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House of Commons Hansard #130 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was farmers.

Topics

Business of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Business of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

(Motion agreed to)

Motions for PapersRoutine Proceedings

March 28th, 2007 / 3:25 p.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all notices of motions for the production of papers be allowed to stand.

Motions for PapersRoutine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Is that agreed?

Motions for PapersRoutine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed from March 23 consideration of the motion that Bill C-42, An Act to amend the Quarantine Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Quarantine ActGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

When the House was last debating this matter, the hon. member for Surrey North had the floor. She has 18 minutes left in the time allotted for her remarks. I therefore call on the hon. member for Surrey North.

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3:25 p.m.

NDP

Penny Priddy NDP Surrey North, BC

Mr. Speaker, I think it is a one line amendment and I am sure that I can talk for some time about the amendment. Although it is a very small amendment it would have a life-saving or potentially-life threatening effect if we do not carry it forward.

As I said the other day, this is really an amendment to the Public Health Act. It is a very interesting act. It was written in 1872. I do not need to give any history on it because the last time we did anything with it was in 1872.

Here we are now 135 years later. The House was full at the time and I think everybody did support it. It was probably right after a small pox epidemic which, in those times, was very frightening and killed many family members. We should never make fun or ridicule that kind of tragedy that occurs to families when there are diseases of epidemic proportions.

When this act was written people were concerned about the illnesses they saw in their countries. People died of small pox and the plague. They were concerned about what happened within their cities or their towns. They never conceived of the fact that a disease would travel to a country or a continent that they had never seen, never heard of and were never going to see. No one would have believed that a disease could be transmitted in that kind of way.

We find ourselves, 135 years later, in a very different kind of health environment. We need to take very seriously the fact that the potential for communicable diseases to move from country to country is significantly heightened.

We only need to look at the last few years and what we have seen in Canada to be reminded of that. Anyone who was part of responding to or living in a city where the SARS epidemic was so tragically seen, will know that the responses to that particular disease were late starting and we were not able to respond in the kind of quick fashion that we all would have liked.

If I were to be biased toward British Columbia, my home province, I would say that British Columbia actually led the way in many of the innovations that came about as a result of SARS.

I have a few concerns I would like to raise. I certainly support the amendment but it seems to me that there are one or two pieces missing in it.

What it does is it adds to the Quarantine Act the reporting responsibility to be expanded to include aircraft and commercial watercraft. Anyone operating an aircraft or commercial watercraft has the responsibility to report any person who has died or any person they believe has a potentially communicable disease or any cargo they believe is suspect.

What about one of the main ways in which people and products are transported around the country and into the country, which is by truck or by rail? This does not include either people or products transferred by rail.

From living in British Columbia, I know the truck traffic, and I assume it is the same in many other provinces, that goes back and forth across our border is lined up for miles. On any holiday weekend, we can turn on our radio and hear that there is a two hour wait at the border because so many cars are lined up to come into Canada from the United States.

The fact that rail and road traffic are not included in this causes me considerable concern. We have seen several times in the last year or so an alert not to buy a produce that has come across the border because of the concern it may be contaminated. I am concerned we have not covered off all of the potential ways in which a communicable disease could be transmitted.

This is particularly important in this day and age because we discover, on an annual basis, viruses that nobody has ever heard of before. I think there was a stage when people thought they had identified most of the kinds of viruses that affected particularly people. However, we now know that those viruses transmute until we have differing versions on a pretty continuous basis. Therefore, we have to be incredibly rigorous and vigorous in our actions to protect the population of Canada against in any way being susceptible to a communicable disease.

The whole issue of quarantine reminds me of what happened before people were immunized.There may be some people in the House who remember when people had the whooping cough, or diphtheria or whatever, their whole home was quarantined. Then we developed immunizations for many of those diseases for which we previously would have been quarantined.

What now has happened, which causes me concern because it is about quarantine and communicable diseases, is we do not know what our immunization rates are really like across the country. There is no mandatory reporting by any province of their immunization rates.

I know in certain parts of my province of British Columbia immunization rates of diseases, which have been designated communicable, are dropping. Therefore, we have the potential of seeing a disease we thought we no longer had to quarantine or we thought we had an immunization for it. However, if for whatever reason fewer families choose not to immunize their children, we could very well see another bout of some communicable disease that we thought was long behind us.

For a long time people thought that tuberculosis was a communicable disease with which we no longer had to deal. That is one that was quarantined for a long time. We not only learned how to treat it, but we also learned how to immunize against it. In many parts of the country, particularly in aboriginal communities and in urban centres where people live in conditions that are less than healthy for anybody, we see an increase of tuberculosis. We thought it was behind us, now it is not.

There is no mandatory reporting of that. Surely the federal government has a national leadership role to play in having that information available so Health Canada, CIHI and all health organizations, which have a responsibility for public health threats, have an ability to see a trend. If we only look at what is happening in our own provinces, we will not know if this is some kind of trend happening across the country that requires some national leadership.

We have seen SARS, the West Nile virus and avian influenza. All those things have caused the public health community to work well together, to develop better procedures, protocols and surveillance at least in the provinces, but I still am concerned that is not a mandatory responsibility of provinces to report potentially communicable disease.

This bill would broaden the coverage of the Quarantine Act, and that is a good thing. It would also help us meet our World Health Organization obligations as a signatory to the revised international health regulations. These regulations ensure maximum security against the international spread of disease, with minimum interference with global travel, and I know that is very hard to do. However, our first responsibility is to the health and safety of Canadians, but also a much more humanistic and moral way to the health and safety of people who live anywhere in the world.

