Mr. Speaker, I welcome your ruling as it enables us to carry on with the debate on this important piece of legislation. To try to use a procedural opportunity for what I would call partisan politics to delay debate on this important bill is unconscionable.
Dealing specifically with Bill C-12, the public health system in Canada is central to maintaining the health and safety of our population. Public health is the science and the art of protecting and promoting health, preventing disease and injury, and prolonging life. It is the public health system that will identify and monitor health threats and invoke appropriate interventions to mitigate the risk at hand. Ultimately a strong public health system will improve the health status of Canadians. In the context of emergency preparedness and response, our public health system is often the first line of defence against emerging and ongoing threats.
As we know, diseases do not respect borders. In today's global village they arrive by plane and they present themselves at our doorstep within hours. This is why Canada's public health system must be equipped with an array of modern tools to maintain a state of readiness to effectively manage the next wave of disaster, and we have no idea what or when that is going to be.
There is an intricate web of protection in place that is invisible to many, but it reflects the tireless efforts of those on the front line and those who support local response capacity in public health. When the public health system is working well, few take notice, but in the event of a new emerging disease like SARS, the role of public health is captured in the public's eye.
The country's response to SARS highlighted the urgent need for national leadership and coordination of public health activity across the country, especially during a health crisis. Rapid decision making, decisive action, and effective response measures are critical to managing future threats to public health.
Many of us remember the important work undertaken by Dr. David Naylor, chairperson of the National Advisory Committee on SARS and Public Health. Examining the events surrounding SARS, the Naylor committee made recommendations for change, including the need for legislative reform in the area of public health management.
In support of these recommendations and the vision that inspired the Naylor report, the Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology was also authorized to examine and report on the infrastructure and governance of Canada's public health system.
In addition, the Kirby committee examined Canada's ability to respond to public health emergencies arising from infectious disease outbreaks. In the Kirby report, initial steps were identified to facilitate the renewal and reform of health protection and promotion in Canada, including the creation of a new health protection agency to be headed by a nation's doctor, a chief medical officer of health.
Public health is a shared responsibility in this country. While provinces and territories bear primary responsibility for protecting public health within Canada, the federal government provides quarantine services at Canadian points of entry, the oldest health measure to date.
Once a traveller passes through customs, each province and territory has its own public health legislation to contain and to control the spread of a communicable disease within its own jurisdiction. Recent experiences in the global public health arena, including SARS, mad cow disease, West Nile virus, and the arrival of avian influenza, have underscored the urgency for updating public health legislation across Canada. To date, many health protection laws are woefully outdated, including the federal Quarantine Act which has been largely unchanged since 1872.
The need for a legislative overhaul in public health is required to manage contemporary public health threats with local, provincial, national and international ramifications. Action now in terms of legislative renewal will help ensure that Canadians feel confident once again that their governments are indeed protecting them from future health threats.
The Government of Canada has moved swiftly to strengthen public health by establishing the newly created Public Health Agency of Canada and the appointment of the first chief public health officer. The modernization of the Quarantine Act will complement the government's strategy in strengthening Canada's public health system and serve in the management of any new disease outbreak that might threaten the health and safety of Canadians.
The revised Quarantine Act, Bill C-12, was designed to complement existing provincial and territorial public health legislation. It offers protection at Canada's international borders and ports of entry by controlling the import and export of a communicable disease. Simply put, this bill will add another layer of protection in public health. In the pan-Canadian toolbox for public health, this legal instrument provides the federal government with the authority to detect public health risks at the first point of contact when travellers, conveyances, goods and cargo are entering the country.
The Quarantine Act is one of Canada's oldest pieces of legislation and, as I have stated already, it has not been significantly modernized since 1872. Once enacted, a modernized Quarantine Act will ensure that the federal government has the enabling authority to mitigate the risk and threat of global disease transmission.
It is not only our obligation to Canadians that we need to consider. Public health protection must be a global effort. Currently, the World Health Organization is initiating revisions to the international health regulations to ensure that countries around the world are doing their part to support rapid, decisive action to stem the spread of disease.
There are a number of important features of Bill C-12 that make it truly useful in the disease management program. It is very powerful legislation for the Public Health Agency that requires due diligence when administered.
With quarantine officers stationed at major international airports, Bill C-12 provides these federal agents and the Minister of Health with the authority they need to marshal a comprehensive and immediate response capacity at points of entry. Bill C-12 does not affect the interprovincial movement of travellers and conveyances but complements existing provincial public health legislation.
Recognizing the need for ongoing collaboration with our partners in public health, the newly proposed Quarantine Act will streamline the process embedded in public health by eliminating the distinction between listed and other diseases. It will modernize enforcement powers, including ministerial authority to divert air carriers to alternate landing sites or indeed to prohibit entry into Canada. Further, it gives authority for the procurement of quarantine space anywhere in Canada, including the ability to compensate the owner of a facility in a manner consistent with responsible and prudent government spending.
What about human rights under this new quarantine legislation? Bill C-12 will also ensure that human rights are adequately protected for providing the right to legal counsel, an interpreter and a second medical opinion. It will clarify authority to collect and share personal health information for the purpose of protecting public health.
