House of Commons Hansard #131 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was companies.


Quarantine ActGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

Order, order. If the member for St. Paul's wants to rise again and ask a question of the member, that is perfectly in order, but let us have a little order here and stop the yelling.

Quarantine ActGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.


Cheryl Gallant Conservative Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

Mr. Speaker, as a consequence of the failure of the minister responsible for emergency preparedness federally, the OCIPEP was completely dismantled and a new department was created, the one we have right now for public safety. That is largely as a consequence of the inaction and confusion that happened during SARS.

Many people never knew that the defence minister was in charge of emergency preparedness. These comments further exemplify that and they were successful, apparently, in whitewashing that over.

In terms of SARS itself, it was our current Minister of Health, the hon. member for Parry Sound—Muskoka, who was able to contain the situation in the province of Ontario. As a consequence of his daily conferences with every public health organization and hospital every morning during that crisis, we were able to contain the situation and stop the spread of this disease.

Quarantine ActGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.


Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I was absolutely staggered and flabbergasted by the comments from the member opposite.

People in this House, I hope, do not usually tend to speak the opposite of the truth intentionally, and I hope that was not her motivation in doing this, but I have to ask the hon. member to check her facts.

I do not know if the public is aware of what happened when the Liberals were in power, when we had threats such as SARS, but I am going to correct the hon. member's comments right now. We have an emergency preparedness system across this country. We have a 24 hour op centre that exists. We have provincial counterparts across this country. We deploy mobile hospitals across this country, not only in the event of a biological disaster, such as what she was referring to, but for other disasters that may occur as well. These beds can be mobilized anywhere in the country on very short notice. They are deployed right now.

We were and are a world leader as a result of the work that we did with respect to challenges such as SARS, so much so that Canada was chosen to host a world symposium on dealing with issues such as SARS and international emergencies such as this.

Why was Canada chosen? It was because we were and are the world leader in this as a result of the work that we did, so much so that we were asked to go to Southeast Asia, which is the epicentre of these types of zoonotic diseases that skip the species barrier, with our scientists, with our early warning system, and with our diagnostics to help them deal with their problems.

Why was Canada chosen? It was because we are the best, and we are the best because we put those elements in place that we have here at home and we share that all across the world.

Those are the facts and I want to at least give the hon. member the opportunity to acknowledge all of that work that I just mentioned, and which my colleague from Toronto just mentioned, who is also a physician and who was very intimately involved in this. Will she at least acknowledge that what we have said actually did occur and that these things are in place for the safety of our citizens in our great country?

Quarantine ActGovernment Orders

11:55 a.m.


Cheryl Gallant Conservative Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member opposite for acknowledging the fact that SARS was a biological disaster, something his other colleague disputed in this House.

This is about saving lives. It is about the health and safety of Canadians. I would ask all members of the House to support this important legislation, Bill C-42.

Quarantine ActGovernment Orders

11:55 a.m.


Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I do not want to reiterate what was said, but, in the interests of the public, I hope they look at the facts on what occurred when we dealt with the big challenge of SARS and how we will deal with it and other similar diseases that may cross the species barrier in the future that can have profound pandemic effects causing a great loss of life and illness among our citizenry and those of the world.

I encourage people to look at the work that has already been done in the country, because a lot has been done, and, thankfully, we are a world leader in this. Does that mean that we need to rest on our laurels? Absolutely not. However, It does mean that we need to be vigilant.

Bill C-42 updates the Quarantine Act by providing new provisions to manage public health threats. I will go through some of those and perhaps go through some of the elements of SARS because there is a lot of misinformation out there.

Interestingly enough, if we go back in history we know that SARS is a result of a virus that actually starts to reside in birds. Those birds that are living with people in unclean environments at some point in time, that particular virus can jump the species barrier to humans. When it really becomes bad is when we are able to pass that bug on between ourselves.

If we go back in history, every 20 to 25 years a pandemic occurs with a great loss of life, which is why large amounts of public moneys have been invested in early warning systems, in prevention and in the manufacture of a vaccine. I neglected to say to the member that Canada is one of only two countries in the world that has the domestic capacity to produce the vaccine, such as the influenza vaccine.