Those WHO regulations are scheduled to come into effect in June of this year. This regulation would then put us in compliance, as we would wish to be, with the World Health Organization. It will know we are doing all we can in Canada to meet that health obligation.

There will be a creation of different kinds of responsibilities for people. There will be quarantine officers, which is a good step. Previously officers were designated by the minister, as was stipulated in the act. These quarantine officers will have very specific education and responsibility to collect information, to know how it should be disseminated and, wherever possible, to get ahead of something that might happen.

We are very concerned that this tool be able to be used by the Public Health Agency of Canada. It came from the report that Dr. Naylor did after the SARS epidemic.

I remain concerned about the lack of rail and truck cargo being included in this and about the fact that other communicable diseases, which are being less immunized for, are not reported nationally. There is no national database for that and we may put a next generation of children or potentially a current generation of adults, who are not immune to what we think of as children's diseases, at risk.

While I am speaking to the issue of communicable diseases and immunization, there is also a national leadership role. There is certainly a provincial role. I understand perfectly that provincial governments deliver health care services, but there may be a national leadership role that can be played by the federal government in terms of disseminating more education information or working with public health officers in each province to ensure that standardized information is getting to all the parents.

People take their new babies for their first immunization shots. Everybody does that because it is a good thing to do. A smaller percentage take them back for their second set of immunizations. If I were to go around Parliament and ask people if all their immunizations were up to date, I expect the majority would say no. We do not know the fact that we do not stop being immunized at age four. There are immunizations that we must continue to get throughout adulthood to protect ourselves from certain kinds of diseases.

There is a national leadership role that can be taken, working with public health officers in each province who have that responsibility, to ensure that we have a more vigorous initiative of getting out standardized information not only to parents of newborns, who get very good information about immunization, but to all Canadians so they know immunization should continue through adulthood in order for them to be safe. If adults are not safe, they may put their families at risk as well.

I support the amendment. I have expressed some concerns about the fact that it could go further. I also have expressed concerns about other things we could do around communicable diseases. For example, we could have mandatory reporting. Diseases we had previously quarantined may be at risk of being quarantined again if we do not vigorously address immunization like used to do, and more so under the Quarantine Act.

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3:40 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, my colleague from Surrey gave a very thorough overview of the bill we are speaking to today regarding quarantines. I want to pay tribute to the long experience that my colleague has as a former minister of health in the provincial government of British Columbia and the very worthwhile comments that she made today.

My comments and my questions to her are in the context of the role of the national Chief Public Health Officer in the context of quarantine protection. Also I would like to expand for a moment on the need for grassroots community involvement in the important work that the national Chief Public Health Officer does and the national institute of public health in the province of Quebec.

I would like the member to comment on an incident in Winnipeg. The riding of Winnipeg Centre is host to the only level four virology laboratory in the country where testing is done on the most dangerous diseases, such as Ebola virus. Any outbreak of a disease that needs attention if it were to be a national epidemic situation comes to Winnipeg.

The citizens surrounding the virology lab were very concerned because that virology lab was sent to Winnipeg Centre as a booby prize. Really what we wanted was the CF-18 airplane maintenance contract back in the Mulroney era and we all know what happened to that. It went to the highest bidder because that bidder happened to be in Quebec. To try and calm down the people on the Prairies who were so outraged, insulted and offended at losing the CF-18 contract, he gave us a disease lab, we called it then, now the virology laboratory.

To begin with, people were not thrilled to get a level four disease laboratory in the middle of a residential neighbourhood in the heart of my riding of Winnipeg Centre. There were great concerns about the security issues associated with having the most deadly microbes and viruses in the world being analyzed next to a school and next to a low income residential neighbourhood. We pulled together a citizens committee to deal with the federal government. We got some guarantees in place that the highest safety protocol available would be used in the transfer of the deadly viruses, germs and microbes.

We were not too concerned with what was happening within the four walls of the virology laboratory because they were two feet thick concrete walls. They were bomb proof. There was bulletproof glass. But how would the microbes, the germs or the viruses get from the point of origin to the laboratory for study and analysis? We were guaranteed that it would be done by Brinks armoured car. There would be three of them in a row and only one would be carrying the product; the other two would be dummies to fool terrorists, et cetera.

There is an incident I would like the member to comment on in the context of how important it is to have community involvement. It turns out there was a car accident on the corner of Arlington and Logan, right near the virology lab, involving a FedEx truck. Out of the back of the FedEx truck popped a bunch of vials of anthrax and Newcastle disease and all these deadly microbes that were on their way to the virology lab.

It turns out that in spite of the commitment and the promises that were made to us that the highest safety protocol would be used, anthrax was being shipped by FedEx. The pimple faced kid who was driving the FedEx truck drove it into a pole and the stuff spilled out into the street. That is not the highest security and safety protocol. What is next, Ebola by bicycle? There was anthrax by FedEx, so there might as well be Ebola by bicycle courier because that is about as secure as these materials are.

The Chief Public Health Officer has an obligation and a duty to oversee epidemics and runaway viruses to quarantined areas, but surely he has a duty and an obligation to listen to the best interests of the people in the community as well.

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3:45 p.m.

NDP

Penny Priddy NDP Surrey North, BC

Mr. Speaker, I was not here when that happened, but it seems that the hon. member had asked for a plane maintenance centre and something else landed in his riding that was not what was actually requested.

By the way, the lab to which the hon. member referred does superb work. I want to congratulate the people who work there. It is a very challenging job. The hon. member is right that they work with highly contagious and life-threatening diseases.

I did not hear of the incident that the hon. member mentioned. I will certainly raise the question with the Chief Public Health Officer.

