This week, I changed much of the tech behind this site. If you see anything that looks like a bug, please let me know!

House of Commons Hansard #62 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was workers.

Topics

Hazardous Materials Information Review ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member from the Bloc mentioned the issue with regard to replacement workers, informally known as anti-scab legislation. The legislation is important to this debate on hazardous materials.

A number of different points were raised about the safety of workers. If working with hazardous materials, it is very important that people have the opportunity to get the appropriate training with subsequent follow ups to ensure that procedures are properly followed.

I know fire departments in Ontario municipalities have to request permission to even go onto CP and CN rail property to do the proper inspection of a number of different chemicals that go through our transportation hubs. It is important to note that chlorine gas, which is transported on railroads, has been classified by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security as a weapon of mass destruction. In fact, there are now laws in the U.S. It is moving some hazardous materials travelling by rail away from larger urban centres because of the threat they pose to the population. Canada should be looking at that as well.

My question for the member of the Bloc has to due with replacement workers. In my previous work as a job developer on behalf of persons with disabilities and new Canadians, often there was not the appropriate training provided at work places. Sometimes it was because they did not have the appropriate procedures in place. Sometimes it was because there was no organized workforce and safety issues were lax. However, hazardous materials can be quite dangerous, everything from subtle compounds to other types of chemicals have lasting impacts on an individual.

Could the member comment on the importance of protecting workers, not only individuals who are at a regular work place at a regular time, but also replacement workers who are thrown into situations that can be more dangerous and have an effect upon them and their co-workers?

Hazardous Materials Information Review ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Bloc

Marcel Lussier Bloc Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member. In my speech, I did allude to new workers, but that could also include casual and replacement workers.

Because of the way occupational safety and health meetings are regulated, such meetings can take place once a month or once a week, which means there is a potential risk that a new worker may lack proper training. So, perhaps it would simply be a matter of replacing this meeting, where various issues are discussed, with the introduction of a new worker to the work site.

In Quebec, a special procedure is in place to welcome new workers on a work site. It involves providing information on health and safety. Moreover, new workers are informed of the dangers that their work or actions might involve. This could be extended to include information on the products that these workers will have to handle as part of their work.

Hazardous Materials Information Review ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Merrifield Conservative Yellowhead, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to stand and give my commentary on this important legislation. It speaks to the important subject of hazardous materials and the use of them by the citizens of Canada and its industries. It is important for people to have the information so they can deal with this material in a way which is safe as well as productive.

First, I compliment those who have worked so hard to produce the three amendments, not only the labour sector that on day to day work with these materials in many different ways. I also compliment the industry and federal, provincial and territorial governments, which came together collectively and brought forward some of these recommendations. It is important we applaud their efforts.

I look forward to looking at this proposed legislation further when the House votes on it and sends it to the health committee. At committee we will examine it and bring forth witness to discern how perhaps we can make the legislation better. We will certainly give it a full review so we can pass laws in this chamber that are in the best interest of Canadians.

We are looking at three amendments. The first one is to reduce the time it takes to require the review of confidential information that may be covered under patent law. We respect and understand the full amount of wealth, money and investment that it takes to create a product and we want to ensure that proprietary information is protected. At the same time, we must ensure, first and foremost, the safety of the citizens of Canada. We also must ensure that individuals know that the formulations they are working with are appropriate.

One example I can think of that more explains the first amendment is the products that are very familiar to all Canadians. They are not necessarily hazardous, but they drive the point of what the proposed legislation would do. It is protecting formulations and yet ensuring that those citizens who are engaging in these products are safe.

One that comes to mind is Coca-Cola. That product has been on the market for many decades, yet no one really knows what goes into the formula. It is important that Canadians know that the product they drink, if they drink it in moderation, will not be harmful, but the formulation is protected. It is important that we understand that. Moderation also goes to another subject we are talking about in the health committee and that is obesity in a country.

Another product I can think of is Colonel Sanders' secret recipe for his chicken. We do not know what products go into the recipe, but we need to know they are safe.

It is the same thing for hazardous material. We need to know that the formulations which go into be products are safe if they are handled according to the recommendations on the package, but also that they are protected, and in the process we protect patent law.

In essence that is where we are on the first amendment, which I applaud. I think it reaches that golden balance between the two. It is important, as we look at the proposed legislation, that we recognize this. I do not think people have many arguments with the first amendment, as long as we strike that balance.

The second amendment deals with speeding up any corrections of the formulations for the workers who are handling the hazardous materials to ensure they are safe. If we are handling a product and we know there is a problem with it, we need to have the opportunity to correct the information and get it to the person who uses the material as fast as we possibly can. It is important that we streamline the red tape so this can happen.

When it comes to labelling of a hazardous product, it is very important that not only are we absolutely accurate in the product label, which is just part of it, but we also have to be absolutely clear in how that accuracy of information is delivered so that it is understood by the person reading the label. We can be absolutely accurate in the product label and still not accomplish what needs to be done to make sure that those individuals who are using the product understand that it is a safe product. This goes back to my years in agriculture, when I handled a significant amount of hazardous products in the pesticides we used on our farm.

I remember when we changed from the imperial system to the metric system and went from acres to hectares and from ounces to grams and kilograms. Not only was it important for us to understand that the formulation on the label was accurate, but it also was important that we, the people using the products, understood the hazards if we did not read properly and really understand the labelling.

So when it comes to labelling, on both sides of it, it should be absolutely precise and accurate but it should also be understood. We find this not only with hazardous materials. There is actually a piece of legislation about the labelling of foods that has been brought forward by a member of this House. I would say the same thing: when a piece of information is given and is put on a label it has to be absolutely accurate. If it is not absolutely accurate, then it is deceptive. If it is deceptive, it is bad information. We have to make sure these labels are right. When they are not right, we have to make sure that we correct them very quickly. We also have to make sure that they are very much understood by those using them.

On the second amendment, if we find that a correction needs to be made, we can accelerate the process so that the individual or industry using a hazardous product, whoever it might be, gets the information sooner rather than being held up in red tape after the 75 days of articling happens.

I think these first two amendments both are very important and very worthwhile. This House should consider them in improving this piece of legislation as it is laid before this House and as it goes out as far as changes to the laws in the country are concerned.

When it comes to the third amendment, we are really talking about the idea of an appeals process and making sure it is there. I believe that is the way we should be with all pieces of legislation or anything we do as far as government is concerned. We need to make sure we are a government that is transparent and accountable and does things in a timely fashion, that we do not bog down our citizens in red tape when it comes to legislation or these types of things. It is an area that we absolutely have to accelerate in to make sure that everything is done in a way that is all of those things.

When we look at this legislation, we look at three things. We look at making sure that we disclose the claims and that the formulations are safe for Canadians to use. We look at making sure that we speed up any corrections that have to be made so individuals can make informed choices when they use these products. We look at making sure that appeal processes are not bogging down the system in red tape.

