House of Commons Hansard #75 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was forces.


The House resumed from September 18 consideration of the motion that Bill C-283, An Act to amend the Food and Drugs Act (food labelling), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.


Nicole Demers Bloc Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak to Bill C-283, which I consider to be very important.

I am sorry if I am not in my usual spirited form or if I do not speak with my usual passion. I listened to Michael Fortier's recommendations and took my little Valium pill to calm my nerves. I am therefore a little less excited today than I usually am.

All joking aside, this bill is very important. It is so important that we made it a discussion point in our caucus meeting yesterday. This is a bill to amend the regulations and legislation in order to require restaurant owners and merchants to list on their menus or on their food items the amount of calories, trans fats, sodium, etc. This is an important matter that should not be taken lightly and should be reviewed very carefully, thoroughly and seriously. Such regulations have repercussions on the industry.

Even if we are talking about manufacturers or restaurant chains that do over $10 million in annual sales, these food chains are very important to the economy of the various provinces, to Quebec's economy in particular. In Quebec, the restaurant industry is quite developed. It provides many jobs to many people. These jobs are very appreciated since, for the most part, they can be filled by women and single mothers because of their very flexible hours. Men also choose this line of work because they find it quite agreeable, even though it is very physically demanding.

As far as Bill C-283 is concerned, we are aware that it addresses a problem and that is important for Quebeckers and Canadians to know what they are eating. We have talked about this a number of times: when we called on the government for the labelling of GMOs; when we called on the government to let Canadians know, through the food guide, what they are eating, what they should be eating and what is good for their diet.

But even Health Canada, in the person of Ms. Bush, who is working on Canada's Food Guide, is telling us that we should not encourage people to count calories. I do not know.

Is Health Canada going against the wishes of parliamentarians who want the public to be more aware of the number of calories they are consuming? In my opinion, this is important, because I myself have a weight problem and I often go to Tim Hortons. Recently, for breakfast, I ordered the healthiest items on the menu: a bran and carrot muffin and orange juice. I told myself that I was starting my day off right, that I had made a healthy choice, and that I was not eating fatty food, but healthy food. To my astonishment, when I went to the Tim Hortons website later, I realized I had consumed 512 calories by having a muffin and a glass of orange juice. Can you believe it? That is one third of the calories I should eat in a day. On top of that, I was hungry again at 10 a.m., because the muffin I had eaten at 8 a.m. was not very nutritious and I digested it quickly.

When someone tells me that putting calorie information on foods is not important, I am sorry, but I do not believe it. In my opinion, the number of calories should be indicated.

That said, we will have to be very careful not to hurt the industry with this bill. When we try to go too fast in passing a bill in order to please certain people, we can end up upsetting a large segment of the population.

In addition, because Bill C-283 targets major restaurant chains that make more than $10 million a year, it is easy for us to forget—and this is quite paradoxical—that the food sold in small restaurants is often loaded with trans fat. I am talking about fries, hamburgers, smoked meat sandwiches, and so on. These restaurants may not make $10 million a year, but they easily sell 10 million calories' worth of food a year. Bill C-283 will not affect these people.

As we consider this bill, we must ensure that we are not pleasing some by causing problems for others just because we want to legislate quickly.

In committee, it would be worth taking the time to examine all of the available options. I believe that restaurant owners are also prepared to make changes. Recently, I read that Kentucky Fried Chicken is planning to eliminate trans fats by changing the oil it uses. That is a good start. Yes, it is still a very fatty food, and it is still breaded, but this is an improvement.

The Saint-Hubert rotisserie chain, which is headquartered in my riding, has a healthy menu. They are making considerable efforts. They will soon be posting the nutritional content of their menu items, including calories, trans fats and sodium, on their web site. McDonald's and Harvey's are also making an effort, although I am a little less pleased with what McDonald's has done. All of their nutritional information is printed on the back of their trayliners. People are unlikely to read anything printed on the back of a liner under their hamburger, fries and Pepsi. When they finish eating, they do not bother removing everything, turning the trayliner over and reading what is printed on the back. People are not interested and, what is more, they do not want to feel guilty. Obviously, they will not look at it. I much prefer what Harvey's decided to do, although they too provide far too much information. It is very confusing for people to look at all the numbers on a Harvey's pamphlet.

There are definitely things to be done, changes to be made. However, these changes must meet with the approval of everyone involved and with the approval of the restaurant industry. That is no small feat. If we are not careful, restaurant chains throughout Canada could suffer greatly. We are asking them to follow rules that will be the same everywhere; however, menus are often not the same everywhere because ingredients are not the same everywhere. So, using the ingredients, how do you calculate how many calories there are in such or such a food? I do not know. Something has to be done, we have to look at this, that is certain.

I would vote for the principle of this bill. However, I am not saying that once it goes to committee I will agree with the rules to impose on the restaurant industry or the merchants. We must ensure that they can comply with the rules and continue to turn a decent profit. We know that the purpose of any company is to make a profit. Yesterday, we saw that even the government decided to axe the income trust program in order to recover the taxes it was losing.