At the time that the chicken farms were being cleared out in British Columbia and other parts of Canada, great care was taken. Neighbours and schools in the area were extremely concerned about the waste material, not only about where it would go, but how it would be collected. They were concerned about whether it would it be wind driven or otherwise disseminated around the neighbourhood.

People in the member's community have every right to know that not only will the viruses and microbes be treated safely when they are inside the building, but also that they will be transported safely.

There have been all kinds of discussions about transportation of hazardous materials up and down the coasts of our country. Certainly on the west coast, the transportation of very dangerous materials by water up and down the coast is a subject of almost constant discussion.

It is not just the people in the hon. member's community that should be concerned. I would assume that the microbes and viruses are being transported across the country to the lab in Winnipeg. It is a Canadian service doing a service for Canadian people. Everybody deserves to know that it is being done safely, not only at source, but along the way.

I will raise that particular incident with the Chief Public Health Officer. I will ask him what the responsibility is of his office. I will get back to the member.

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3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Karen Redman Liberal Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I would ask you to seek unanimous consent that notwithstanding any Standing Order or special order, the debate scheduled to take place later today on the motion to concur in the 11th report of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food be deemed to have already taken place, the question deemed put, and a recorded division deemed requested and deferred to the end of government orders on Wednesday, March 28.

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3:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

Does the hon. member have the unanimous consent of the House to move this motion?

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3:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

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3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for her unique contribution to Bill C-42. It is easy to simply read legislative notes or extracts of the bill, but to bring some firsthand experience is always very helpful.

When we think about it, the bill exists as a consequence of events that transpired in Canada in recent years having to do with SARS, West Nile virus, avian flu. Indeed in responding to the SARS outbreak, a special committee was put together to make recommendations on how we could better respond. One of Dr. Naylor's recommendations and the committee's recommendation was to update the Quarantine Act.

That was back in 2003-04. It is now March 2007 and I would have thought that public health and safety in regard to possible pandemics of flu or other risks to the Canadian public would have been a higher priority for the government. I am wondering why after 14 months we are still only at second reading on a bill that should have been here in the first place.

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3:50 p.m.

NDP

Penny Priddy NDP Surrey North, BC

Mr. Speaker, my general experience is that if governments want bills brought forth quickly because they are important, they bring them forth quickly.

Quarantine ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate on Bill C-42. It is an important bill.

I have had the opportunity to be a member of the Standing Committee on Health and to work on a number of issues which relate to public health and safety. I participated on a committee with regard to HIV-AIDS. There was quite an education for all members of Parliament who had that opportunity.

As I indicated in the question that I posed to the hon. member who just spoke, recent events in Canada's history in fact are the reason Bill C-42 is now before us. The significant public health threats that I am referring to are the SARS outbreak, the West Nile virus, the avian influenza. They have prompted the medical community and policy makers to work together to respond in a better fashion to public health threats.

If we were to look at the results of the assessment of how the SARS situation was responded to, we would find there were very serious problems. Many of those problems were related specifically to the lack of preparedness. There was a lack of a number of procedures which would normally be in place, as any reasonable person would consider with regard to public health and safety matters.

When I talk about the Government of Canada of the day, I am talking more specifically about the departmental part of the government. When we talk about the Government of Canada, sometimes people look at it solely in the context of the party that currently forms the governing party. The Government of Canada is an enormous institution with enormous responsibilities involved in virtually every aspect of Canadian life.

If we were to look at some of the history, we would find that virtually every department of the Government of Canada, every bureaucracy, had a website section on SARS updates. That has to tell us something about the way the machinery of government looked at things in approaching an issue such as SARS. There were, I believe, 17 different websites that Canadians were asked to look at if they wanted an update. If it was industry, the government had an industry perspective. If it was health, obviously it was health related issues. Seventeen different websites were established in the Government of Canada.

That tells us that within the culture of the bureaucracy there seems to be a lack of continuity, a lack of cooperation and a lack of sharing of information. Continuity, cooperation and information sharing are vital in terms of national emergencies as they relate to public health and safety issues. In this case that we are debating, with regard to health issues, they are extremely important.

In responding to the SARS outbreak, the government of the day established a national advisory committee on SARS and public health. Its mandate was to provide a third party assessment of the current public health efforts and lessons learned relating to ongoing and future infectious disease control. That committee was chaired by Dr. David Naylor.

The committee made several recommendations for legislative changes to better address the risks emerging from public health threats. One of those recommendations back when that group was started in 2003 was to make amendments to the Quarantine Act. As a consequence of the SARS outbreak, it was detected that there were circumstances created in which public health and safety were not protected to the appropriate extent that one would expect.

The good news is that Dr. Naylor did his job. The bad news is that we are here in 2007, some two or three years later, and a bill of this importance is still at a very early stage in the legislative process. We have to ask ourselves why that is. Why is it that when we have an important issue it does not get priority?

In fact, there is an explanation, and it also shows what can happen when in fact we do move too quickly on a bill. What happened as a consequence of the recommendations was that a bill was brought forward. That bill was passed and received royal assent, but one of the things we found was that the bill passed by Parliament in some haste was inoperative in some respects.

As a consequence, we now have before us Bill C-42, which is going to correct the inoperative provisions and in fact bring that recommendation to fruition in terms of a complete piece of legislation that is going to better address the needs of Canadians.

The modernization of this act addresses urgent issues because the act that was passed and given royal assent was inoperative in some aspects, and the act obviously is in respect to communicable diseases in Canada and abroad.

It also represents a complementary step, one that we may want to revisit, but the reality is that there was a series of legislative initiatives to strengthen Canada's public health system. We do not have a comprehensive way of dealing with public health and safety issues. We have a series of things. We tend to chunk things down into smaller pieces.