The influenza vaccine is a difficult vaccine to produce because the type of virus we are dealing with is a very clever virus. It is a simple but lethal virus that can change itself very quickly. In doing so, we need to play catch-up to ensure that what we are doing and what we are producing will deal with the particular viruses that we are trying to protect against.

Our scientists are always playing catch-up and that is a challenge for them. However, we are one of only two countries in the world that have that domestic capacity. We are able to work quickly, effectively and provide that to Canadians.

We also stockpile Tamiflu which is a drug to prevent the symptoms from occurring and prevent infection. It is not something people would want to take regularly or something that should be widely dispensed in a preventative fashion because viruses can cause resistance. We do not want to cause resistance to a drug in case of a pandemic occurring.

As my colleague said, germs know no boundaries and that is a fact. This is an international problem. Where it is rooted as its epicentre is in Southeast Asia. It is very important for us to maintain relations with countries so we can work together to address the problem.

I hope the government works with Taiwan, China and other countries in Southeast Asia so we can be vigilant in preventing a situation where the virus skips a species boundary and people begin infecting each other which causes the virus to spread widely.

The only way we can do that is to have a competent early warning system. Unfortunately, the government has actually cancelled consulates around the world, which is a huge mistake on Canada's part. We have done this in St. Petersburg, in Japan and in other parts of the world.

We have contracted our foreign policy away from other parts of the world. It is good to focus but, while focusing on specific areas, it does not mean to say that it precludes us from having our fingers on the pulse of what is occurring in other parts of the world. A failure to do this means that we fail to address the problems that know no boundaries.

I say to the government that it has made a huge error in closing these consulates and, in doing so, contracted away our foreign policy so that it really deals with only two issues, Afghanistan and Canada-U.S. relations.

Interestingly enough, Afghanistan is not even one of our priorities. However, because of events that superceded, we have chosen Afghanistan which is now taking the lion's share of our CIDA investments and the bulk of our work in defence and in foreign affairs. It is consuming just about everything at the expense of our ability to deal with the challenges of other parts of the world that do affect Canada and Canadians. It is a huge error for the government to contract our foreign policy, CIDA and our defence involvement down to basically two issues. I agree with focus but there are ways to ensure we have a finger in other areas that are in the best interests of Canadians.

On the issues of SARS, HIV and other diseases, we know that HIV is a disease that started in primates in Africa and that probably 30 or more other deadly viruses are harboured in primates in that part of the world.

In the development that is occurring in the jungles of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and in formerly difficult to reach areas in Central Africa, logging trucks have gone into the areas to exploit the logs and natural resources. A byproduct of that is that humans are now coming in very close contact to areas that were formerly not exposed to humans. Part of that involves humans killing animals for the bush meat trade, which is resulting in the destruction of many species in those parts of the world. They are being driven to the brink of extinction and will become extinct unless something is done about it.

It has also opened up the trafficking in exotic pets. Does the House know that the trafficking in endangered species is the third leading area of contraband trade in the world, behind drugs and weapons? We should think about that. It is a $25 billion trade in endangered species and it is resulting in endangered species being driven to the brink of extinction. Various forms of rhino: the Indian rhino, the Javan rhinoceros and black rhino. Various species of tiger: the Bengal tiger, the Sumatran tiger and the snow leopard. If we name it, there is a trade in it: the orangutan, low land gorillas, bonobos, chimpanzees, all of which are being driven to extinction, including, of course, elephants, which we thought were in good shape, but now we see there is a dramatic upsurge in the poaching of elephant.

We saw destruction in Chad, in the Central African Republic, in the Congo and in other areas. This, of course, is driven by primarily domestic wants, not needs, in the developing world.

We are guilty of importing these animals and animal products, which is driving these species to extinction. I do not think the Canadian public would be proud to know that our country is one of the top destinations in the trafficking of endangered species. That is absolutely appalling but have we heard anything from the government to address the problem? We have heard nothing.