These are the three amendments I see in this piece of legislation. When we examine Bill S-2 in committee, we will examine these amendments more thoroughly and bring witnesses forward in a more fulsome way and have a debate on it. I am looking forward to that.

I would say to this House that from what I see so far in this piece of legislation at this stage, we should pass this piece of legislation here in this House and get it into committee so we can take a more fulsome review. That is what is in the best interests of Canadians. That is what this House should be concerned about as we move forward with this piece of legislation and all pieces of legislation for the betterment of Canadians.

Hazardous Materials Information Review ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the intervention of the hon. member, who is the chair of the health committee. As we are at second reading, his committee will have the opportunity to look at this in a little more detail. Since it is a bill that includes amendments to an existing piece of legislation, it is extremely difficult for members who are not familiar with that legislation and the intent. It is going to take a little work to do that.

I noticed that in one of the sections it refers to the “Chief Screening Officer” finding that there is something to report which must be reported in the Canada Gazette. One of the things the officer may report is “a notice containing any information that, in the opinion of a screening officer, should have been disclosed on any material safety data sheet or label reviewed by the screening officer”.

The bill goes on to say in the legislation that no order made under the act, particularly paragraph 3(b), “shall have a retrospective effect”. I raise this just as a point of interest. The member might find an opportunity to have this dealt with at committee, but in terms of the principle of the law, if someone is aggrieved or incurs damages with regard to a matter, the intent of the law usually is to put them back in the position they would have been in had things happened the way they should have.

So if there was a label that misinformed or they knew or ought to have known but did not put it in, damages may have occurred. I simply would question this. I do not know if the member would agree, but I would appreciate his comments about whether or not limiting matters on a prospective rather than a retrospective basis might in fact impinge upon the rights and the condition of an aggrieved party.

Hazardous Materials Information Review ActGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Merrifield Conservative Yellowhead, AB

Mr. Speaker, I do not want to supersede any court cases that might come forward in this sort of situation, but I take my hon. colleague's perspective on this. I am sure the committee will examine it more closely. That is really why we have the process we do. We have first and second reading and a fulsome debate in committee, bringing forward the best witnesses we can possibly find to discern how these kinds of issues and others in the piece of legislation will impact Canadians. Then we tweak it to make sure we have an appropriate balance.

Now, as for even after we implement the law, my hon. colleague has a hypothetical, which will work its way out one way or the other, but we also have a court system that allows individuals who feel they have a grievance because of the legislation to state their case before court and a judge and to have it handled in that way. I think that is appropriate for a country that believes in the rule of law.

I will take my hon. colleague's comments to heart. I think they are valid. There may be not only this situation but others that the committee will discern as we move the bill into committee.

I will say, however, that we have a consensus on the legislation from labour, industry, and provincial and federal governments right across this country. I believe the amendments put forward are something we should consider very carefully and consider supporting at this stage. I would ask my hon. colleague to vote for this piece of legislation in that respect.

Hazardous Materials Information Review ActGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member spent part of his speech talking about trade secrets and what I guess is the balance between knowing the contents of the different types of hazardous materials and also knowing the trade secrets that make the actual chemical products in the market different from competitors' products, the trade secrets that also prevent them from being duplicated, either legally or illegally, so they have an opportunity to have their information protected properly.

Does the hon. member think that during the committee process there should be a review of this whole procedure of how to define what information is going to be there and where the catch-point is in terms of protection? Does he have any thoughts about how closely we should err on the side of caution for this documentation in the labelling? We could have different circumstances and not only in terms of literacy and languages. It is so important to have that on the labels so that people and workers know exactly what they are dealing with. I wonder whether or not the committee would even look at those aspects to find out whether there are some new procedures and techniques that would be helpful so workers of different types of languages, for example, could be protected.

I know that different communities, especially manufacturing ones in urban centres, do have a great deal of diversity. One of the barriers that we have often worked on in terms of labour and management issues in those manufacturing centres has been in getting the appropriate training, in having people routinely understanding not only English but French in the labelling. I am interested in knowing whether or not the committee should be looking at that as one of the potential prevention issues in hazardous material storage.

Hazardous Materials Information Review ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Merrifield Conservative Yellowhead, AB

Mr. Speaker, that is a very good question. I believe I alluded to it in my comments. Not only is absolutely imperative that the information on these hazardous materials be accurate, but it has to be clearly understood by those who are using it. If it is not understood clearly by those who are using it, then really it is obsolete and altogether misses the intent of labelling. The member's point is whether we should have it in other languages and more clearly read. Absolutely.

We are going to be dealing with this when it comes to food labelling as well. Just because we have a Canada health guide, does that mean that people who read it really understand it? If they do not understand it, how good is it, really? It is only complied with and safe to the degree that it is understood by those who are using it, by the people of Canada.

I think the member's points are well taken. I am sure the committee is going to examine both sides of this issue because they are absolutely important as we move forward in the committee to deliberations on this piece of legislation.

FinanceCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Before moving on to the next speaker, I note that earlier today the third report of the Standing Committee on Finance, requesting an extension of 30 days to consider Bill C-294, was tabled. Pursuant to Standing Order 97.1(3)(a), a motion to concur in the report is deemed moved, the question deemed put and a recorded division deemed demanded and deferred until Wednesday, October 18, immediately before the time provided for private members' business.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill S-2, An Act to amend the Hazardous Materials Information Review Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Hazardous Materials Information Review ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

It is now my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Cape Breton—Canso, Fisheries; the hon. member for West Nova, Agriculture; the hon. member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, Economic Development.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine.

Hazardous Materials Information Review ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Marlene Jennings Liberal Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure and an honour for me to be here in this House as Deputy House Leader of the Official Opposition.

In the 38th Parliament, this bill was Bill S-40. At the time, the Liberal Party of Canada formed the government in power. The bill that is now before this House was introduced under that previous government.

This bill is crucial to occupational health and safety. As I said, it was introduced by the previous government during the 38th Parliament. Bill S-2, which is the reincarnation of that bill, amends the Hazardous Materials Information Review Act. This act governs the activities of the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission, an independent, quasi-judicial government agency. The commission plays an essential role in protecting workers' health and safety and also protects trade secrets.

The commission forms part of the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System, also known as WHMIS. This information system was developed jointly by unions, industry and the federal, provincial and territorial governments. This is extremely important, because it is not every day that all the parties to an issue decide of one accord on the amendments that must be made to a bill or an existing law.

The role of WHMIS is to ensure that information on hazardous products is conveyed to the workers who use those products. A list of all the hazardous ingredients in the products is therefore available, as is information on how to handle those products safely: information on health and safety, first aid in case of contact with the product, how to dispose of the product, and so on. This information is essential to protect the health and safety of workers who have to use this type of product and these hazardous materials and handle them safely in their work.