I can make an assessment of or give an opinion on whether or not those legislative initiatives in fact represent the most efficient mode in terms of legislative productivity or effectiveness, but notwithstanding that, we do have a number of legislative initiatives to strengthen Canada's public health system, initiatives that also include the creation of the Public Health Agency of Canada and the Office of the Chief Public Health Officer.

Having been a member of the health committee and even having had private members' initiatives, I had at one point recommended the creation of something akin to the U.S. Surgeon General. I thought that we should in fact have a physician general of Canada, the reason being that over the years Health Canada has become involved in a broad range of very controversial issues and has become somewhat of a political football when it suits people's needs.

When we have activists, I think of things like the hepatitis C issue, the blood issue, and the reproductive technologies issues, where there is a political debate about the propriety of making certain legislative changes or initiatives. Health Canada as an organization has become somewhat politicized by the various activities that have gone on, not by its own choice, but certainly that has affected, I would suggest, the public's perception of Health Canada and what Health Canada represents and can do for Canadians.

I can recall visiting the U.S. Surgeon General's website on many occasions. If members were to do that, one of the things they would find is that there are sections for young people, for children and youth. There is another section for seniors, a section for women and so on. If there are health and safety issues related to a particular demographic, there is a portal to go through. It is very user friendly.

That same kind of user-friendliness would not be found at the Health Canada website. People have concerns about issues that come out, whether it be how they protect themselves against infectious diseases or what a quarantine means. For example, Mississauga's Trillium Hospital just had a significant outbreak of C. difficile. People died of the most serious and dangerous strain of C. difficile. What were they doing about it, people ask, and how do they find out about it?

We know that hospitals and the delivery of health services are through the provinces, but the Government of Canada has a broader responsibility because sometimes we have these breakouts of infectious diseases. It was shown that the particular cases in Mississauga were related to the very serious outbreak that took place in Quebec. Now we have found out that there has been a migration, in one way or another, from Quebec to Mississauga and in fact to northern Ontario, where some cases of this particular deadly strain of C. difficile have been found.

This, as we can imagine, would raise a lot of questions for ordinary Canadians about their safety and security. They want to know if they have to be concerned about going to those hospitals. Answers to such questions would be found at the U.S. Surgeon General's site, but we would not find the answers at Health Canada's site. As a matter of fact, we would find it very difficult to navigate that site.

If Health Canada is monitoring the debate on this bill, I would suggest that it have a very careful look at the user-friendliness of its website. In recent years there have been some serious problems with regard to contagious diseases and the kinds of things that may be transported in a number of fashions, but I am not sure that on Health Canada's public website we would find what we are doing and how we are caring for Canadians' best interests.

If that is the case, and I believe it is, then this bill is not going to really be as effective as it could be, because we do not have the linkage to deal with Canadians directly in plain and simple language to give them the assurances they are looking for.

I raise this because it is an important issue. It is very likely that these are going to be continuing occurrences. Certainly the West Nile and the avian flu are not going away. I suspect that C. difficile is not going away. I suspect that SARS, whatever it is, is not going away in terms of the possibility of it being migrated into Canada. There are things that we do have to protect ourselves.

In terms of looking at the bill in some specificity, one thing members will note is that it creates two classes of officials, environmental health officers and screening officers. These officials, along with quarantine officers, oversee the screening, assessment and, if necessary, the detention of people, vessels, goods and cargo that represent a public health risk. The presence of these officers strengthens our national preparedness, obviously, for future potential public health risks, including an influenza pandemic.

As we can see, the bill in itself is not terribly complicated, but it does have a couple of issues associated with it that make the current bill, which did receive royal assent, operable. That would be a good thing to do. It would have been a good thing to do at the beginning of Parliament, not 14 months after an election.

With all due respect, I question very seriously whether or not the government has its eye on the ball for the safety and security and priorities of Canadians, particularly when we see some of the things that are on the table. We have been jumping around all over the place. In fact, one thing we see, and which has been discussed in this place many times, is a series of justice bills, and every one of those bills is a very discrete item that has an amendment to the Criminal Code of Canada.

In past Parliaments, we have come forward with omnibus bills. There are a number of initiatives that could be amended or updated in the Criminal Code and they could have been brought forward, but politically it looks a lot better if we bring in 10 bills to do something that could be done in one, because then members can say, “Look how active we have been”.

What it does, and this is the real shame, is grind the system to a halt. The justice committee can do only so much work. It can deal with only so many bills at a time. It has to work through these bills, but many of the same witnesses will be there over and over again. I think Canadians should know that there is a little bit of game playing going on in terms of the legislative process. I am sure that we will hear more about this in the coming days.

I want to also comment on the principal provision, which is an amendment to section 34 of the current Quarantine Act. As I have indicated, the Quarantine Act had initially been part of the health protection legislative renewal package, but this new bill has to provide some technical amendments to bring into order section 34 of the Quarantine Act, which has already received royal assent.

More specifically, on section 34 of the Quarantine Act, clause 1 proposed amendments to section 34 and established the duty of operators of certain conveyances to report to authorities: (a) any reasonable grounds to suspect that persons, cargo or other things on board could cause the spreading of communicable disease listed in the schedule appended to the bill; (b) if a person on board has died; or (c) any prescribed circumstance that exists.

When we look through the rest of the bill, we see a couple of other cleanup items, which effectively relate to the reporting responsibilities of the operator of the vessel. Indeed, it basically means reporting to the point of nearest entry, but there are some circumstances. For instance, if a plane going from London to Toronto had a problem on board, it probably would land in Newfoundland, the nearest point of landing.