What does it mean? If we look at what happens to these birds, amphibians and mammals, these creatures are packed into appalling circumstances and 80% of them die somewhere along the route under terrible situations: dehydration, starvation, disease, abuse, killed or die of shock. The 20% that survive come to our borders as pets.

People can buy, for example, a pink macaw in Brazil for $15 and sell it in Italy for $2,500. The mark-up is huge. Those so-called pets are actually taken by people who have no idea how to deal with them. Little pets that were formerly small become big and difficult to manage and sometimes they fall into terrible circumstances.

We can stop some of those things and I am advocating that the government should do the following: first, anyone wanting to import a wild animal should have an import and export permit and must have the import permit before they can acquire an export permit; second, only designated entry points should be used so that trained specialists would be available to examine the species; third, rescue centres must be identified so that species that are coming in that should not be here or that are ill can go to these rescue centres and receive the care they require; fourth, individual traders should be licensed and they should be the only ones able to bring these species into the country. This is important with respect to our obligation under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. Lastly, our Canadian wildlife service officers should have the resources to do the job.

Unfortunately, the government is utterly neglecting this area. It sounds small but it is important with respect to the bill because, if we connect the dots back to where I started, these species can be traced back to the diseases that are brought into our country and affect humans.

As I said before, there are 20 to 30 HIV-like viruses residing in mammals but primarily primates in Africa that will some day cross the species barrier from primates into humans and, in doing so, we will have a virus that can then jump the species barrier as the human immunodeficiency virus has done with devastating results.

As a country it is important that we deal with our area of responsibility. As I mentioned, if we continue to allow people to bring in endangered species, we are allowing destruction at the other end of the chain in countries that can ill-afford to do this. The outfall of this is the destruction of environments, which results in the destruction of species and the destruction of biodiversity. We all lose.

How can we address this? I have proposed in the past that CIDA should be involved in developing sustainable environmental protection. What Canada should be doing in sub-Sahara, Africa and also in South America where this is a big problem, is ensuring that these countries protect their biodiversity and that it is done in such a way that the people who live in the surrounding areas will benefit. I will give some examples.

I used to do a fair bit of work in conservation in South Africa, particularly in the area of KwaZulu-Natal in Zululand. At the beginning of the 19th century that part of South Africa had the second largest land mammal in the world, the white rhino: 6,000 pounds, six feet at the shoulder for a male, and 1,500 pounds less for a female. Only 60 of those animals, the largest land mammal in the world behind the elephant, were left in the whole world and they resided in one place, Hluhluwe Umfolozi Park.

What did the South African government do? It realized that it had a priceless treasure and it wanted to do everything it could to protect the mammal. It also said that it would protect the area so the animals could thrive and produce but it also recognized that humans needed to benefit from it too. We cannot just protect an area of habitat without ensuring the people in the surrounding areas also benefit from that protected habitat.

The South African government was very clever. It developed a system so people in the surrounding areas could benefit from the protected game reserves. What did people do? If poachers went into the area, the people warned the authorities because they knew that if the poachers were allowed to go in they would kill species and that would affect their future.

The reserves are also used to generate funds through low impact environmental ecotourism, which can generate a lot of money. In doing so, these moneys can be used for primary health care, primary education and water and food security for the people who live around the reserves.

I do not understand at all why CIDA has not caught on to this and used this as a way by which we can all benefit and preserve critical habitat. We could also use those habitats as a way of generating resources that could benefit people living in the surrounding area. In doing so, the critical habitat could be expanded and the people would benefit in terms of primary health care, primary education and so on. Human needs and species' needs would both be met.

Unless we can benefit people, wild spaces cannot be protected. Alternatively, if we do not protect our wild spaces and species' biodiversity, we negatively affect our future as one of the species on this planet.

As part of its agency, CIDA would be very wise to work with other countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo and Botswana, which has done an excellent job, Zambia, Uganda, Tanzania and others to help them preserve their wild spaces, their incredible biodiversity. This would generate a grassroots economic advantage for the people who live in these areas. By doing that, we would preserve forevermore these species, areas and biodiversity, which are a part of the future of all of us and our collective history.