This information is provided on a data sheet or a label affixed to the product. When WHMIS was introduced, the industry stated that there were cases where the full disclosure of hazardous materials ran the risk of disclosing industrial secrets and making them available to business competitors. To ensure that Canadian industry and our economy continue to grow and that new jobs are created, it is very important that companies that create this type of product have an assurance that confidential business information will not be communicated to or made accessible to their competitors.

If the complete chemical composition of ingredients were listed on a data sheet, a competitor could use that information in unfair competition and gain an advantage. Therefore, the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission intervenes by examining the claim for exemption. That means that a company can file a claim for exemption so that the list of dangerous products does not appear on the label. However, the commission still provides documentation concerning the risks and dangers of the product.

In that case, it means that the competitive advantages of a company and its industrial secrets are protected. However, at the same time, sufficient information must appear on the label or in the data sheet to ensure that the health and safety of workers who are involved in the production or handling of this type of hazardous products or materials are protected.

The commission’s mandate consists in establishing a balance between the rights of the employers and the right of employees to obtain information about the dangerous products that they handle.

When a company wants to protect information concerning dangerous ingredients within a product, it must file a claim for exemption from the requirement to disclose the information, and submit the required documentation relating to health and safety.

The Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission determines whether it is an industrial secret and whether the information provided concerning health and safety is satisfactory.

If the information in the data sheet or on the label does not comply with the law, the commission orders changes to be made and calls for submission of a corrected data sheet.

If the corrections are not made within the required time limit, the company is subject to corrective action or the commission can simply prohibit the product.

That is very important. It is up to the commission to determine whether the hazardous materials information is sufficient to ensure the protection of the health and safety of workers who have to handle products containing that kind of hazardous materials.

If a company files a claim for exemption but fails to provide sufficient information to ensure that the health and safety of workers are protected, the commission has the authority to order corrective action or to simply ban the product in question from the market.

The claim for exemption forms have to be corrected 95% of the time because of missing information. On average, eight or nine pieces of information have to be added on each form.

In 1998, the commission undertook a renewal process designed to streamline its administrative operations and better meet the needs of stakeholders.

Many changes have been made to better meet the needs of stakeholders. Three, however, require legislative amendments, hence the need for Bill S-2, which, under the previous government, during the last parliament, was known as Bill S-40.

These three changes requiring legislative amendments correspond to the amendments to the Hazardous Materials Information Review Act contained in Bill S-2.

This act has to be amended to allow claimants to make, with a minimum of substantiating information, a declaration to the effect that the information in respect of which an exemption is claimed is indeed a trade secret.

At present, claimants are required to submit detailed documentation concerning the financial implications of the possible disclosure of the chemical components. This places an administrative burden on claimants and on the commission as well.

The majority of claims for exemption are valid. To date, only four out of 2,400 have been rejected.

Second, the amendments proposed by Bill S-2 will enable companies to voluntarily correct any safety labels the commission deems are not compliant.

Under current legislation, the commission must issue a formal order for compliance even if the claimant is completely prepared to make the necessary correction after being notified that some information is missing. Companies must then undertake a long administrative process, even if they voluntarily agree to change the health and safety label.

The second element is the amendment enabling companies to voluntarily correct safety labels, which is a good thing. I think that all of us in the House agree that this is a good thing.

If it is possible for corrections to be made voluntarily, the process can be speeded up. Workers can thus have faster access to any health and safety sheets that have been changed.

It should also be pointed out, however, that in cases of non-compliance with the rules and lack of undertaking by the claimant respecting the corrections requested, the commission can always issue an order to ensure compliance with the requirements, as exists now.

Workers’ health and safety is therefore not at all compromised by this amendment. It only speeds up the administrative process, making information accessible to workers much more quickly than the current system allows.

Third, the amendments will improve the appeal process by allowing the commission to provide the appeal boards with factual clarifications.

The appeals are heard by independent boards composed of three members who represent workers, industry and government. Up to now, 16 appeals have been heard and they would have benefited greatly from additional information from the commission. But to date the law does not allow this. The three parties concerned, that is, government, industry and workers or unions, all agree that this amendment should be made so that the commission can provide factual clarifications or information to the independent board with the authority to hear the appeals.

Representatives of industry, as well as unions in the provinces and territories, have unanimously supported the three amendments proposed in Bill S-2. The amendments to this act are very positive for the health and safety of workers and will simplify administrative procedures. There are of course significant economic impacts for companies, which will no longer have to deal with lengthy administrative procedures.

To recap, the three amendments will enable companies that have claimed an exemption to put their product on the market more quickly, while complying with health and safety requirements. In addition, workers will have access to corrections to health sheets faster since the administrative burden will be considerably reduced.

As I have already mentioned, this enables industry to access the market more quickly, while complying with the requirement to inform workers of any safety precautions to be taken.

In conclusion, I would simply say, as I have already mentioned, first that Bill S-2 is what was called Bill S-40 during the 38th Parliament. Second, these three amendments to the act have the shared support of industry, unions, the provinces and territories, and government.

I think that this is something good and that the members of this House should support it.

On that note, I conclude my remarks.

Hazardous Materials Information Review ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to ask a question about an important subject related to workers' rights and safety.

A hazardous material is one that can be about prevention. By having knowledge and the proper information appropriately on display, as well as documented and provided for the workforce, it allows the opportunity for people to be educated about their handling of chemicals. Some chemicals, whether they are mixed or not with others, can be corrosive for hands. As well, other types of mixtures could create odourless gases and significant problems for not only the individual dealing with the chemicals but also other individuals in the area affected.

One of the interesting things the commission found is that since 1988 95% of the data sheets that provide information on dangerous and hazardous materials were not compliant with legislation. I would like to ask my colleague whether this should be a time as well to review the penalty system with regard to the neglect of the existing data system. Workers have a right to have that information in front of them not only in terms of their health but also how hazardous materials affect their families' health. Improper exposure to chemicals can have effects well beyond the individual by bringing it home.

I come from an area that has a lot of environmental toxins. In fact, there was a motion in the House that was narrowly defeated that would have created an action team, so to speak, to go to areas that have higher rates of cancer and other types of diseases related to environmental and human health to start providing remedial action to those communities so they could actually have some solutions to offset it and produce some prevention strategies.

One of the things we can control is the conduct of the data sheets in terms of being up to date and relevant. I ask my colleague whether the penalties should be looked at in terms of being increased because it is completely irresponsible not to have up to date information sheets and to have 95% of them in disrepair is not acceptable and a message has to be sent.

Hazardous Materials Information Review ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Marlene Jennings Liberal Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I find it interesting that the member from the NDP talks about hardening or making more severe penalties when the three elements of the legislation for which amendments are being proposed in Bill S-2 come as a result of unanimity among the unions that represent the workers, the governments and industry. Obviously these three principal actors, if I can use that word, came to an agreement that these were three elements in the legislation which required amendment and modification in order to better ensure the health and safety of workers who must precisely manipulate hazardous material.