Interestingly enough, and some people may wonder why, there is a proviso in the bill as the legislation now stands that the reporting obligations are limited to marine and air community supports. The rationale is that approximately 94% of international flights arrive in Canada through six international airports where there are established quarantine stations and the presence of a quarantine officer. They are Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Halifax, although there are as well other airports that have such facilities.

Finally, the bill has an amendment to schedule which in fact lists the various matters that are subject to be reported under this bill. Clause 5 provides that the proposed amendment to section 34 comes into force on the day that Bill C-42, this bill, comes into force.

I believe we are going to find that there is support from all parties for this bill, but knowing that a particular bill was rushed through and had some technical problems, it bears repeating that there should be some concern that such a bill could not have been brought forward to the House in a more expeditious fashion to show the true priority that Canadians place on public safety and health.

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4:10 p.m.

Bloc

Guy André Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask my colleague a question. This legislation that the member told us about in the last few minutes is extremely important to prevent certain pandemics.

Why does he think that it took so long—14 months after the beginning of this new Parliament—to develop this bill and to introduce it in the House?

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4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I think parliamentarians should reassess. There are certain things that happen in this place and we wonder why. There have been so many changes on the order paper even with regard to important justice bills.

The government has, for instance, suggested that someone is delaying the agenda of their items. Yet, when we ask for unanimous consent for some of the bills, for which all parties support, to have them deemed complete at all stages and referred to the Senate so it can go through the next legislative process, the government disagrees or denies unanimous consent. It plays games. We were supposed to debate a couple of those justice bills today. We are not. We are somewhere else.

I thank the member for raising this. I believe it is disrespectful of not only the hon. members in terms of their preparatory work to participate in debate in the House, but it is a reflective of a lack of vision of priorities set by the government.

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4:15 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Mississauga South for his expansive and wide-ranging overview of Bill C-42. I know my colleague is a long-standing and well respected member of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health. His contributions to this debate have been invaluable.

I was particularly interested in an aside he introduced, which was the notion that perhaps Canada would benefit from a public health officer or a senior health official along the lines of the American surgeon general. There is merit in this even in the context of Bill C-42.

It struck me, as my colleague suggested, that there is very little way for the people of Canada to deal with Health Canada. There is no way to get there. There is no conduit or advocacy. There is no particular way that we can access Health Canada even though it is a behemoth of an institution, which does not administer a single hospital. That is the jurisdiction of the provinces.

In the United States the surgeon general plays a valuable role in providing information and providing a conduit or a mechanism. One of the things that could be addressed by an institution like a Canadian version of the surgeon general is the public health as it pertains to quarantines, although we do have a national Chief Public Health Officer.

In the protection of people from being exposed to harmful elements, be they germs or chemicals or other products, we need to be minimizing that exposure in some coordinated way. A lot of people would be shocked to learn that the greatest industrial killer in the world is asbestos and Canada is the second leading producer and exporter of asbestos in the world.

Quarantine is the idea of isolating people who are ill so others are not exposed to this harm. We need to take a different approach with other harmful elements, asbestos most notably, to try to isolate and minimize the exposure of Canadians to it. However, the Canadian government has just introduced new regulations that expressly allow asbestos to be put into children's toys, for heaven's sake. It is trying to make the case that asbestos is so benign, so friendly and good for us, I suppose is the argument, that it says it should go into drywall mud, which people have to sand in order to finish, and they get exposed to it. I get frustrated when I think of it.

If the purpose of the debate today is to minimize exposure to harm, we should have a much bigger debate on minimizing exposure to harm in all kinds of contexts. If we are to really address the public health, the single greatest industrial killer the world has ever known is asbestos. More people die from asbestos than all other industrial causes combined. Yet we promote it, we flog it, we dump it internationally into third world countries. It makes me furious to think about this.

Even though it is a little bit off topic, would my colleague address the idea of perhaps this being one of the roles this new Canadian surgeon general could play? I am meeting with the deputy surgeon general of the United States this weekend in Philadelphia, at the Drexel University College of Medicine, to talk about asbestos and the role he is playing nationally and internationally to ban this product forever. Canada should follow the rest of the world and ban it as well.

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4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his kind remarks. The issue that came to mind during the SARS was that Health Canada had to establish 17 different websites or so to provide information, updates and ongoing information to interested stakeholders. It does not make sense. It is not pragmatic and it is not workable.

At that point, I remember putting forward a private member's motion. It called on the government to establish the position of physician general of Canada, who would be the principal public contact.

The House may recall the big debate about women' s hormone therapy and whether it was advisable. We can imagine how women were concerned about who was telling the truth. Self breast examination was another one, about whether it was useful. Now we have changes in things like the resuscitation techniques. Should we use the mouth or things like that?

There is no mechanism within Health Canada now to opine on that, to say in plain and simple language to Canadians, who are interested in doing the right thing or getting information from people who they believe are people of integrity, respect and professionalism, who will give them good information.

Those are the kinds of things that may come out of discussions like this. It happens to be linked only to the extent that it was spawned from an infectious disease problem. However, communication to Canadians about the risks of their health, whether it be communicable diseases or industrial risks to Canadian public health and safety, are always relevant in the House.

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4:20 p.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise today on Bill C-42, an act to amend the Quarantine Act.

I would like first, though, to make a few comments about what my hon. colleague in the NDP has had to say about the CF-18 maintenance contracts. It is very clear to the Bloc Québécois and all Quebeckers that the Canadian aerospace industry is centered in the Montreal metropolitan area.