The alternative is not to do this. If we do that, we will see what has happened now. I will use the Democratic Republic of Congo as an example. We have seen widespread destruction of habitat, lowland gorillas, bonobos and other primates for the bushmeat trade and plant life, the benefits of which we do not know because we have lost them. The destruction of critical habitat, including trees, will result in a wasteland that will not benefit the people of the Congo who desperately need it.

In essence, in a country like that, of which there are many in the developing world, its vast natural resources are being destroyed for short term gain, benefiting countries primarily in the west, many in Europe. The people on the ground are losing their future, their heritage and their hope.

Some of the developing countries in Europe, which include Norway and to a lesser extent DFID and Great Britain, have adopted this in a small way. What if we as a country were to be the champion of this? If were, we could do something that no one else has done before. Canada would be the intersection between sustainable development and human development. It is something that we can do.

Canadians are disturbed by the destruction of the environment, by the loss of biodiversity and by the loss of species. They want to ensure that we can preserve them not only here at home but also abroad. This is a collective part of our common heritage.

I encourage the government to do this, not only for the benefit from a health care perspective but also from a development perspective. A friend of mine, Mike Fay, who is the National Geographic Society explorer in residence in New York, has written some excellent pieces on the destruction of endangered species. He and others are fighting hard to preserve these areas, not only abroad and in Africa but also North America.

We have great a opportunity in the west, in my province of British Columbia, to have a consistent area between Canada and the U.S. In Southern Africa it is called a peace parks process. This process could occur, connecting wildlife habitat from Canada all the way through the United States so species would have a contiguous area of protection and for ranging. In doing this, we would do things that would preserve their future.

We have great opportunities. Unfortunately, the government has not chosen to embrace those opportunities at a time of great surpluses. Because of that it makes itself less than what it could be and it makes Canada less than what it could be.

I encourage the government to seize the day, carpe diem, and adopt some solutions that could have a huge impact on the lives of our fellow citizens here at home as well as those who live far away. We live on one planet, which, in essence, is a borderless planet. What happens half a world away affects us. For these reasons, the government should have a much broader, holistic and wider view and exercise its responsibility to act as a leader.

Quarantine ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia Manitoba


Steven Fletcher ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, before giving direction to the government, the member should really focus on the debate at hand, and that is Bill C-42. I just heard for the last 20 minutes, which seemed like a lifetime, about primates, habitat and so on. We are talking about Bill C-42, the Quarantine Act, with a minor technical amendment, which we need to move forward on, and the member started talking about things that have nothing to do with the issue at hand.

The issues he raise are important, but I encourage him to raise them at a time that is appropriate. I also encourage him to participate in the debate on the issue at hand and prepare for the debate on the topic that we are supposed to discuss.

There have been some questions from members on the opposite side, who were prepared for this discussion, dealing with conveyances and the duties to report coming over land. I want to reassure the members that there are two provisions in the act that allow operators moving vis-à-vis land. They are subsection 15(2) and section 38 in the act . Also, subsection 34(2) in the act allows for any kind of conveyance to be dealt with in an appropriate manner when entering the country if a quarantine issue is in play.

I also will put on record that there is a portal on the government website. It is Perhaps the member could visit that website and find out more about Bill C-42 and the implications?

In the future could the member please talk about, or even pretend to talk about, the issue at hand, which is Bill C-42. This is an important issue, we want to get on with it and the member is delaying us.

Will the member confirm that his party is supporting Bill C-42?

Quarantine ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.


Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, what I was giving the hon. member and his government is something called leadership.

It should be embarrassing on the part of the government that it has chosen to take up the time of the House on Bill C-42, which we support. To use the member's own words, it is a minor technical amendment.

The Canadian public should be asking themselves why on earth the government is using a bill and all this time in the House on a minor technical amendment rather than implementing solutions and bringing them to the House, solution of a much larger nature that would affect more people in a bigger way, in a positive way.

Why I brought up the issue of primates is the bill deals with significant public health risks, including SARS, as the member I hope knows. I also brought up the issue of HIV and primates. Why? Because human immunodeficiency virus, of which we are all aware, has been the single most devastating pandemic ever to affect our species. It is one of many viruses that are harboured in primates in Central Africa. HIV came from there. That is why I brought this up.