The new bill appropriately balances individual liberty rights in the need to protect the public. It also respects the jurisdictions of our provincial and territorial partners, clarifying roles and responsibilities in the shared public health domain.
The Public Health Agency of Canada has engaged many shareholders in the development of Bill C-12, including the Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology. The final product enables the federal government to carry out what is essentially a responsibility to the citizens of Canada and further to the international community.
We also cannot ignore that in addition to the serious and significant health issues obviously related to the passage of this bill, I would like to remind all members of the House that there are also severe economic impacts of infectious disease issues. I would remind members of the disastrous economic impacts of the SARS outbreak which occurred in Toronto. The public concern translated very quickly and definitively into an economic slowdown, both in terms of retail sales and, more important, also on tourism.
I should note here that as a result of that impact on Toronto and the impact on tourism and to the economy of Toronto and Ontario, our government decided to show confidence in Toronto. Our Prime Minister called what I understand was the first federal cabinet meeting ever held outside of Ottawa. This was a show of confidence not only in Toronto and Ontario but in Canada, and showing us to the world.
The economic impact of SARS affected tourism travel around the world, not just Canada. I do not need to remind my colleagues in the House about how important tourism is to the economy of Canada, and not just to a city like Toronto because it could be any major Canadian city that has an air travel hub to other parts of Canada. The negative economic impact on tourism is not just related to the city with an international airport, but to all areas of Canada to which tourists are attracted. Tourists travel through those hubs to the various parts of Canada, from sea to sea to sea.
This is important to all of Canada, and I can speak for my province of British Columbia and in particular the greater Vancouver area. As members know, Vancouver has both an airport and a busy seaport and is recognized as the gateway to Asia Pacific. We know and have discussed in our various committees in Ottawa and in the government about the importance of the emerging Asia Pacific market and Canada's role in that.
Of recent note, I could talk on the issue of tourism. We are now in the process of finally securing approved destination status for travellers from China. This has long been an issue that has been recommended to us by tourism groups across Canada. These tourists will come through either Vancouver or in some cases directly through Toronto. This has the opportunity to significantly increase the number of tourists, particularly from China.
The kinds of fears that occurred during the SARS outbreak were such that they had a very serious potential impact on travellers who wanted to come from Asia Pacific. I can tell members of personal knowledge relating to Japan where parents were afraid either to come or to have their children come to Canada because of the SARS impact. In China, which has a one child policy, they are very nervous about sending their children here to learn English or to experience Canadian culture because they only have one child.
Regarding the impact on my region of greater Vancouver and British Columbia, we have over 20,000 foreign students currently engaged in some kind of English second language training in the greater Vancouver area, and the effect of SARS was dramatic. My riding of North Vancouver has an international college that relied heavily on Japanese students. It had a dramatic reduction in the number of students to the point that it caused it to have to refocus and change the way it operated. The college has now varied its program to include other adult students as well. In the end there was a positive impact and net effect, but we still have not regained total confidence in terms of some of these Asia Pacific countries with the fear of having their young people come to Canada.
The benefit of having them come here to be educated is they learn about our Canadian way of life, our Canadian democracy and our values. When they go back to their countries, they are some of the best ambassadors we could have as they grow up and take a role in their countries.
I would mention also the port of Vancouver. It is the second busiest port in North America after Louisiana, which is mainly an oil base port. It is not only the busiest port in Canada, but the second busiest port in North America. The movement of goods and services, which can be affected by an infectious outbreak or the discovery of some substance, such as a powder, can have a huge impact which can shut down that port.
Recently, as a government, we decided that we would lend support in recognizing the growth of the port trade to Canada and to British Columbia, which is the new container port in Prince Rupert. Forty million dollars of federal money will be flowing to help the economy in that area. This provides us now with a second major rail connection for goods into Canada.
The port of Vancouver, for a variety of reasons like rail capacity, is struggling to handle the container capacity. Some of those goods are going past British Columbia, either flowing through American ports and in fact going all the way around Panama to come up on the east coast, which adds costs and time delay and makes us less attractive as a country.
COSCO, the Chinese overseas shipping company, in the last few years named Vancouver as its first port of entry in North America, which was a huge economic advantage to us.
We have the ability now, with the port of Prince Rupert, to have a second major rail connection that will benefit Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario and all of Canada. Importers now can bring goods both into Canada and flow them through to the United States.
All those issues can be affected by a serious health outbreak, an infectious disease outbreak, which can come in the form of product into Canada as well. As we know, there is the risk of the West Nile virus, which is not coming from west to east, but coming from east to west across North America.
Last weekend, when I was in my home riding of North Vancouver, I read newspaper articles and heard radio accounts of the preparations that were being taken for West Nile, which had not yet arrived visibly in British Columbia and the greater Vancouver area, but it was felt it was just a matter of time.
The potential impact and the effect this will have on municipalities with the spraying program, with the proximity of the spraying to school children and to recreational areas, which are very important, is of huge impact.