Had the issue of strengthening penalties been discussed, obviously there was no agreement. I am not aware of any discussions on that particular issue. It may be something that one or more of the parties wish to discuss, and they are more than free to do so, but right now I have no indication that the penalties need to be made more severe. What is needed, however, are these three amendments.

The member spoke of 95% of the cases, demande de dérogation, and I apologize that I do not know the term in English.

The data sheets must be updated because the information is incomplete. I have not seen any evidence that the missing information places the health and safety of workers at greater risk. If that were the case, the unions would be in a very good position to lead the fight and they would have asked for more severe penalties.

I leave it to the union representatives to take up that fight.

Hazardous Materials Information Review ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to enter the debate on Bill S-2. I have great personal interest in this legislation dealing with the WHMIS, the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System.

In 1988, when I was a journeyman carpenter, WHMIS came into effect and all of us had to be trained on a 40 hour WHMIS course. We were not allowed to go back on the job until we had our WHMIS certification.

Since that time I became the leader of the carpenters' union in Manitoba. It was our job to ensure all of our membership had passed WHMIS. I therefore am very aware of the value of this right to know legislation, which is how we phrase it. WHMIS is the right to know and, flowing from that, the right to refuse unsafe work is the next logical step to the right to know. It is based on the premise that workers have the right to know that the materials they are being asked to handle as an aspect of their job are in fact safe. They also have the right to know if they need to take any safety precautions in terms of a mask or gloves.

However, the workers also has the right to know some of the complex things that my colleague from Windsor West tried to raise in that sometimes there is a perfectly benign chemical or compound and another perfectly benign chemical but when those two are added together they create a third product that can be very hazardous.

The WHMIS data sheets need to be very accurate and they are very complex. Workers need to be well versed to understand the complicated chemical language that is sometimes on these material safety data sheets.

I was shocked to hear my colleague from Windsor West point out something that I had never heard before. He said that roughly 95% of all the material safety data sheets reviewed by the commission had been found to be non-compliant with the legislation. Ninety-five per cent is a pretty appalling figure. Many of these shortcomings, in fact typical violations, they found were not minor in terms of misspelling the name of a chemical or something. Many of the violations included the failure to identify the effects of acute or chronic exposure to a product and the failure to identify that a hazardous ingredient in a product is a known carcinogen. Those are serious shortcomings in the WHMIS data sheet regime as we know it.

However, I take some comfort in the fact that we are addressing this, that Parliament is seized on the issue of workplace safety and health as it pertains to material safety data sheet. I only wish that we could extend that same interest in the rights of workers to know hazardous products to our international activities because what WHMIS is to the Canadian workforce, the Rotterdam Convention is to the international workforce. The United Nations has come together under the auspices of the Rotterdam Convention to identify hazardous products and to require labelling of these products when prior informed consent of the user is deemed to be necessary.

The most graphic illustration of Canada's failure to take into account the long term health effects of foreign workers is asbestos. Canadian asbestos continues to pollute and contaminate most of the free world. The legacy of the contamination from Canadian asbestos is still being realized in places like Europe but it has had the common sense to ban asbestos completely. However, Canada continues to be the third largest producer and exporter of asbestos in the world and we dump it all into developing nations and third world countries because no one else will buy it anymore.

Where the Rotterdam Convention comes in and where this contradiction comes in is that just last week in Geneva, Canada barred the inclusion of asbestos on that list of hazardous materials which would require the PIC, prior informed consent of the user. This is appalling. I personally hang my head in shame that Canada is acting like international globe trotting propagandists for the asbestos industry.

I do not know what we owe the asbestos industry but we are doing the industry a great favour by fighting its battles when we send teams of Department of Justice lawyers half way around the world to Geneva to argue against having asbestos listed as a hazardous material. They are serving some master in the asbestos community and it is beyond reason as far as I am concerned.

The Rotterdam Convention does not even seek to ban asbestos, although I personally believe the world should ban asbestos. The Rotterdam Convention only says that if asbestos is going to be sold and used that it at least should be mandatory that the users at the other end be cautioned that the material is hazardous to their health and safety and that safety precautions should be taken.

Canada opposes that as a nation. For the third time in a row Canada has gone to COPs, the committee of parties that form up the Rotterdam Convention, and we have done more than resist this. We have been an international bully. We have arm twisted. We have used every diplomatic means that we know of to convince other countries to follow our lead and not allow asbestos to be listed.

In the context of debating WHMIS and a workers' right to know, I wish somewhere in Bill S-2 we could require that what we want for ourselves we should extend to our business activities internationally. This is a concept of corporate accountability that was introduced in the last Parliament by the former member for Ottawa Centre, the hon. Ed Broadbent. Ed felt that some of our activities internationally were an embarrassment in terms of labour standards, human rights standards, health and safety standards and environmental standards. He felt that what we do in Canada, where we are guided by certain principles of fairness, of ethics and of a commitment to workplace safety and health, that by extension we should be propagating those principles in the third world and in developing nations because we want to bring them up to those same high standards that we enjoy in this country.

For all those people who think asbestos is banned in this country, I am here to say that asbestos is not banned in this country at all. I used to work in the asbestos mines as a young and foolish man. I can say that they were lying to us about the health hazards of asbestos then and they continue to lie to us about the health hazards of asbestos today.

I call the asbestos industry corporate serial killers. I do not hesitate to do that. The asbestos industry is the tobacco industry's evil twin because both of them have made a fortune in the last century by pushing a product that they know full well kills people and hiding behind fabricated research, tainted research, cover-ups, falsehoods and lies about the health hazard.

It is bad enough that the asbestos industry itself is lying to workers, its own employees, its own industry and to people around the world, but the Government of Canada feels some obligation to be the handmaiden to the asbestos industry and, as I say, to be globe trotting propagandists and spending millions of dollars artificially supporting and subsidizing an industry that is killing millions of people nationally and internationally.

Now that the government has done its dirty work for the asbestos industry in Geneva last week, it will be another two years before we have the chance to get asbestos back on that list. I am concerned that there will not be a Rotterdam Convention in two years when the next biannual meeting is convened because we have seriously jeopardized the integrity of the whole convention by allowing commercial considerations to override the health considerations around which that convention was first established.

Of the 90 countries that were in attendance in Geneva last week, only 8 countries supported Canada's position. The chair of the Rotterdam Convention introduced the subject on day one saying that chrysotile asbestos was a sensitive issue and that there have been difficulties with it before. He suggested that we follow the four point framework to assess the health hazard and to review the science.

Before the chair of the committee could even finish speaking, the Canadian delegation rushed to the microphones and said, “we don't need to waste our time. We move that asbestos not be put on the list”. Because that international institution runs by consensus, everyone has a veto. As soon as Canada set the tone by being rude and ignoring the international diplomatic protocols of courtesy at one of those conferences, that set the tone.

Then all of our customers went to the microphones too because we had twisted their arms: India, Thailand and Senegal. These are countries where we are dumping 220,000 tonnes, not pounds or kilos, per year of Canadian asbestos. It is being dumped into the third world creating a legacy of illness that is of epidemic proportions.