Restaurant owners are just as smart as the next guy, and of course they want to make money. We will have to reach an agreement with them. I am sure that parliamentarians will find a way to do that thanks to all of the advice we will receive in committee when we hear the witnesses, if our colleagues let this bill get to that stage. I am sure we can find a solution that works for everyone; we will have much to gain by doing so.

I would like to know what I am eating, and I want to be careful about the calories I consume. That is not always possible here, but I want to make an effort, and I need help from the industry, Health Canada and my colleagues. Together we can find a solution, but we will not find that solution by legislating against the wishes of the restaurant industry.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.


Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am glad to join in the debate on Bill C-283, an act to amend the Food and Drugs Act regarding food labelling, put forward by my colleague from Scarborough Southwest.

I am prepared to accept that labelling of many of the ingredients in the processed foods we eat is beneficial. It is a good idea. I can say at the start that we intend to vote for my colleague's bill. I recognize his long commitment to this issue and I appreciate the opportunity to address it today. I qualify my support somewhat though by saying that even though labelling is useful, I think it is of limited use.

First of all, a healthy and balanced diet is largely a matter of personal choice. Therefore, labelling will be of great value because in order to choose the right foods, we have a right and a need to know what is in those foods, but I will also say that government has a duty and an obligation to ensure that the foods we eat are safe and that the materials labelled in those foods are safe.

While I welcome having saturated fats, the total amount of calories, sodium, cholesterol, et cetera, listed on the label of these products, I do not ever want to see trans fatty acids listed on a label of foods sold in Canada, because I do not want trans fatty acids to be allowed to be a part of food in Canada. While labelling is advantageous, it is not a substitute for the obligation that Health Canada has to eliminate certain aspects from the food supply system.

In the context of childhood obesity and the current study under way at the health committee, I sometimes sit in on the health committee as an associate member when my NDP colleague is unable to be there. There is a very interesting study being done on the whole issue of the near epidemic incidence of childhood obesity.

I had a conversation with Senator Wilbert Keon, a medical doctor, a cardiologist who runs the cardiac centre. I worked with him very closely on the campaign to ban trans fats. His comment to me while we were riding on one of the little green buses the other day was that caloric intake is the single biggest health problem that our society faces in terms of general public health, not in terms of diseases, but in terms of general public health. I agree with him. We are poisoning a generation of kids by supersizing them. I will not overstate things and say that we are killing children; I am simply saying that the quality of life of our children is suffering and the long term general health of our children is suffering because of their caloric intake, the amount of calories they are ingesting. It affects the quality of life of children in very scary ways.

At the health committee there was a cardiologist who appeared as a witness. He said that children three years to 10 years old were coming to his office with arterial sclerosis, clogged arteries. Imagine, children three years to 10 years old with symptoms we would expect from middle aged out of shape men like me who sometimes present with those symptoms.

It creates lethargy. Even if children are not showing any overt symptoms of illness, they are sluggish. They are not feeling well. They are probably not participating in activities at school because their little arteries are clogged with these terrible fatty acids or saturated fat, whatever it is. They are unable to enjoy their young years to their fullest because they are being hobbled by this terrible problem.

I know that diet is only one aspect of healthy children. Activity is just as important. There are two sides to the same coin to create a generally healthier population. There are programs, such as in the inner city of Winnipeg, that cost very little to get very little children busy and active.

There was one program called Wiggle, Giggle & Munch, which teaches new mothers to get their children moving and active even at six, eight and nine months of age. This program costs $5,000 for 18 classes for 20 and 30 young moms and their newborn babies to come together once a week and learn the importance of diet, eating the right snacks, and getting their kids active. Do members know how hard it is to find that $5,000 to renew that program? It is like pulling teeth. It is one of the frustrations that we face in this era of budgetary cutbacks, that we are not prioritizing important small programs like Wiggle, Giggle & Munch in my riding of the inner city of Winnipeg.

I would like to dwell again on the trans fatty acids issue. I know that my colleague's bill calls for labelling. I think the general population, though, has come to a realization that trans fatty acids are the worst possible type of cooking fat or cooking oil we could imagine. The scientific community is onboard. The industry has come to this realization, where companies like KFC have now eliminated trans fats from their products even though they used to be one of the worst offenders. Voortman cookies, New York Fries, all these companies have realized that they do not have to compromise quality or taste or shelf life to eliminate this material.

In speaking in favour of my colleague's bill, I think in the same context the member for Scarborough Southwest will not mind if I use this as a platform to advertise this other important initiative that has been running along parallel to the activism of my colleague on the food labelling. It is interesting to note that all of New York City may in fact take steps to unilaterally ban trans fats if its federal government is too slow to act.

I think the federal government should take note of this debate today and recognize that it is safe political territory to take this step and ban trans fats.