When Mr. Mulroney was the Prime Minister, he helped to consolidate this centre by giving it the CF-18 maintenance contract. In the Bloc’s view, this was a perfectly normal thing to do. Southern Ontario, for example, is the heart of the automobile industry.

I would like to say something about asbestos as well. It is true that asbestos is a hazardous product, but it can be used safely, especially in the form of chrysotile asbestos. I always say that it is like water. Water is essential for life, but people can also drown in it. We are able now to use chrysotile asbestos safely. The Standing Committee on International Trade recognized as much a few months ago. So far as I know, even the NDP member voted in favour. I would add that substitute products are just as hazardous to health as chrysotile asbestos.

We are now facing heavy pressure to ban chrysotile asbestos from the lobbies for substitutes for it. We need to work on developing safe uses for chrysotile asbestos. Those were my two preliminary remarks. I noticed that my friend in the NDP took advantage of these questions to raise issues that are hotly debated in Quebec these days.

I want to say something as well about the CF-18s, and then I will get to the heart of the matter. We are currently criticizing the Conservative industry minister because he refuses in the case of the C-17 contracts given to Boeing for Canadian air force planes to require Boeing to ensure that subcontracts are awarded in the greater Montreal metropolitan area in proportion to its weight in the Canadian aerospace industry, that is to say, between 50% and 60%. The federal government made the mistake of spreading the aerospace industry to Winnipeg. I know as well that since Boeing is located in the western United States—especially in Seattle—it will necessarily favour its usual subcontractors.

Various studies including the one done by Yves Bélanger of UQAM show that, if things are left as they are, only 30% of the economic benefits will go to the greater Montreal area. Once again we see a federal government that does not really have Quebec’s interests at heart and that plays on words.

Bill C-42 does not really deal with these issues, even though any discussion about Boeing, planes and aircraft does have something to do with this bill. The bill proposes adjustments and technical amendments to the Quarantine Act passed in 2005, except in the case of one section, section 31, dealing with conveyances.

I believe everyone will agree that the bill before us is rather limited in scope, but it is necessary nevertheless. Like others, I wonder why it has only come up for debate almost a year after its introduction in April 2006. As I was saying, the bill is relatively limited in scope, but it is necessary to reflect the new realities.

I can say at the outset that we, in the Bloc Québécois, support the principle of the bill although we are being extremely vigilant when it comes to areas under Quebec's jurisdiction. Quarantine has to do with health. The Bloc will continue to ensure that Quebec's jurisdiction is respected with regard to health as well as a number of other areas such as education and social solidarity. Speaking of respecting jurisdictions, I will certainly not be the federal government's thurifer.

I will remind members what a thurifer is. I know that the member for Repentigny and you, Mr. Speaker, are aware of that, but perhaps those who are watching us today have forgotten that concept. The thurifer was the cleric holding the thurible, or censer, during religious ceremonies.

Obviously, by extension, a thurifier also refers to someone who flatters. You will understand that I do not wish to play the role of flatterer for the Conservative government when I see that in the budget and in all the policies of the Conservative government they do not respect Quebec’s jurisdiction, despite their fine speeches.

Let me give some examples. In the area of family policy, in the previous budget, they created a new cheque to be paid to Quebec and Canadian families, according to federal criteria, without taking into account Quebec’s family policy, which is extremely progressive. It is not yet fully developed, but since 1998, the Government of Quebec has worked very hard. Here, they not only invaded a field that is the exclusive jurisdiction of Quebec, but, in addition, they did so without taking account of the Quebec reality.

I will give another example that we have been talking about this week during question period. There is an illogical, incomprehensible, and unfounded desire to push ahead with a pan-Canadian securities commission while telling us that it will not be a federal agency. However, when we read what it is all about in the budget, Quebec would have just one seat at the table. Therefore, the rest of Canada would decide how the commission would work, and, obviously, by that very fact, it would weaken the role played by the Montreal Exchange, in Quebec, as a North American financial centre.

That is also a field of jurisdiction that is very clearly spelled out in the constitution as belonging to Quebec. Why are they persisting? It is in the budget, it was in the update from the Minister of Finance and the people of Quebec do not want it, all parties agree, along with the business and securities communities. There is also a reality in Quebec that the Minister of Finance is ignoring, namely that we have two legal systems, the common law and the civil code. That does not exist anywhere else but in Quebec. In addition, as I have already mentioned it cannot be done on constitutional grounds.

Here is another example. In education, the government is creating a federal agency to evaluate foreign credentials. To a large extent, that is the responsibility of professional bodies. The responsibility for education rests with the governments of Quebec and the other provinces. It makes no sense to propose that. What role can the federal government play in declaring whether the credentials of doctors, lawyers, engineers, or psychologists, who belong to professions that fall under the jurisdiction of the Government of Quebec, are valid? Once again, it is the incessant pressure of the federal government—whether it is Liberal or Conservative, only the label changes—that keeps wanting to interfere in the jurisdictions of the provinces and of Quebec.

I will give another example. Page 120 of the budget plan 2007 talks about the Canada Social Transfer, which affects—as you know—not just social solidarity, but also post-secondary education. One of the proposals, one of the objectives of the federal Conservative government, which is supposedly a government that is open to a more flexible federalism, is to identify federal transfer support within the Canada Social Transfer, based on current provincial and territorial spending patterns and existing child care agreements, for each priority area: post-secondary education, social programs and support for families. What is important here is that they talk about increasing the transparency of federal support for these shared priorities. First, these are not shared priorities or shared jurisdictions and, second, the federal government has no business interfering. It transfers money and Quebec and the provinces decide what to do with that money. But no. The government wants to ensure its visibility. This visibility will be achieved at the expense of consistency and Quebec's desire to implement a post-secondary education system that is unique in North America and that responds to the needs and challenges of our society and economy.