This is why I have asked the government to do something more than deal with a minor technical amendment. Rather it should deal with something more substantive, something that should and would have a greater impact upon the lives of our Canadians at home.

Canadian taxpayers should ask why the government did not take the type of leadership role, as we did when we were in government, to do such things as the 24 hour op centre, the development of regional op centres in every province, the development, the production and the deployment of portable hospitals, mobile hospitals, across the country in case of an outbreak of SARS or some other emergency.

I could go on about all the things we did. Those, I would argue, are substantive things; they are not a technical amendment.

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12:20 p.m.


Steven Fletcher Conservative Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia, MB

Mr. Speaker, if the member is so keen on moving the debate forward, he could have stood and said that his party supported Bill C-42 and end his speech there. That way we could move on to more important issues.

The member brought up HIV and AIDS. This government has done a huge amount in this area. We had the announcement with the Bill Gates Foundation a few weeks ago. It is partnering with expertise in Canada, with my university, the University of Manitoba, and with David Butler-Jones and Dr. Frank Plummer. This will be revolutionary for AIDS prevention and hopefully a vaccine. This government did that. We are also partnering with international leaders in the field. This government is very proud of the tremendous amount of work that we have done in the area of AIDS research.

We are here to talk about Bill C-42, a technical amendment. The member is complaining. Why does he not encourage his party to pass this bill as soon as possible, perhaps through unanimous consent, in the next little while? I am sure we can arrange it with the House leaders office to do that. Will the member do that?

Quarantine ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.


Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member is obviously suffering from suspense with respect to the bill. I inform him, with great pleasure, that we support the bill. However, I find it almost laughable that the member had the audacity to say in the House that the government has done things for HIV-AIDS.

I am so angry about what the government has done to the Insite safe injection site in Vancouver. The Insite safe injection site is part of a system that saves lives. Even the police, the mayor, the premier and the medical personnel want it in Vancouver. It reduces crime, saves lives and money and reduces health care costs. Why do we know this? Because it has been peer reviewed and published in The Lancet and the New England Journal of Medicine, not once but several times.

What do the Prime Minister and the Minister of Health say about that? They say “we don't have the evidence, we don't know if this works”. That is bunk and it is nonsense. If the government has an ideological approach to saving the lives of people who have substance abuse problems, it should come right out and say it, rather than trying to maintain some sort of fiction that it cares about these people.

If the government were interested in these people, who live in east Vancouver and across our country and who have substance abuse problems, in particular injectable drug problems, and if the government wants to reduce the incidence of death, mortality, morbidity, HIV, hepatitis C, hepatitis B rates and other problems in this population, then why does it not extend for five years the Insite safe injection site?

Why do the Conservatives not put this in as part of an integrated harm reduction policy across the country and work with other cities that want to have this? Why did they close it down? Why did they not support the access health care system in my city of Victoria, British Columbia? Why did they not give the $150,000 to a program to deal with the inner city problem in Victoria and with a situation that affects individuals who live on the street, have psychiatric problems, substance abuse problems, brain injury problems and others? The provincial government of British Columbia has given a couple of million dollars to it.

Why did the government not put a pathetic $150,000 aside to help these people in an access health care system that does not have a safe injection site involved in it? We have a huge problem in Victoria of people living on the street, people who have substance abuse problems, people who are homeless, people who are brain injured, people who have psychiatric problems. It is an embarrassment that the government rejected this. I ask that Conservatives change their mind and invest in this and support the Insite safe injection program.

Quarantine ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.


Alan Tonks Liberal York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am going to address the Quarantine Act within the context of both its urgency and its relevance in terms of the concerns of Canadians.

I do not see this as just a normal technical amendment. I think that Canadians view their members of this House as their last bastion of support when it comes to protecting them against the kinds of epidemics that are global in nature, pandemics that are possible at any time, and against the magnitude and enormity of the issue with respect to possible pandemics and how they would affect our society. I think it is important that from time to time we assure Canadians that we do not take this trust for granted.