I do hope we pass Bill C-283, but I also hope that the current government of the day realizes that Parliament has spoken on trans fats, too. We had a vote in the 38th Parliament and we essentially gave direction to the Government of Canada to take steps to virtually eliminate, as far as is reasonably practical, trans fats from our food supply. It is rare that one single food product gets debated in the Parliament of Canada and is subjected to a vote as this product has.

A blue ribbon task force took 18 months to agonizingly, but thoroughly, analyze the problem from coast to coast to coast. It came back with a very firm recommendation as well: ban trans fats. I do not understand what the holdup is now.

Governments are reluctant to take steps if they think it is politically dangerous, but I can assure this government that banning trans fats is politically safe. I will be the first one to acknowledge the government and to recognize it if it does in fact take this step.

Getting to my colleague's bill, Bill C-283, the only thing that I would like to see revisited at committee, as far as specifics of the bill, is the threshold that my colleague has built into this bill, where it does not apply to a person who has, I believe, gross annual revenues of less than $500,000.

I believe there should be ways around that, even if it is done through associations or restaurants, et cetera, that may be able to cooperate to take some of the burden off smaller restaurants, so that they are not dealt with a disproportionate cost factor in listing these items.

I will simply close by saying that I admire and respect those who use the private members' system to champion a cause patiently, year after year. It is a good system and it can be used to the advantage of the general public by those who are patient enough to use it well. My colleague from Scarborough Southwest should be recognized for taking this important step that may in fact end up elevating the general public health of all Canadians.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.


Roy Cullen Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-283.

I want to congratulate my colleague from Scarborough Southwest. He and I are working together on another committee right now and we are doing that very well. He will not be surprised, though, when I speak against his bill because I have done so before when the bill was in a different parliament, in different numbers and in different forms.

He has the objective right. Canadians need to understand better what it is they are eating, and if there was a way to do that which was economically feasible, I certainly would support it. I do not think the bill as it now stands does that.

We have heard from others about the importance of diet, about the problems with obesity, and if there is a way to educate Canadians better on these facts, we should be doing so. The food service industry has been doing a lot of that through their voluntary measures and some of the measures introduced by our government to comply with nutritional labelling. However, the bill goes a little bit too far.

My riding of Etobicoke North is out by the airport. There are a lot of restaurants and also a lot of light to medium sized industry, food processing companies, and yes, I have heard from them. If I thought the bill was for the benefit of all Canadians and it was workable, I would support it, but I do not think it is workable, economically feasible or technically feasible to accomplish what the member so rightly wants to accomplish.

I would like to talk about a few of those factors. First, just to recapture, the bill would require companies with over $10 million in annual food service sales to list calories, salt and the sum of the saturated fatty acids and trans fats per serving for each menu item on their printed menu and to list calories per serving for each menu item on their menu board.

I see a number of problems with that. As I say, I think the objective is a good one, but I see a number of practical problems. Right now, if we go into a fast food restaurant, we will see menus displayed throughout the restaurant. To add another layer of information would cause some difficulties in terms of fitting it all on one menu board, or else the lettering would have to be reduced to a point that it would be illegible.

The other problem I see is that there are many trends now for customized meals. Let us face it, these fast food restaurants are here to stay and they are very popular, particularly with our pace of life, and people use them. That is the reality. When we get into these combos that fast food restaurants have, which are very popular, people will say, “I want a big Mac, but I do not want the fries; I want the salad, and by the way on that salad, I would like this dressing. Actually, you can supersize the fries, double up on the cheese, hold the bacon and give me the onions”, et cetera. It sounds mundane, but this is what is happening. In fact, fast food restaurants are marketing in this way. They want to give consumers more choice.

What would we do then? I think we could do it technologically on a computer and on a website, and I think that many of the businesses are doing that now, so if we want to know exactly, we could go to various portions. It will do all the arithmetic. It will add it all up and it will tell us what we are eating in terms of calories, salt and these various elements. If we do that, what that information does for us is another thing, but for those people who want that information, there might be ways of getting it from some of the bigger chains.

However, for some of the smaller restaurants, I know that there is an exemption here of $10 million in sales, but that actually creates another issue. I know what the member is trying to achieve, but it creates a level field that is not quite fair or even. We could have a Harvey's that is required under the bill to comply with all these nutritional elements and put this on its menu board for all the various combinations, and then we have Joe's hamburger shop next door, just a one off little independent, and it will not be required to do that. There is a cost to doing this. We have to have access to a nutritionist.

How could a regular manager of a Harvey's do this work? How could the owner of Joe's hamburger stall? He would not have the information to do that and would have to hire a nutritionist. That is why, quite rightly, the member would exempt small businesses, but then it would create a problem of an uneven playing field.

I read an interesting book not too long ago called Freakonomics and in it there is an interesting part where it talks about Starbucks, the coffee people. Actually, every day on the way to work I pick up a Starbucks. I am a Starbucks fan. That is the way it is.