It is not an exaggeration to state that we are exporting misery on an astronomical scale because one single asbestos fibre is a carcinogen. We in Canada rank asbestos as a class A listed carcinogen. One errant asbestos fibre finding its way into the mesothelium of the lungs, heart or internal organs can trigger mesothelioma, the cancer that is caused only by asbestos.

No doubt some people will try to argue that Quebec asbestos is somehow benign, that it is different from other asbestos. The Institut national de santé publique du Québec did a study in 2005 and found that of the people who live in the asbestos region of Quebec, the men have the fourth highest incidence of mesothelioma in the world and the women of that region have the highest incidence of mesothelioma in the world. There is nothing benign about Quebec asbestos.

Quebec asbestos kills the same way that Yukon asbestos kills. I worked in the mines there. Newfoundland asbestos kills because that mine was shut down, too. There is Timmins, Ontario. Everywhere where they mine asbestos they have merchants of death. I can say it in no other way.

The asbestos industry, the tobacco industry's evil twin, continues to pollute the world with a product that should never have taken out of the ground.

As we are debating Bill S-2, which originated in the Senate as the workplace hazardous material information system bill, we should try to contemplate at least that what we wish for ourselves we wish for all. We should contemplate the fact that there is no business case for pushing asbestos.

There is an enormous scientific case for banning asbestos altogether, but we have to ask ourselves, by what convoluted pretzel logic is it in anybody's interest to keep pushing a product that kills people and to keep subsidizing that industry to this degree?

The Asbestos Institute, paid for solely by the federal and provincial governments of Canada and Quebec, pushes asbestos around the world. Our foreign missions and embassies host these trade junkets for them, 120 trade junkets in 60 countries around the world in recent years by the Asbestos Institute trying to find new markets for Canadian asbestos and trying to quell the overwhelming body of scientific evidence that illustrates clearly that asbestos kills.

That is the dual function of the Asbestos Institute, to come up with phony science. It just paid for a research study recently by Dr. David Bernstein. It paid $1 million to add a question mark beside asbestos, so that it can safely say that the scientific community is not unanimous in its condemnation of asbestos. The one scientist who we just bought and paid for clearly has a question about whether Quebec asbestos is good for us or bad for us.

I am here to say that asbestos is the greatest industrial killer the world has ever known and 100,000 deaths a year are directly attributed to asbestos, and hundreds of thousands more are never diagnosed because of the long incubation period. Parts of the world where Quebec asbestos is killing people today do not have the diagnostics and treatment centres that can accurately diagnose that asbestos in fact is killing these people.

There is an additional twist that I have to add to Bill S-2 and the workplace hazardous material information system because there is a mill in Kamloops, British Columbia, that is just about to close. It is owned by Weyerhaeuser. It has developed a product using the cellulose fibre from Douglas fir that is a perfect substitute for asbestos in ferrocement. It has a perfect substitute, but yet it cannot break into the market because the cement pipe manufacturers and the cement building material tile manufacturers all use asbestos from Quebec as the binding agent in their material.

There is a better product that grows in British Columbia. We have all these standing dead forests that are killed by the beetles et cetera, but the Douglas fir byproduct cellulose is the perfect substitute for asbestos in asbestos cement.

We could save that mill in Kamloops, British Columbia, if it could only find a market for the material it is willing produce. Instead, we are inexplicably married to the idea that we have to support asbestos and that Canada has to push asbestos.

I cannot believe the fact that we send teams of Department of Justice lawyers around the world to represent the asbestos industry. I do not know what they have done to deserve that level of public support. I do not know what they have done to deserve that kind of corporate welfare. Here we have corporate welfare for corporate serial killers. Corporate welfare, in any sense, should be condemned. In actual fact, we are aiding and abetting this industry that is knowingly and willingly killing workers.

Thailand is the world's second largest importer of Canadian asbestos. I went to Thailand this summer to speak at a conference of the medical community and the industry about the hazards of Canadian asbestos. I believe we had them convinced. Speaker after speaker from Japan, Australia, the European Union, all those countries that have banned asbestos, stood up and spoke. I think we had the government of Thailand convinced except when one very honest diplomat went to the microphone and apologized. He simply said his country was under enormous pressure internationally to buy Canadian asbestos. It is as if buying Canadian asbestos is tied to other aid, although he did not go that far and suggest that. It seems to me that the Canadian government will stop at nothing to promote this material.

Gary Nash, the assistant deputy minister of Natural Resources Canada, was the founder and first president of the Asbestos Institute.

Hazardous Materials Information Review ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

Order, please. The hon. member was in the habit of returning to the subject at hand every once in a while, but he has fallen out of that habit and it has been a long time since he has said anything about Bill S-2. I wonder if the member could remember the rule of relevance.

Hazardous Materials Information Review ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

You are right, Mr. Speaker. I was taking the long circuitous route to bring me back to my original point which was dealing with workplace health and safety issues. The connection was so plain and so obvious in my mind.

What I am advocating here is an amendment to Bill S-2. I believe there should at least be a reference in Bill S-2 to our international obligations. The type of workplace safety and health conditions put in place in Canada in 1988 are admirable. They are some of the best in the world. There are some hiccups and some problems with the material safety data sheets, but the intent is laudable and honourable.

There is a glaring contradiction though in the fact that we do not extend this beyond our own shores, and as such, we are doing a great disservice to other underdeveloped countries. Part of our overall development aid in recent years has been building the administrative capacity of countries as well as brick and mortar development in terms of digging wells or infrastructure.

With the globalization of capital, one of the things that is terribly lacking is the fact that there has not been a globalization of harmonizing workers' rights. We have globalized the free movement of capital, but we have not globalized things like a commitment to human rights, and a workplace safety and health standard. I wish Bill S-2 dealt with these things.

I think there would be broad interest in the general public's point of view. Canadians would be horrified to learn that we continue to be the third largest producer and exporter of asbestos in the world. Canadians do not realize that asbestos is not banned in this country and we need to caution them about this fact.

Just because we will not let a Canadian be exposed to a single fibre of the stuff does not mean it is banned. It certainly does not mean that we are doing anything to stop pushing this material into underdeveloped countries in the third world.

We have put the Rotterdam Convention in jeopardy. At the same instant that we are debating WHMIS in this country, the international equivalent of WHMIS, the Rotterdam Convention, is near collapse because of the corporate greed of the asbestos industry and Canadian government officials who are handmaidens to that industry. They have put the integrity of the Rotterdam Convention at serious risk. I predict they have jeopardized its very future.

Hazardous Materials Information Review ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Bloc

Christian Ouellet Bloc Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, my honourable colleague opposite, the member for Winnipeg Centre, got sidetracked somewhat since Bill S-2 does single out asbestos, and I think he used the bill to talk about the era when he worked in the mines. I agree with him that it was actually dangerous at the time. He is correct, back then it was called long fibre asbestos.