To give this a little context, it has been my experience in the House that nothing is self-evident. I remember when, in the name of making our electoral system more accountable and more secure in terms of those who might abuse it, we had a huge debate here when amendments were made to that electoral system as to whether it was a right to privacy to have one's age kept secret. We spent many hours on that. That was in looking at our basic democratic process of a vote in making sure it was secure against those who would abuse the franchise. We spent hours on whether it was an invasion of privacy for age to be one of the necessary requirements in order to make the system secure.

I do not mean to digress, but that was an example of where we spent a great deal of time on what could have appeared to be a technicality. That was to protect the right to privacy of individual Canadians.

However, this particular amendment is much more than just elementary and technical in nature. What it does is that if there was not an accountable regime in place it could place at risk our whole concept of human rights, the rights under the charter. With respect to border security where challenges are made, there could be a period of time, whereby under the old Quarantine Act a great deal of harm may have been done while legal technicalities, not medical ones, were being used as the parameters for assessment. That might be critical in terms of the potential harm that might be done at a border crossing.

To give a little context for those who may be listening, the objective of the bill is to create at the border two new classes of inspection, so to speak, and two new classes of officials: environmental health officers and screening officers. These officials, along with quarantine officers, would make the decisions based on total information that is available to them as to whether someone should be detained and in fact put in quarantine because of a possible risk to society. That is a very incisive and deep intrusion into what we have been used to having in terms of the flexibility to move across borders and within the global community. It has become a more urgent matter to deal with.

The amendments that are being provided have a history. When the SARS epidemic occurred, the government of the day saw fit to bring together the best health specialists in the country. In 2003 we established the National Advisory Committee on SARS and Public Health. That was placed under chairmanship of an esteemed Canadian, Dr. David Naylor.

That particular committee made some recommendations. One of the fundamental ones is what provides the root of the government's amendments today, that is, to set in place these two classes of health officials and to work in close concert with provincial public health officials in order to tighten up the Quarantine Act and in order to take immediate action and not get embedded in technical, legal and more immigration related issues.

It is hard to believe that back in 2003 Dr. Naylor and his associates and colleagues were reviewing an act that had not had any substantive amendment since 1872 or 1873. I am sure that Canadians are going to be extremely surprised with respect to that, especially if they draw the broad context of how much medical challenges have changed from 1873 to 2007 and the experiences we have had with respect to pandemics.

If this were characterized in terrorist terms, and we indeed have been more shocked in terms of our susceptibility to acts of bacteriological terrorism and so on, if that were the issue, there would not be anybody who would apologize for standing up in this House and talking about that particular threat and having a substantive debate on the views that would be put forward by this government or any other government. All parties would be interested in that.

This is another aspect of what could constitute not terrorism but an international and global threat, whereby we have to bring our institutions up to date and have the capacity to respond to a very wide variety of threats. My colleague has expanded the debate to some extent. I do understand the concerns that he has raised and I do not think this debate is finished. There will be many other opportunities to expand the nature of the Quarantine Act in keeping with what Canadians' expectations are of us.

I would also just like to mention that I heard one of the speakers suggesting that to some extent we are violating provincial authority and so on. Canada, the federal government, has absolute responsibility at borders. We have heard a great deal of debate with respect to new security measures that our American friends are bringing in, but I have to say that here in the province of Ontario there is a major initiative to update our public health card to include a picture and the necessary information in keeping with the complexity of health care, health related issues and so on.

Therefore, it should not be any surprise that, while this matter of provincial jurisdiction and public health is important to keep in mind, it is important to strengthen the bridge of federal cooperation with provincial public health authorities in terms of the whole matter of quarantine.

That is important, because it would seem to me that in the regime that clicks in at the border when there is a detention because of issues related to health risk, provincial authorities are going to be extremely important in the health care system in terms of the follow-up that takes place with respect to those who are coming from other countries who may be returning to Canada, those people who have visited other countries and who may have been exposed to a health related risk. It is the total health care system, not just the federal Quarantine Act, that is being integrated by this amendment to the Quarantine Act.

