyone who calls for a national strategy is calling for procrastination. We were told here just yesterday, at the Standing Committee on Health, that of the $1.2 billion the Health Infoway program was given, only $51 million has been spent so far. Well, that program was created five years ago.

Insofar as the child care system is concerned, $700 million will be invested in a trust. It will obviously be hard to access the funds. If I remember correctly, a few weeks ago my colleague and his party were decrying the child care system approach.

What I would like to know from him is whether it is not better for each province to have its own policy, under which each could respond to its own needs and problems. With a national strategy, we have the same old problem: the approach is too centralizing and the strategies that are needed to solve the problems never get developed.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

1 p.m.

Conservative

James Lunney Conservative Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am not sure I understood the member's point regarding trust funds. I do not know whether she was referring to the money that was set aside for hepatitis C, for example, to compensate people. That is a very good example of another misdirected program which promised to deliver help to people in great need and here, after all these years, we find that of the $1.2 billion, over $1 billion still remains in that fund. We are still discussing in this House how we might administer help to people. If that was an illustration of another ineffective program, she was making a very good point.

On the question of whether a national strategy would be better or whether it would be better to allow provinces to develop their own strategies, I want to commend the province of Quebec for recognizing a problem and advancing the Éduc'alcool program. It was very encouraging to see the work it has already done. Perhaps a national strategy would want to incorporate a lot of what Quebec is already doing. However I think the issue is big enough but the provinces are so strapped for resources because of the huge costs of health care that they are basically treading water. I do not see us advancing this without a very comprehensive national strategy that would include labelling and a whole range of other educational materials.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

1 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member is quite right. I did misunderstand his previous point. Motherisk has come up with interesting research that analyzes stools of newborns which shows that the consumption of alcohol during pregnancy is actually 10 times higher than they previously thought through interviews. I thought we were talking about that.

In any event, could the member please tell us about the funding of Éduc'alcool?

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

1 p.m.

Conservative

James Lunney Conservative Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

Mr. Speaker, as I recall, the funding, which I believe is a penny a bottle, but it is a small amount collected at the distribution centres where alcohol is being sold that goes into the program. I am sure that is a very valuable asset.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

1 p.m.

Conservative

Joy Smith Conservative Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Mr. Speaker, having taught school for 21 years, there are many fetal alcohol syndrome children who are in the school system. As we know, FAS is a leading cause of development disability.

Could the member please comment on how FAS impacts on the school system?

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

1 p.m.

Conservative

James Lunney Conservative Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

Mr. Speaker, there are huge costs to the education system in trying to manage the very complicated problems associated with these kids as well as trying to deal with autistic children. The House has been facing that issue as well.

Many people have been looking for a means to address this question. It is time we found answers because the educational system and parents cannot carry this alone. We need a comprehensive strategy to address these issues and reduce the challenge these children face.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

1 p.m.

Conservative

Colin Carrie Conservative Oshawa, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member is quite an expert on natural health products. During committee hearings we heard that some research had been done to decrease the damage in fetal alcohol spectrum disorder by using vitamins properly.

Does the member foresee the use of vitamins in prevention or perhaps added to certain products as part of the comprehensive strategy?

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

1 p.m.

Conservative

James Lunney Conservative Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member who has introduced a private member's bill in the House on natural health products that would change the way we regulate them.

I was very hopeful when I heard the announcements about the study, not only to diagnose these damages early in meconium stool, but also to find out if we could reduce the morbidity rate by getting antioxident vitamins to women at risk in their child-bearing years. This would ensure they would have adequate antioxident vitamins to protect their fetus and to ensure they not only would enjoy good health themselves but also to protect their children from this very serious condition. That is something--

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

1:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

April 19th, 2005 / 1:05 p.m.

Etobicoke North Ontario

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise and participate in the debate on a motion which would accept the report of the Standing Committee on Health on Bill C-206. First, I would like to congratulate the member for Mississauga South for his very diligent work on Bill C-206, an act to amend the Food and Drugs Act, warning labels regarding the consumption of alcohol.

What the committee dealt with, when it reviewed the private member's bill, was the idea of putting warning labels on bottles of beer, wine and spirits warning against the consumption of alcohol. The member's intent is very well-founded. We know that he has taken a very keen interest in the effects of fetal alcohol syndrome and has made quite a study of it. We know he has very good intentions when it comes to his bill.

However, we need to focus on the process where his bill was reviewed by the Standing Committee on Health. That committee had witnesses from a broad spectrum of stakeholder groups. In the wisdom of committee members, after hearing all the testimony, they decided that the bill should be defeated and that the committee ask the Minister of Health to present a comprehensive plan to the committee by June 2, outlining a strategy for helping people who drank irresponsibly, including drinking and driving and fetal alcohol syndrome. That was a very sound recommendation.

The question of the labelling came up and pre-empted the review of the Department of Health and the Minister of Health of a very thoughtful drug strategy. We should not rush ahead with putting labels on bottles of spirits, wine and beer until we have a look at that comprehensive program. A caution is also warranted because there does not seem to be any evidence, notwithstanding the member for Mississauga South's best intentions, that putting warning labels on bottles will have any impact whatsoever.

In fact, it will put an additional cost burden on industry without any appreciable benefit. We are trying to reduce the incidence of drinking and driving, drinking while pregnant and drinking while operating heavy machinery. The information in studies that have been done in Canada tells me that 96% of women know they should not drink while pregnant. If we survey pregnant women, 99% know they should not drink while pregnant. If we do the same survey about drinking and driving or drinking and operating heavy equipment, a full 95% or thereabouts of people know that they should not drink if they are going to operate heavy equipment or drive.

If the objective is to educate people, people already know this. Therefore, I wonder what we will accomplish. What we will accomplish is that we will put an additional burden on the beer industry, the wine industry and the spirit industry. They will have to move resources from programs that already work, and we know they work very well.

For example, at committee we heard a witness who formed a company called TAXIGUY. The firm operates across Canada. If people want to get a lift from a bar because they have had too much to drink, TAXIGUY has a 1-800 number. Drivers will pick them up, drive them home and the next morning they will come back and help them find their car. That program is funded partly by companies like Molson and Labatt and partly by MADD.

The industry would have to review all these programs. I know the beer industry for example does some tremendous work with fetal alcohol syndrome. It has worked with a group called Motherisk which has a hotline for pregnant women who can phone and talk about drinking and pregnancy.

There is a host of responsible drinking programs that the beer industry and other industries support. The industry would have to review those. We could ask review those for what purpose? It would be so they could absorb the cost of putting labels on bottles where there is no evidence to suggest that these have any effect or impact. They have had warning labels in the United States for many years and there is no evidence whatsoever that labels have any impact.

If we look at the mechanics of it, what about if one goes to a bar and gets a glass of draft beer? What if one goes to a reception and gets a glass of wine poured? There are no labels. I think the impact of this measure is very dubious at most.

What we really need to focus attention on, in my judgment, is the drinker who drinks in excess and drives for example, and these are repeaters. We need to deal with them. It is not the casual drinker who is the problem. The same thing applies to women who are pregnant. It has been shown statistically that some 60% or thereabouts of women who drink when they are pregnant will do it again and again. They will repeat that kind of behaviour. Putting a label on a bottle I do not think will have any impact.

For these reasons, I will support the motion. The health committee looked at this very carefully. Let us accept its recommendation. Let us get a strategy from the Department of Health and then see if labels are part of that strategy or not.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

1:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

It is my duty to interrupt the proceedings and put forthwith every question necessary to dispose of the motion now before the House.

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

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

1:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

1:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.