However, the asbestos produced at that time is not the same fibre as the cryolithe being produced today. That is a lie. It is not the same fibre, it is not the same thing, it is not as dangerous and does not even come close to posing the same risks.

My colleague stated that he was a carpenter, and so was I. I imagine that we worked at similar workplaces. At the time, we knew very well what it involved.

He stated that asbestos was extremely dangerous. It was a hazard for the workers, for those who mined it and those who carried out renovations. This fibre remains dangerous. However, it was never dangerous when properly installed in walls, around beams or when properly contained or hardened.

Asbestos cannot be readily replaced in high temperature areas. Contrary to what my colleague stated, it cannot be replaced with cellulose, which can be used as insulation but not for anything else.

I would like to ask my colleague for Winnipeg Centre why he did not once mention cryolithe?

Hazardous Materials Information Review ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, chrysotile asbestos kills in the same way that all types of asbestos kill.

The mine that I worked at mined chrysotile asbestos, long-fibre chrysotile asbestos. That is the same material that is currently being mined in Thetford Mines, in the Jeffrey mine and the LAB Chrysotile mine. Both mines were recently bought by Warren Buffet, I should point out.

We are really putting Canadian workers at risk in these mines to make foreign capitalists rich. We are exploiting Canadian workers in these dangerous workplace conditions. I pointed out that the incidence of asbestosis and mesothelioma is among the highest in the world in the Asbestos region of Quebec. No one can ever tell me that chrysotile asbestos is in some way benign or in some way healthy because chrysotile asbestos causes cancer the same way all asbestos do. There are five different kinds. Chrysotile is deadly.

Hazardous Materials Information Review ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, a funny thing happened to me on the way to S-2. That was the member's speech. However, we should probably give him some credit for being so tenacious on this issue that he feels very strongly about. It does raise a question though.

In Bill S-2, when the chief screening officer has to make some changes, the bill prescribes that they have to be gazetted. I would suspect, if we asked the 308 members of the House whether or not they have ever scanned the Gazette and followed it to see what was in there, there is a very high proportion of members who have not even had a look at the Gazette. It is a formality of sorts. However, the question really becomes: How does this link in to the health and well-being of Canadians?

I must admit, other than asbestos, that I was thinking of the recent study and report that on farms the likelihood of women developing breast cancer is significantly higher than women who are not in agricultural sites. Perhaps, here is yet another example that hearkens home to a lot of members about the importance of this information when it comes up.

I wonder if the member has any thoughts about how this process of having this hazardous materials information review act in place which gazettes information, whether or not the rubber really hits the road in terms of making sure that all of that gets down to ordinary Canadians, would ensure that Canadians are also made aware of the health risks associated with certain chemicals and other dangerous materials.

Hazardous Materials Information Review ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, the member's helpful question gives me the opportunity to point out that the proposed amendments in Bill S-2 will permit the voluntary correction of material safety data sheets and product labels when the commission finds them to be non-compliant. We can save that burdensome step.

At present, the commission must make formal correction orders even if the manufacturer or the person distributing whatever material claims it is fully prepared to make voluntary corrections. Therefore, there is some room for optimism that we can benefit the situation in workplaces around the country if it is not such an onerous task to make orders to correct deficient workplace safety and health data sheets.

One of the figures my colleague, the member for Windsor West, pointed out, which we should all be well aware of or take note of and be concerned about, is that 95% of those data sheets examined by the commission were found to be non-compliant and not just in immaterial ways. On average eight or nine errors were in those sheets examined. Therefore, clearly the WHMIS regime in the country is sorely lacking and it needs correction.

I hope I did not overstay my welcome by arguing about asbestos, but I would like to see the material safety data sheet on Quebec asbestos, on chrysotile asbestos. That safety data sheet would say that there is no safe level of asbestos, that we should not handle the product and that our wives and children should not be exposed to it because it will kill them. This would be the only fair WHMIS data sheet on asbestos that we could put because there is no safe level of asbestos. There is no control or safe use of asbestos. Exposure to one single fibre can and in many cases has caused life threatening disease.

Hazardous Materials Information Review ActGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate my colleague, the member for Winnipeg Centre on not only his work on asbestos but also on Zonolite. We are talking about the right to know, not only for workers and consumers, but also about our ability to have an opportunity to know the product and its effect upon us and the environment. That is what the member for Winnipeg Centre is talking about in his crusade on asbestos and on other issues around human health. The prevention aspect is not only good for human health, but it also saves the economy and significantly affects planning issues for the environment in the future.

The House has had the opportunity to act on these issues in the past. The subamendment to my motion on environmental contaminants and human health passed through this chamber. Then some Alliance members and Liberal members switched their position and killed it.

Similarly, we had another tragedy recently when the Bloc voted against banning pesticides. This is amazing because Quebec has some progressive laws on pesticide use and they could have been applied across the country. However, I guess children across our country are less important if they are not in Quebec. There is no reason that should not have passed in this chamber. It was a solid legislation and it would have had real results.

How can we use the data sheets to the fullest extent to ensure that prevention will be at the forefront so people can make educated decisions about the use of the product in their workplace and also have their rights respected?

Hazardous Materials Information Review ActGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, asbestos is the single greatest industrial killer the world has ever known. There is no safe level of asbestos exposure and no material safety data sheet will protect us if we are exposed to it. Asbestos kills. It should be banned globally. At the very least, the Government of Canada should stop being a globe trotting propagandist for the asbestos industry and it should stop handing out corporate welfare to corporate serial killers.

Hazardous Materials Information Review ActGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Bloc Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in this House today to speak to Bill S-2.

Of course, as always, the Bloc Québécois agrees with what tends to be reasonable. We are very responsible. This is why we thoroughly examined the changes proposed by Bill S-2. If this can help businesses to improve their performance and their effectiveness, we agree. However, we must also be careful, because, even through we agree with what makes sense, we know that errors can sometimes happen. Because we agree with Bill S-2, we would not want Health Canada to think that we agree with everything that is related to the hazardous product problem.

Hazardous products have caused, many times in the past, incidents and major accidents that have left some people handicapped for life and that have even killed others. We only have to think about the case of Produits chimiques Expro inc. in Quebec. We are being very careful and very vigilant in the implementation of this bill.

I had the opportunity to speak with my colleague from Beauharnois—Salaberry about this bill and hazardous materials. She used to work in a hospital setting. She had the responsibility of explaining to people under her direction how hazardous products had to be used. Of course, when we talk about hazardous products, we are talking about products that may be very toxic. She thinks that this approach is working very well; it is very easy to explain to people. However, she was also telling me that there was not enough time. There was not enough time and, very often, unfortunately, the French versions of WHMIS data sheets were very slow in coming. Businesses should solve this problem, because, when one works in a hospital setting, one is in contact with people who are often very vulnerable and cannot always defend themselves against invasions of bacteria that might come from certain products.