The author says, and I think he can probably demonstrate it, but I did not do an audit on his numbers, that in a Starbucks coffee shop there are something like 3,000 different permutations and combinations of what people can ask for. I must say this is borne out by my experience when I go into Starbucks and listen to people as they place their orders. I am not that conversant with all the products. They will say they want a double latte, topped up by this, warmed up, doubled up by this and that. They will want Halloween or pumpkin sauce and they want this and that. Apparently, there are about 3,000 different permutations and combinations.

I am asking this question. How would Starbucks do that? I could see how it could do that on a computer or a website. If someone wanted to go in and say they wanted to do this combination, permutation number 1,876, boom, plug it in and it would give all the nutritional content of it. How could that conceivably be put on a menu board? I have no idea how that would work.

The other problem is that there are many restaurant chains that have operations right across Canada. There is an issue, I believe, with supplier variability. I think that some are discounting the argument. I am not going to argue that it is an insurmountable issue but it is an issue.

We have, for example, Tim Hortons chains. I know they backward integrate. They standardize in a very holistic and very professional way, but if they are buying their flour and all the ingredients, let us say in Nova Scotia, and they are making their muffins there, and they are buying their ingredients in British Columbia from a different source, notwithstanding that they are going to have very tight standards and requirements, there is going to be some difference, I think.

Perhaps I used a bad example because Tim Hortons chains would probably have the most standardized and most integrated supply chain management system around, but I can think of other examples where they might not have that consistency. What do they do then? Do they make an assumption that the flour that is bought in Halifax is the same as the flour that is bought in Trail? I do not know. I think it is an issue.

Do not forget that we would be asking the restaurants to comply with these laws and rules if the act is passed. It is not to be taken lightly. They would have to comply.

I have many food processors in my riding and they are also concerned about section 5.3 of the bill which basically requires manufacturers, people making biscuits or bread or what have you to comply.

It says that manufacturers are to prescribe in the ingredient list the percentage by weight of the three most prevalent ingredients and all those that are of vegetable, fruit, whole grain, legume or added sugar. Additionally, manufacturers would be required to list the percentage by weight for ingredients emphasized on a food label using words or pictures.

First of all, to comply with the requirements that our previous and this government is requiring has cost the industry, in terms of mandatory nutritional labelling, about $300 million. This would cost a lot of money and the industry argues, and I think with some merit, that it would create not necessarily more knowledge or information, but it could add in fact more confusion.

I will tell my colleague that I never like speaking against a private member's bill. I brought in a private member's bill a couple of years ago on user fees, Bill C-212. It took me two years, a lot of blood, sweat and tears, so I congratulate the member for taking this initiative, but I will not be supporting it.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.


Daryl Kramp Conservative Prince Edward—Hastings, ON

Mr. Speaker, I well recognize the intent and the spirit with which Bill C-283 has been brought forward. The member for Scarborough Southwest and I have shared some of the finer nourishment that is available in many parts of the globe. I recognize the desire to enjoy, as all the public should, food that is safe, that is consistent and that we recognize will provide a long term benefit to society.

Having said that, I would like to comment on the bill because I have reservations. I would like to comment from two perspectives, both as a legislator with the inherent responsibilities that come with passing legislation that is reasonable and responsible, and as a 30-year veteran of the hospitality industry. I am a person who has been involved as a builder, owner, operator, consultant and teacher and I have been exposed to the many different facets of the hospitality business for literally a lifetime.

From a legislative point of view, it should be noted that Health Canada carefully considered the issue of the provision of nutrition information for foods sold in restaurants and food service establishments during the development of the nutrition labelling regulations for prepackaged foods. Health Canada, at that particular time, chose to exempt these foods from these requirements due to the inherent variability associated with the food service industry.

As we all know, the food industry is a very complex and diverse business. It is not a one size fits all. The unique challenges associated with the food service industry, where recipes and ingredients are often not standardized and customization is common, makes it difficult to provide accurate nutrition information to consumers.

From experience, many menus are changed on a daily, weekly, monthly and a quarterly basis within restaurants and food service operations, even within cafeterias. It is almost improbable to suggest that every time there is a menu change, which could be done on a daily basis, that we should come up with and be expected to provide data to the public on a consistent basis.

I note that before the introduction of mandatory nutrition labelling on prepackaged foods in Canada, provisions for the voluntary labelling of these food products had existed since 1988. We have seen a recognition that the public does not want to know more of what they are eating. There has been a move to seek more information and I think the industry has responded. In a voluntary fashion, there has been a great move from those who have the capacity and the capability to do so.

We have had considerable research and information on consumer use and interest in this information and on industry implementation.

The nutrition labelling regulations were developed after an extensive five year consultation period. This was not just a let us think about how we are going to make food safe. There was an extensive period of consultation within industry and with regulatory boards. This lengthy consultation period was necessary to obtain the buy-in necessary to ensure the new regulations not only met consumer needs, but that they were capable of being implemented and utilized in an effective fashion by industry. In other words, that they were workable on a day to day basis. The result was a nutrition labelling system within the industry, which, to many jurisdictions around the world, has been referred to as the international gold standard.