We must dispel the myth that the Conservatives are different from the Liberals. Rest assured, we will do our best in the coming months to make that clear.

A little further, on page 130, having to do this time with labour market training, post-secondary education and labour market training being the exclusive jurisdictions of the provinces and Quebec, we read the following:

The government is prepared to consider providing future growth in funding for labour market programs after consultations with provinces and territories on how best to make use of new investments in labour market training and ensure reporting and accountability to Canadians.

In other words, the federal government is telling the provinces it will transfer money to our jurisdictions, will consult with us on the criteria, but we will be accountable and report to it. This in no way respects the jurisdictions of the provinces and Quebec.

This is a centralizing federalism, maybe in a velvet glove, but it is the same centralizing federalism as was practised by the Liberals under Pierre Elliott Trudeau and Jean Chrétien, and now the member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville.

Job training falls under the jurisdiction of Quebec. The federal government has to recognize this in a number of areas, even though it has retained some components that we would like to see transferred to Quebec, such as the youth component.

This document, the Budget Plan 2007, is riddled with intrusions into areas that are under Quebec's jurisdiction.

As I said, we have to be vigilant, even regarding the Quarantine Act. Certainly in this case we are dealing with amendments that, while they are not cosmetic, are not fundamental. As well, as I also said, the Quarantine Act has existed for an extremely long time—I will be coming back to this—and it needs to be modernized.

We are well aware of the fact that today, just as before and perhaps more than before, because of the means of transportation that have been developed, infectious diseases like SARS and West Nile virus do not stop at borders. The means of transportation can be a ship, a truck or an aircraft. As we know, an aircraft does not just mean an airplane; it can also be a helicopter, or a hot air balloon. And an aircraft can in fact transport contagious diseases. Because of that, we will be supporting the bill in principle.

The adjustments that are proposed in Bill C-42 relate mainly to section 34, as I said earlier, dealing with operators of watercraft and aircraft, but are not limited to them. These amendments are largely technical, and meant to give effect to section 34.

In fact, as I said, when the bill that preceded the Quarantine Act received royal assent, on May 13, 2005, this section 34 was not included. Now, Bill C-42 has been introduced to revive it.

As I said, this act goes back a very long time. In fact, the first Quarantine Act dates from 1872. At that time, of course, when people travelled long distances they mainly travelled by ship, and so the Quarantine Act originally emphasized the marine aspect of travel, and it still does to some extent. This is the heritage that we still see in the present act.

Since we are aware that these days, most travelling is done by airplane, and a lot is by truck, the Quarantine Act and all legislation have to be amended to reflect this fact. I would note that at the time, quarantine was carried out by isolating a ship and the people who had been carried aboard it, along with animals, plants and all goods on board. They were isolated for 40 days—whence the word “quarantine”—to ensure that people coming from countries where there were contagious diseases were not carrying the virus for those diseases.

The proposed legislation would help protect the people of Canada and Quebec from the importation of dangerous and contagious diseases and prevent the spread of these diseases beyond Canada's borders, because the proposed legislation applies to arriving and departing conveyances. It is interesting to note that all the legislation was to have been amended, as I said, to take into account the fact that air transport is much more important than marine transport, or even land transport, in particular for the movement of people. The plan was to amend a whole series of laws to protect the health of Canadians. For example, the Food and Drugs Act, the Hazardous Products Act, and the Radiation Emitting Devices Act were to be replaced by a new Canada Health Protection Act.

There was a terrible breakout of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, in 2003, which hit Toronto particularly hard. The government wanted to act quickly to deal with the most urgent matter. At that point, in 2003, it wanted to amend the Quarantine Act. In 2005, following a process, an amendment was made, but adjustments were still needed. These can be found in Bill C-42.

As I was saying, the bill’s purpose is to complete and update it in order to give effect to section 34, which establishes a requirement for operators of certain kinds of conveyances to inform quarantine officers about any risk or suspected risk that diseases are being spread on their conveyance. This is an extremely important responsibility. Sections 63 and 71 as well as the schedule have also been amended to bring them into line with this new section 34.

Generally speaking, the bill repeals the Quarantine Act and replaces it with legislation intended to prevent the introduction and spreading of contagious diseases. It applies to people and conveyances that enter Canada or are preparing to leave it. As I said, the intent is both to protect us against the outside world and to protect the outside world against any epidemics there might be in one part or another of Canada or Quebec.

The bill provides for certain measures such as screening, health assessment and medical examination of travellers to detect the presence of contagious diseases. It provides as well for certain measures to be taken to prevent the spread of such diseases, such as referral to public health authorities, detention, treatment and disinfestation.

The bill also provides for the inspection and decontamination of conveyances and cargo to ensure that they are not a source of communicable diseases. It determines as well the kinds of inspections that will apply—I admit that this is a bit macabre—to the importing and exporting of human organs and remains, although this too is reality.

In addition, the bill allows personal information to be collected and communicated if necessary to prevent the spread of a communicable disease. Finally, it authorizes the minister to issue orders in case of a public health emergency and to require that certain measures be taken to ensure that the law is enforced.

This in short is the Quarantine Act. What we are discussing, though, is section 34 and the provisions in Bill C-42 that apply to section 34. The current section reads as follows:

Before arriving in Canada, the operator of a conveyance used in a business of carrying persons or cargo, or of any prescribed conveyance, shall report to the authority designated under paragraph 63(b) situated at the nearest entry point any reasonable grounds to suspect that any person, cargo or other thing on board the conveyance could cause the spreading of a communicable disease listed in the schedule; a person on board the conveyance has died; or any prescribed circumstances exist.