One of her tasks was to explain how to use those products. She was responsible for health and safety but found that employees did not have time to inform themselves. She had to give them the information in the corridors, between two rooms. She regretted that because those dangerous products caused considerable damage. However, I find the amendments to the original act very valuable and legitimate. We can understand the desire to help companies; it was not really necessary to provide the government with the information requested by companies, as long as the companies respected appropriate confidentiality. That way, we know that they will act with full knowledge of the facts and very responsibly.

In comparison, the present legislation forces the HMIRC to give an official compliance order, even if the company which requests an exemption is ready to respect its obligations and to make the necessary changes after being served notice. The process in the present legislation is time consuming and strict. The order sent to companies must be published in the Canada Gazette and is enforceable 75 days later. There are further delays to allow the company to appeal the order and to produce a new data sheet. Once again, in many companies in Quebec and Canada the most obvious language is English. As the sheets must be translated, that unfortunately adds a little too much time. That is regrettable because if the people who have to work with the products cannot read the sheets and understand them correctly they will be at risk.

The HMIRC will also be in a position to give information and to clarify the cases under appeal. Right now, the independent appeal boards cannot consult the commission.

Nonetheless, some aspects worry me, as far as hazardous materials are concerned, and I am not just talking about their composition. We know that often accidents occur in the transportation of these materials. I think we must ensure, for the transportation of hazardous products, that every appropriate safety measure is taken to avoid accidents from happening to people who earn their living under difficult circumstances and who work very hard; people like truck drivers and their helpers, who unfortunately do not always have the luxury of defending themselves because they are not part of a union.

We also know that many questions remain on the choices made by firefighters. There are also many questions about the choices made by transport companies. They have to keep increasing their productivity and efficiency. The cost of gas is so high they have to keep their trucks on the road day and night to earn a decent income, which—even at that—is not guaranteed. Anything that allows companies to put their products on the market in a more diligent manner is fine by us. However, it is important to ensure that these trucking companies and other transport companies are just as diligent in the application of safety measures for their products when it comes to dangers and difficulties.

I also want to note that a number of times now, institutions, even schools, have had to be evacuated because of problems with toxic and hazardous materials.

Take for example an incident that occurred in May 2005 when the handling of nitric acid forced the evacuation of a thousand or so people from the chemistry and biochemistry department at the Université du Québec à Montréal. The incident occurred in a lab when a researcher was busy pouring nitric acid in a recycled container and a chemical reaction ensued. It is very dangerous. A lot of students and other people on site could have suffered extremely unfortunate consequences. Fortunately, this was not the case. The incident was classed as a true accident because the product was not defective. The problem was in the way the product was handled by the professor. The company was not at fault.

There was also the release of a toxic cloud in Valleyfield. Environment Canada monitors 585 facilities in Quebec that may pose a risk, because they store substances deemed hazardous, such as the sulphuric anhydride that was released at Noranda's CEZinc plant, in Valleyfield. That plant is not governed by Health Canada and Environment Canada's regulations. In fact, it does not store that product. The sulphuric anhydride is merely transiting through the plant in its pools. That plant is not deemed to be a facility that stores toxic and hazardous products, and it is not subject to the same regulations. This is why accidents such as the one that occurred in Valleyfield, on the evening of August 12, 2004, can happen. People living close to the plant had to be evacuated, because an extremely toxic product had been released, thus creating a very dangerous situation.

A chemical product also caused a number of people to faint at a flea market. Flea markets are very popular in Quebec and families enjoy going there on Saturdays and Sundays. So, when incidents like that occur in such locations, we are concerned about people's health and safety. When people faint because of a chemical product, it means that the substance is really very potent. We do not always know the origin of that chemical product, and we may also not know what it is exactly.

People try to find out where the product came from, but to no avail. This raises some important questions.

I know the companies that make these products are very competent and do as much as they can to ensure that such incidents do not occur. However, humans being what they are, unfortunate things sometimes happen.

I completely agree that we should give companies the opportunity to get their products to market faster and more efficiently. I am pleased with this move to amend the act because it is a little restrictive.

We have strong environmental convictions. Even though some members and government ministers claim that the environment is responsible for a number of plant and business closures, we know that is not true. We know that this is not the principal cause of plant and business closures.

We do not put much stock in such simplistic explanations. We try to do our homework and study the issue in its entirety before making a decision about whether to support this or that bill.

This bill is not a problem for us because its implementation does not directly put anybody’s life in danger. The change that is requested is minimal and only speeds up a process that we know is very long. In all departments, the approval processes are very long.

For example, just in the area of natural health products, some companies have to wait as many as two, three or even four years to get a product evaluated and recognized by Health Canada. These waiting periods are senseless because, after all, some of these products are used by a lot of people all over the world and have very conclusive effects on their health. I myself have been taking some for a number of years, and as you can see, I am in excellent health.

All of this to say that there is not much in the bill that would cause us to oppose it. We cannot be against virtue itself. Unlike the governing party, which seems to be against all environmental virtue, we do not think that a bill like this has any environmental effect at all.

We will therefore be very much in favour of the bill in principle. We hope that hon. members of all parties will also support it because we think that the passage of this bill will make all our companies in Quebec and Canada more efficient. We also believe that the committees charged previously with assessing hazardous products have done a good job of evaluating the implications of this amendment.

This is an amendment, therefore, that will in no way compromise the safety or all the precautions that should be taken to ensure that hazardous products are properly stored, used and provided to customers, as well as properly transported. We also believe that the owners of the companies that produce these hazardous products are competent people who ensure that their products are used properly and who will do even more in the future to ensure that their products include data sheets translated into French as well as English ones so that people who use the products have the information they need more quickly.

Hazardous Materials Information Review ActGovernment Orders

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

Patricia Davidson Conservative Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in the House today to speak in support of Bill S-2, An Act to amend the Hazardous Materials Information Review Act.

I would begin by noting that the primary objective of these amendments is to facilitate the earlier delivery to workers of the health and safety information essential to the safe handling of hazardous materials in the workplace. Further, all stakeholders, workers handling hazardous materials, their employers, suppliers of those materials, and provincial and territorial officials responsible for worker health and safety are all aware of the proposed amendments and all of them are in full support.

The work of the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission may not be highly visible to the general public, but it is to those whose health and safety depend on the commission and to those who rely on the commission to protect the trade secrets on which the competitive advantage of their business rests. This reflects the commission's dual role.

The unique part of that role is the protection of information which is truly confidential business information, a trade secret. Without such protection, products which may be key to the competitive position of industry could very well not be made available for use by Canadian businesses.

The second part of the commission's role is to ensure that those working with the hazardous materials for which trade secret protection is sought have full and complete information on the hazards posed by these materials and on the measures that they must take to handle those materials safely. I stress that the hazards faced can involve threats to their immediate safety, threats to their long term health, or indeed, risks which are life threatening either immediately or in the longer term.