What we have within our health and our labelling and our criteria in the CFIA is actually recognized very well. It certainly sits up at the top of the bar with regulatory regimes around the globe.

However, It is extremely difficult to justify mandating the provisions of nutrient information to consumers if the benefits are unclear or unknown. The cost of providing such information to consumers should be measured against the benefits that would accrue to the customers or the consumers as well.

This is a balancing act and if the pendulum is too far out of balance either way it will be made very difficult to implement.

It should be noted, however, that nearly 10,000 locations, representing approximately 40% of the major restaurant chains in Canada, voluntarily provide nutrition information to their customers under the Canadian Restaurant and Food Service Association's voluntary nutrition information program. It is astounding that this is being done on a voluntary basis but it happens to be the type of operation where there is a consistency in menu and it has the resources, the talent and the traffic volume to substantiate the cost.

Under this program, participating establishments provide nutrition information to consumers that is consistent with the requirements of Canada's mandatory regulations.

While larger firms have some access to this expertise required to comply with the regulations that are making progress in implementing the Canadian restaurant and food services voluntary guidelines, this is obviously not the case with the entire industry.

The cost of implementing and enforcing this bill must also be considered. The cost of laboratory analysis for nutrition information ranges widely depending on the complexity, the number of items on the menu and the prices charged by individual laboratories. This has the possibility of being a technical and costly nightmare.

The Centre for Science in the Public Interest has estimated that it would cost between $11,500 at the low end and $46,000 at the high end to analyze the entire menu of larger scale restaurants with between 50 and 200 items on the menu. We can just imagine the cost.

If we were to extrapolate that across the entire population, we would realize that this assumes that the menus never change. As I said earlier, sometimes the menus change monthly, quarterly, weekly or daily. It is just not practical at this particular point.

I also note that in addition to these initial costs, there would be ongoing associated costs with the analysis of new items as they are added to the menu every day and the analysis of reformulated items because menus change and products change. A rice product today might be a different rice product tomorrow. It might be from a different manufacturer. We might have seasonal implications whereby we are getting oranges from one particular area one day and the next week we might be getting oranges from a different area and they may have a different nutritional component.

This bill just does not make a whole lot of sense.

We then, of course, have marketing which is crucial to any business these days. All of these businesses, regardless of their size, need to market. The cost of marketing and the cost of tools, equipment and the reprinting of materials for menus is astronomical. Is it enough to ask small business operators to bear the cost of that once a year but, as their menus change weekly or daily, on an ongoing basis? The cost is just not feasible.

We also have the significant cost of enforcing the law. Having a law is one thing but enforcing it is another. What kind of bureaucracy would we need for that? It is estimated that Canada has 50,000 restaurants, 24,000 grocery outlets, 5,300 unregistered manufacturing plants, 1,710 registered fish, seafood and meat establishments, and 3,400 unregistered importers who would be subject to the inspection to verify the provisions of this bill.

We could discuss a number of other items in the bill, but one of them is not just a fad but a reality. One of the problems facing society right now is obesity. It is important to stress that there are many factors that may contribute to obesity. As the hon. member from Scarborough brought forward, people want to know what they are eating. They want to ensure they are getting value for dollar and that they are getting the nutritional component.

I am not sure if the member opposite was pointing to my waistline when I mentioned obesity.

While it might be laudable to deal with all this, the reality is that it is our duty to ensure that when we mandate by law, the law has to be practical, cost efficient and it must provide the results that we are seeking.

In closing, the member's intentions are honourable and the spirit of the bill is honourable but the practicality of implementing this just is not there.

Until a way is found to build a better mousetrap to protect the Canadian public and provide the food safety Canadians want and need, let us strike a balance between practicality and desirability. Let us work toward an accommodation that will satisfy all of us in the House.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.


Rahim Jaffer Conservative Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, it gives me pleasure to speak in the House especially on a subject like this one, which I have had the chance to speak on in the past, but most important because of the timing. The time of day that we are debating this bill is interesting because, like other members in this place, I am getting a little hungry with all this talk about food; there is no doubt about it.

We have to put this debate into perspective. We have debated this issue a few times in the House. We have heard the different concerns that come with this type of proposal. It is clear that Canadians want to have as much information as they possibly can.

I will provide an example. In that hunger I spoke about, after this debate is over I am looking forward to going to a restaurant, probably not too far from here, and enjoying a meal. I am usually satisfied with what restaurants have to offer when it comes to information on their menus. When I make a decision, hopefully it will be a wise one, although some may argue that point at times in the food that I choose to eat. I do not want to see incredible detail.

Often that information will be lost on the majority of consumers who go to restaurants. If Canadians want to know exactly what is in their meal, they will find that restaurants are more than willing to provide detailed information on request. There is no need to have the type of detail that the bill is asking for. I think the majority of Canadians are satisfied with the information that restaurants provide.

Most restaurants try to provide as much information as possible to keep their customers happy, to keep them coming back and hopefully to help them make healthy choices. It seems to be a little redundant for governments to step in and force a very costly measure on restaurants, as many of my colleagues have mentioned, and considering what the ramifications of this bill would be in terms of the detail that would be required on menus.