That is the report on arrival in Canada.

Subsection 34(2) concerns the report of operators departing from Canada:

Before departing from Canada through a departure point, the operator shall report to the authority designated under paragraph 63(b) situated at the departure point any circumstance referred to in paragraphs (1)(a) to (c) that exists.

As I said, this applies when the operator suspects that part of the merchandise or anything else on board the conveyance may spread a communicable disease.

What will be changed here is the fact that the operator must inform a quarantine officer as soon as possible. The current act says: “the authority designated under paragraph 63(b)”. This bill creates a responsibility and identifies the person responsible. Subsection 34(2) of the act will also be amended as follows:

As soon as possible before a conveyance arrives at its destination in Canada, the operator shall inform a quarantine officer or cause a quarantine officer to be informed of any reasonable grounds to suspect that

Those are the facts I listed.

Subclause 34(3) reads as follows:

As soon as possible before a conveyance departs from Canada through a departure point, the operator shall inform a quarantine officer or cause a quarantine officer to be informed of any circumstance referred to in paragraphs (2)(a) to (c) that exists.

I will conclude with subclause 34(4):

No operator contravenes subsection (2) if it is not possible for the operator to inform a quarantine officer or cause a quarantine officer to be informed before the conveyance’s arrival at its destination in Canada, as long as the operator does so on the conveyance’s arrival at that destination.

It is clear that these amendments will clarify the obligations of watercraft and aircraft operators before entering or leaving Canada. As I said earlier, the Bloc Québécois will support these amendments.

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4:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

It is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Windsor West, Foreign Aid; the hon. member for Don Valley East, Status of Women; the hon. member for Laval—Les Îles, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration.

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4:40 p.m.

Bloc

Raymond Gravel Bloc Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from Joliette, who used the word "thurifier" quite well.

While reading Bill C-42, I was a little concerned by something: if we keep designating certain diseases as communicable, I am afraid that we will exclude and reject certain people.

I recall that, in the 1980s, when I was a young priest, HIV-AIDS was a new disease. I recall how people with AIDS were being treated. They were often rejected by their family and their friends. Even in hospitals, we were prevented from visiting them. I remember having to wear plastic so I could visit them. I think there is always some panic when it is learned that a disease is communicable. I do not know whether this legislation will protect these people, because there are people with AIDS even today. I know that the disease is not as bad as it once was. It cannot be cured, but these people's lives can be extended. However, it is still communicable. I am concerned that, in the legislation, these people will be identified once again, they will be prevented from coming to Canada or from going elsewhere if they travel by air or boat, they will be reported by the operator or the pilot and they will be prevented from travelling. I do not know whether the member for Joliette can enlighten me on this. I believe it is important.

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4:40 p.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Repentigny for his question.

First, we must situate the Quarantine Act as one of a group of laws that protect human rights. We must also recognize that the prime objective of the act is to prevent the introduction of disease into Canada or Quebec through lack of knowledge of the situation. It is not necessarily to prevent the entry of individuals, but rather to ensure that we are aware of a certain number of situations. Depending on the gravity of the situation, one could clearly prevent a person from entering—that is provided for—or steps could be taken to ensure that the person receives medical treatment or the necessary medical support to ensure that the disease does not spread. That can also be done by information communication.

Having said that, I believe the member is absolutely right. If we take a strictly defensive view of the protection of the Canadian and Quebec population from the onset of communicable disease, we will not get very far. In that respect, it is the responsibility of Canada, as it will be Quebec’s responsibility when it is sovereign, to contribute to the prevention of these diseases and epidemics on the international level. In particular, Canada must now make a commitment to achieve 0.7% of gross national product by 2015. That objective was suggested to us not only by the UN, but also by Prime Minister Pearson. All the G-7 countries, except the United States and Canada, have made that commitment. Even Great Britain, Italy, France and Germany, who are in difficult financial situations, have made this commitment. As a country, we have the means to meet this commitment. This public support funding could make it possible to have more aggressive programs for preventing disease and epidemics. That is not the case at present. As my colleague knows, some diseases often take precedence over others. For example, we know that very strong measures have been taken against HIV-AIDS in western countries but relatively little has been done in Africa. Likewise, some diseases cause great suffering over entire continents but receive no attention in western countries, where there are no programs to assist them. I am thinking, in particular, of malaria. In that regard, prevention is always the best method of protection against the entry of communicable disease into Canada and Quebec.

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4:45 p.m.

Bloc

Raynald Blais Bloc Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate my colleague, the member for Joliette, for having taught us a little something about the French language, as well as a few other things.

This is a matter about which I do not need to be convinced. Nevertheless, it would be useful to have more details for some of our colleagues who either do not see the light at the end of the tunnel or do not understand necessarily what is really going on.

At the beginning or his speech, the member did specify that health care is a Quebec jurisdiction. Therefore, even if one supports the bill in principle, there is a need to point out that this jurisdiction must be protected in some way. I suppose that this is not just a whim.

Thus, I would let the member give us some explanations or details, so that our colleagues from other parties can understand that this has nothing to do with a whim, nor with a narrow vision of things.

I believe that we must emphasize again how important it is to protect our jurisdictions. They are in a way protected by the Constitution, but they are not necessarily protected when a government wants to look strong or wants to impose its views at some point in time.

I believe that heath care is a very sensitive matter. When a government like the one we have now or the one we had before wants to act like this—fortunately they were a minority government, which allowed us to slow them down—I think that it is necessary to hear more details about what the member for Joliette has to say.