The protection extended by the commission to workers' health and safety is not trivial. I have been provided with information which shows that over the past 15 years roughly 95% of the accompanying health and safety information reviewed by the commission was found to be non-compliant with legislation and that in recent years there have been on average nearly nine violations on each health and safety submission that the commission has reviewed. Many of these shortcomings pose a potentially major threat to the health and safety of workers.

Typical violations include failure to identify the effects of exposure to a product, failure to identify risks of fire or explosion, and failure to provide adequate information on the appropriate first aid measure if a worker is accidentally exposed to a hazardous material. It is the commission's responsibility to ensure that the health and safety information related to trade secret claims is complete and accurate. Workers will then know the risks they face and will be able to use hazardous materials in ways which do not endanger their health and safety.

The trade secret facet of the commission's role in balance with the protection of workers' health and safety is of substantial financial benefit to the businesses whose trade secrets are protected. Those seeking an exemption from disclosure of confidential business information must provide the commission with an estimate of the actual or potential value of that information to their businesses or to their competitors. The estimates provided with the claims reviewed by the commission in 2005-06 show the aggregate value of the trade secrets protected to be in the range of $624 million annually.

The commission is also unique in that it carries out its dual function of protecting workers' health and safety and protecting trade secrets on behalf of not only the federal government but also the provincial and territorial governments. That is, if a business has trade secret information, for example, the full chemical identity of a hazardous ingredient in a product, it makes application to the commission regardless of whether it might normally be subject to the occupational health and safety legislation of the federal government or of one or more of the provincial or territorial governments. In all cases the commission decides whether the claim for exemption is valid and makes sure that the accompanying health and safety information is in full compliance with the relevant federal, provincial or territorial legislation.

In addition to its responsibilities to government, the commission also draws advice and guidance from those most directly affected by its operations: those working with the hazardous materials, suppliers of hazardous materials and employers using hazardous materials in their operations. The main vehicle for obtaining the input of stakeholders is the commission's council of governors, which has representation from organized labour, industry, the federal government and all provinces and territories.

It was through the council of governors that the commission initiated its renewal process. This involved extensive consultations and resulted in the identification of many modifications which would improve the operations of the commission, with the focus being on early compliance with health and safety legislation. Many of these changes could be made administratively or through regulations. These changes are already in place. There were, however, three changes which could be implemented only through amendments to the Hazardous Materials Information Review Act. Those amendments needed to effect these final changes are contained in the bill that we have before us.

In brief, the three changes required to complete the renewal program are: a provision to permit claimants to make a declaration that they believe that the information for which they are seeking protection from disclosure meets the regulatory criteria for confidential business information; a provision to allow the commission to enter into undertakings with claimants through which the claimant would make the necessary corrections to the health and safety documentation without the issuing of a formal order by the commission; and a provision to allow the commission to provide the boards hearing appeals of the commission's decisions and orders with factual clarifications of the record. Let us consider each of these in turn.

Under the current act, a claimant seeking an exemption from disclosure of what the claimant considers to be confidential business information must file a detailed justification for that claim. This includes information on the steps taken by the claimant to maintain the confidentiality of the information and estimates of the financial value of the confidential information to the business of the claimant or to the claimant's competitors. This information must be reviewed by the commission to determine whether the information meets the regulatory criteria for confidential business information, and a decision is then rendered on the validity of the claim.

This is an administrative burden on claimants and on the commission. The reviews carried out by the commission since its inception have shown no tendency on the part of claimants to make frivolous or false claims of confidential business information. In fact, nearly all of the claims for exemption that have been reviewed by the commission have been found to be valid.

The amendments we are considering will allow claimants to submit a declaration to the commission that the claimant believes the information is confidential business information as defined in the regulations and that information substantiating the claim is available and will be provided on request.

To guard against false claims, the amendments require full substantiating information to be provided when an affected party makes written representations regarding the claim, when the information contained in the summary provided with the claim must be verified, and when a claim is identified as requiring full documentation through a validation scheme established to protect the integrity of the system.

The benefits of this change are simplified procedures for industry claimants and a reduced administrative burden for both industry and the commission. This increased efficiency will expedite the delivery of health and safety information to workers who are handling the hazardous materials.

The second change will again shorten the time required to make the necessary corrections to the health and safety documentation provided to workers.

As the act now stands, when the commission finds that the documentation is not compliant with legislation, it must order the claimant to make the necessary corrections. Many claimants are prepared to make the necessary corrections without an order being issued and see these orders as questioning their commitment to workplace safety.

The amendments set out in this bill allow the commission to enter into an undertaking with a claimant to make the required corrections to the health and safety documentation on a voluntary basis. If the claimant fulfills the conditions of the undertaking, the commission will confirm compliance and, for transparency, will publish the corrections that have been made in the Canada Gazette. If the undertaking is not fulfilled, the commission will revert to the current process and order the claimant to comply.

Aside from the increased satisfaction of claimants, this amendment will avoid delays built into the system currently and will therefore significantly speed up the process of getting full and accurate health and safety information on the handling of hazardous materials into the hands of the workers.

The last change deals with appeals of the commission's decisions and orders. The act does not now provide for any participation by the commission in appeals. This has meant that the commission cannot respond to requests of appeal boards for clarification of the record. The amendments we are considering would rectify that situation. This will facilitate the appeals process and, again, speed up the process of getting accurate health and safety information into the hands of workers.

In summary, then, the amendments set out in the bill are very positive for workplace health and safety and they will simplify and streamline processes to the benefit both of workers and of industry. I cannot stress too strongly that those amendments have the full and unanimous support of all affected parties. There is no opposition. I most strongly support the passage of this bill.

Hazardous Materials Information Review ActGovernment Orders

6 p.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Bloc Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her speech. She was very well prepared, and it showed. But I would like to ask her a question about the responsibility of companies that make hazardous products. We know that the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission conducts ongoing evaluations to determine whether these products are always properly used, properly packaged and properly transported.

In the past four years—2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006—there were fairly serious problems that, I think, deserve our attention. For example, there were 92 very serious violations where the concentration ratio of hazardous ingredients was missing or incorrect; 147 violations in 2004-05 involving preparation information, where the preparer's name or telephone number was missing; 101 violations concerning reactivity or incompatibility with other products; 119 violations regarding the effects of acute exposure, that is, toxicological properties; 127 violations pertaining to the effects of chronic exposure; and 85 violations regarding exposure limits. Products therefore had no documentation on the effects they could have on the people who use them. With respect to first aid, there were 80 instances where manufacturers of first aid products even removed the advice to administer water in cases of ingestion and 84 instances where there was no description of how to treat people in the event of skin contact with a product.

In my opinion, this is very important. In the years covered by the commission's report, roughly 45% of all violations regarding “effects of acute exposure” for all routes of entry involved failure to disclose that the product has harmful effects on the central nervous system.

I would like my dear colleague, who works with me on the health committee, to give me her opinion of these data and statistics. In my opinion, even though we are giving companies permission to be more efficient, we must also ensure that products that are sold are safe.