A colleague from the NDP raised the issue of trans fats. I recall that debate which took place in the House. Granted, it raised awareness and gave us a chance to hear the positives and negatives of that product, but in the end there was no action taken by government. Other than a motion being passed in this place, no legislation was enacted forcing the banning of trans fats. The motion initially talked about the banning of trans fats but then went on to suggest we should be studying the effects of trans fats, which is why I think this is a healthy debate to have.

As my colleague mentioned, we are seeing a huge shift in the restaurant business and food service industry. People are moving away from products like trans fats because consumers are demanding healthier choices. That speaks to the point of whether the government should be involved in regulating in such detail as the bill is calling for when it could be done on a voluntary basis and it could happen quite quickly due to the almighty dollar and the market actually dictating choices.

In fact, if consumers demand certain things in their choice of products, the people who provide the products and services are going to react by making that change. If they do not, obviously their business will suffer and consumers will look to other alternatives in the market, and clearly that is not how to do business in the restaurant world. I can say that for sure, having had experience in the restaurant business. Restaurant owners want to provide consumers with the best possible product and the most up to date information because they want those people to come back to their establishments.

I will leave the trans fat issue. It demonstrates the importance of raising awareness but, as I mentioned, government should take a step back to see what would be the negative effects of going too far and what effects legislating certain bans, for instance, could have on certain industries, particularly the food service industry.

I want to take a step back to when I was involved in the restaurant business. My family is still involved in the restaurant business. I ran a franchise for quite a number of years, about four years prior to getting involved in politics and then for another four years afterwards. I found it was very difficult to maintain, as members can imagine, because it was an establishment that was quite hands on.

My colleague from Prince Edward--Hastings has been in a similar business, as have many of my other colleagues. The intense labour and effort that restaurateurs have to put in on a daily basis made it very difficult for me to maintain control and work in that sort of environment while also maintaining my responsibilities here and in my constituency. Unfortunately, I had to get out of that particular business.

I think back to the amount of work that it takes to run this type of business. I think back to what sort of service I tried to provide my customers and even now the type of service that my parents are providing. Theirs is quite an intense restaurant business. A lot of work is involved in providing information on a daily basis to those who demand it. A lot of work goes into ensuring, as my colleague mentioned, that a menu changes regularly and choices change regularly to keep up with the demands of consumers.

A lot of this information is at the fingertips of the restaurant owner, especially, as I said, if consumers want to demand it. By no means would regulating this particular side of things and enforcing these sorts of labelling requirements on menus make restaurant operators' lives any easier.

Let me give the House an example. Let us think about all the work that has to go into running a restaurant. I can tell members that it was a lot of work. We want to encourage people who run restaurants, whether they are franchises or larger operations, to provide the best possible service by doing what they do best, which is providing restaurant and food services. We do not want them becoming bureaucrats trying to write up extra regulations that governments feel will help them provide their service.

In fact, all it will do is require them to take their focus away from their businesses and providing the best quality of service to doing lab testing and providing detailed makeup of compounds. Many of them are not in the business to become physicists or to develop skills in taking apart certain products on their menu. This will be taking away from what they do best, and that is providing quality food to those consumers who like to purchase their products.

I honestly think that trying to implement something like this is not workable. Trying to get restaurateurs to provide the type of detail the bill is calling for is really not workable. The amount of work we would be putting on this particular industry and families currently in the restaurant business would unfortunately take away from their main focus. That is not what our government would like to do. I do not think most Canadians would like to see this happen.

Again, I want to put the emphasis on these restaurants and food service businesses voluntarily providing the best possible information to those customers who would like to have that information. By no means would this have to be regulated.

As I talk about the implementation of this bill, I have to ask myself how governments would be able to enforce this type of labelling. Would we put in some heavy fines when it comes to people who are not complying? How would we ensure that the makeup of certain things is in fact being properly reported? Are we going to introduce a whole new level of bureaucracy to police this?

It seems to me that it is really an unreasonable request, even on governments if they were going to implement this sort of direction, to ask for this to be enforced in any way that is going to be effective and also cost effective for taxpayers in the long run. It seems to me that it would create a whole new set of problems, which unfortunately, as I mentioned, would not only cause extra burden and unnecessary work for restaurant owners, but which really would be almost impossible for governments to implement and enforce.

My final point is one my colleague mentioned. When it comes to actual compounds, especially when we think about menus changing on a regular basis, and food products and different choices changing on a regular and sometimes an hourly basis, how can we expect restaurateurs in particular to be able to change their menus to reflect that?

I have faith in my family. I have faith in other restaurateurs. As I mentioned, I plan to enjoy a nice meal this evening. I am sure if I want any detail about anything I plan to eat off my plate I can get that just by requesting it from the restaurateur. If I do have a problem with certain choices, I can make sure to indicate to them that I would like to see a change . I am sure I will get a faster response from those people involved in the industry than if governments go down what I think is really the wrong road.

I encourage all members not to support the bill.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

Resuming debate.

There being none, the last speaker will be the mover of the motion, with five minutes for a rebuttal. I recognize the hon. member for Scarborough Southwest.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

November 2nd, 2006 / 6:30 p.m.


Tom Wappel Liberal Scarborough Southwest, ON

Mr. Speaker, unfortunately the nature of private members' business is such that I am allowed only five minutes to attempt to make some points in relation to the points that have been made in the two hours of debate.

Allow me to begin by saying that this is really the second hour of debate on second reading, with a request that if the bill passes at second reading it would go to committee. This is not a debate on passing the bill in the House of Commons and then suddenly having this legislation pass tomorrow, thus causing all kinds of undue hardship for the restaurateurs of this nation.

Many interesting and good points have been made in the debate, all of which can be studied by the health committee of the Parliament of Canada. The evidence can be tested. The anecdotal statements that have been made by members can be tested. We can hear from experts at Health Canada.

I have been involved in this issue of nutritional labelling since 1989. What is fascinating is that all of the arguments I have heard against this bill also were made against nutritional labelling for prepackaged foods.

The pre-eminent one among them is that the voluntary nature of providing the information works. It does not work. It demonstrably does not work. The evidence of that is not simply this member saying it. The evidence is that after 20 years of voluntary information on prepackaged foods, the government felt it was necessary to regulate and put into legislation the kind of information that is put on prepackaged foods. That in itself is evidence that voluntary information does not work.

Why? Because if there is voluntary information, it is going to give the information that the manufacturer thinks is in its best interests, not the information that should be given in the best interests of providing consumers with a proper choice.

This is a topical matter. I note, for example, that there was an editorial in the Globe and Mail on November 1. I am going to read only one line from it, as follows: “Better to educate the public and, a crucial point, to give them the information they need to make a decision”. That is all the bill is trying to do.

The hon. member for Laval has observed that fast food chains are already starting to provide nutritional information. That is accurate. Why is that? Because consumers want it. Even the members opposite who spoke against the bill and my own colleague who spoke against it have acknowledged that consumers are asking for this information.

I want to deal with a couple of things, namely, that this cannot be done. I am holding a menu from White Spot Restaurants, a well known chain. I want to read a couple of things in it: “Lifestyle choices, low carb steak and caesar dinner, 2.4 grams of carbs, 58 grams of protein”. There is plenty of room for further information. Another entry provides for the number of calories of a chicken dinner and then there is still--

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

Order, please. The Chair needs to hear what is said in the House. I would like to listen to the hon. member for Scarborough Southwest and no other, thank you.

I will add 30 seconds to the hon. member's time.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.


Tom Wappel Liberal Scarborough Southwest, ON

Mr. Speaker, the menus that I was referring to also provide for caloric information for certain foods, so this is already being done. There is still plenty of room on the menu for additional information. One would think from the way hon. members are talking that I am asking for a very long list.

We are asking for calories, salt and fat content. That is not a lot of information, particularly after what we heard from the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre, who quoted Senator Keon as saying that caloric intake, and I am paraphrasing, is the single biggest threat to our overall health in Canada. The health committee is doing a study on obese children as we speak.

The costs are a bogus argument because the information is already available on websites. It is already available if the consumer asks for it. It is in fact available on the back of the menu, the tray liner. One would think that we are asking for all this information on a menu board. In fact, for businesses that have a menu board, we are simply asking for the number of calories and nothing else. How can that possibly crowd a menu board?

I am urging members to send this bill to committee so that the committee can examine the comments that have been made and can hear from the health department officials who will testify that they had to bring in mandatory nutritional labelling because voluntary nutritional labelling did not work.

I am not asking for the House to pass the bill. I am asking for the House to let it go to committee for further study.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

Is the House ready for the question?

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

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Some hon. members


Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

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

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

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Some hon. members



Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

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6:35 p.m.

Some hon. members


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The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

All those opposed will please say nay.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

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Some hon. members


Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

In my opinion the nays have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Pursuant to Standing Order 93, the division stands deferred until Wednesday, November 8, immediately before the time provided for private members' business.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

6:35 p.m.


Mario Silva Liberal Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, it has now been five months since I first asked this question for the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Why Canada has yet to ratify the optional protocol on torture? Let us talk about torture and Canada's role in ending the horrendous practice across the globe.

Canada has always been a leader at the United Nations and around the world. Canada was a leader in bringing peacekeeping to the United Nations, a leader at Kyoto and a leader on many other fronts. However, now, we have simply abandoned our role in the world. We walk away from international treaties like Kyoto. We leave people of Darfur to their suffering. We ignore the plight of Africa as it is ravaged by AIDS. Truly this is an embarrassment of national proportions.

Canada can and should be working on a global scale to fight injustice and torture. Capital punishment, which in my view is a form of torture, continues unabated across the world. Gay youth are stoned to death in Iran. Prisoners are electrocuted only to be found innocent afterwards. The death penalty is simply unconscionable and represents one of the most backward forms of punishments. It eliminates any chance of redemption and cannot be reversed when applied in wrongful convictions. In many countries, it is used to blackmail prisoners into coerced confessions or to implicate other innocents. The psychological effects of such treatment are analogous to torture, and the death penalty must be eliminated from this earth.

We have partners we can work with on these issues, such as Senator Robert of Badinter of France, whose tireless work against the death penalty in that country is an inspiration. As a country that should be leading the world on human rights, it is not enough to eliminate such practices at home, but we must also work tirelessly around the world to see an end to these practices. We can and must do better.

Many of our European allies, from France to Portugal to Great Britain, have signed the optional protocol on torture and enough countries have ratified it to make it international law. Shocking is that Canada still has not.

On June 1 the government said that it was following the issue closely. I, therefore, ask the minister this. Why has he allowed Canada to be sidelined on this important issue when we should have been leading? Recent events have shown just how torture affects us here at home. Canadians expect action on this issue, so much so that they assume we are doing the right thing, without being aware that in the past year Canada has stalled on this issue.

I just do not get it. It makes no sense. Why are we not ratifying this treaty?

There is no doubt in my mind that the hon. minister, along with all members of the House, abhor torture. That is not the question. The question is, what are we going to do to stop it? After another five full months of inaction, are we going to sign and ratify the optional protocol on torture or not?

The time to act was five months ago, but failing that, now will have to suffice.

6:40 p.m.

York—Simcoe Ontario


Peter Van Loan ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Speaker, the government is firmly committed to international efforts to prevent and eliminate torture in all its forms. Our core values in relating to the world are clear. We stand for freedom, for democracy, for human rights and for the rule of law.

An examination of our track record on the international stage reveals strong, consistent support for international measures designed to investigate allegations of torture, support victims, bring perpetrators to justice and strengthen the protections afforded to persons deprived of their liberty.

Canada was one of the first states to ratify the convention against torture and has accepted the competence of the committee against torture established under the convention to consider individual complaints. Canada supports the resolutions on torture adopted by the United Nations, as well as the work of the UN Special Rapporteur on torture, and Canada contributes to the United Nations fund for the victims of torture.

Closer to home, Canada has many mechanisms to protect persons in places of detention from torture at the federal, provincial and municipal levels. These include correctional investigators, police oversight agencies, human rights commissions, the courts, ombudsmen and others.

Canada supports the principles of the optional protocol on the prevention of torture and Canada voted in favour of its adoption, first, by the Commission on Human Rights on April 22, 2002, and then by the United Nations General Assembly on December 18, 2002. Since then, 28 states have ratified the optional protocol and it entered into force on June 22.

Since coming into power, the government has taken up the issue and is considering becoming a party to the optional protocol, which requires state parties, as a main obligation, to establish or designate one or more domestic bodies which would conduct regular visits to places of detention in order to prevent torture.

As the hon. member is no doubt aware, Canada's reputation on the world stage is grounded, in large measure, on the fact that when we undertake an obligation, whether it be our mission in Afghanistan, our work in Haiti, or treaty obligations, we take those obligations very seriously. We say what we will do and we say when we will do something, but after we say it, we go out and we do what we say. That means doing the homework necessary to ensure that we live up to our word. Our track record of strong, consistent support for efforts, both internationally and domestically, to prevent and eliminate torture speaks for itself.

On this issue, that is precisely the task that the new government is undertaking, ensuring that we live up to our word and preserve our international reputation.

6:40 p.m.


Mario Silva Liberal Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, sadly the hon. member's answer is not enough. What is needed is action.

The optional protocol on torture adds legal force to the covenant on civil and political rights. It is designed to facilitate and encourage freedom around the globe, by allowing the human rights commission to investigate and judge complaints of human rights violations from individuals from signator countries. One would hope that Canada has nothing to fear from such oversight.

Furthermore, our conspicuous absence from the protocol gives the impression that Canada will condone torture. As vice-chair of the Subcommittee on International Human Rights my question is this. When will the minister bring the ratification to a vote? Why has it not happened sooner? What are the next steps he will take to ensure that Canada is a leader in fighting torture abroad?

6:40 p.m.


Peter Van Loan Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I think the member for Davenport, before he poses those questions, has to look deep within his own party. The member for Etobicoke—Lakeshore, who will likely be his next leader, has spoken and written at length about the issue of torture. It is a position that seems profoundly different from that of the member for Davenport. He said:

To defeat evil, we may have to traffic in evils: indefinite detention of suspects, coercive interrogations, targeted assassinations...

He also wrote:

I do not see any trumping argument on behalf of the rights and dignity of security detainees that makes their claims prevail over the security interests.

In May 2004 he wrote in the New York Times, when he was still living in the United States, the following:

--defeating terror requires violence. It may also require coercion, secrecy, deception, even violation of rights.

I appreciate the heartfelt sentiments of the member for Davenport. Perhaps he should speak to his next leader, where I think his real problems lie, someone who seems to sympathize with torture.