I would like to close by saying that Canadians expect us, as a matter of accountability and responsibility, to make sure that there is no part of health care or the international regime that is loose and open, and that it is totally tight and coordinated with respect to global threats that may come as a result of health implications.

I think the government should be congratulated for bringing Bill C-42 forward, because it maintains the continuity that was established by a previous government, and this is not a partisan issue. Every single Canadian would agree that it is in our higher interest, in the common interest and the public interest, that on matters of health we work closely together and make sure that Canadians can rest in the notion that we are doing the job they want us to do with respect to health and the possibility of pandemics in this country.

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12:35 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Is the House ready for the question?

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12:35 p.m.

Some hon. members


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12:35 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

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

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12:35 p.m.

Some hon. members


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12:35 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I declare the motion carried. Accordingly, the bill stands referred to the Standing Committee on Health.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the second time and referred to a committee)

The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill S-2, An Act to amend the Hazardous Materials Information Review Act, as reported (without amendment) from the committee.

Hazardous Materials Information Review ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.


Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

moved that the bill be concurred in.

(Motion agreed to)

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12:40 p.m.


Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

moved that the bill be read a third time and passed.

Hazardous Materials Information Review ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.


Rick Dykstra Conservative St. Catharines, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to support Bill S-2, An Act to amend the Hazardous Materials Information Review Act.

The Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission which operates under the act being amended is part of a joint effort of the federal government, the provinces, the territories, industry and organized labour to protect the health and safety of those who are going to be working with hazardous materials. The primary objective of these amendments is to speed up the process of getting the information needed to handle hazardous materials safely into the hands of workers. This will of course enhance the protection of their health and their safety.

There have been extensive consultations on these amendments with all stakeholders, including organized labour, employers using hazardous materials in their operations, suppliers of hazardous materials and finally, all provincial and territorial governments. I can assure you, Mr. Speaker, that they are all in full support of the legislation.

The commission is part of the workplace hazardous materials information system, WHMIS. The system was set up in the early 1980s to establish an integrated mechanism to provide workers with the information they need when they use hazardous materials safely. It is supported by industry, by organized labour, by the federal government, and by all provincial and territorial governments.

When WHMIS was established, industry had a concern that there would be circumstances in which the full disclosure of all information on the hazardous ingredients in a product would betray a trade secret. That is a fair point because this would result in a potential loss of competitive advantage to the company holding the trade secret and either a financial loss to that company or a potential financial gain to its competitors.

In order to address this issue, the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission was established under the Hazardous Materials Information Review Act. The commission is a unique agency in several ways.

First, it is the only organization that has the authority to provide an exemption from disclosure of trade secret information related to hazardous materials used in the workplace.

The second part of its mandate is that it balances its function of protecting trade secrets with a direct responsibility to ensure that complete and accurate information is provided to employers using these products because the workers are actually going to be handling these materials.

Third, the act establishes an independent appeals process through which the decisions of the commission can be challenged.

Finally, the commission carries out its responsibilities for the protection of trade secrets and just as important, ensures that workers have the health and safety information they need, on behalf of the federal, provincial and territorial governments to do their work.

The commission's authority for carrying out these responsibilities on behalf of provincial and territorial jurisdictions derives from the fact that the Hazardous Materials Information Review Act has been incorporated by reference into the occupational health and safety legislation of all provinces and territories.

This means simply that any supplier of hazardous material who wishes to sell the product in this country and who wishes to conceal the information on the product as a trade secret, must first make application to the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission to do so.

The application discloses to the commission the information considered to be a trade secret. It is accompanied by the information specifying the measures that the claimant has taken to protect the information from public disclosure. Documentation supporting the application must clearly show the value of the information to the claimant.

The commission first reviews the economic documentation provided in support of the claim for the exemption from disclosure and then determines whether the information meets the specifications for trade secrets as set out in the regulations.

If the application meets all aspects of the regulation, the exemption is granted and the information is then protected. If the requirements are not met, the claimant must reveal the information for which the exemption was sought or stop selling the product here in Canada.

The commission's experience had been that industry has been conscientious in all its claims for trade secret protection. I am happy to report that nearly all have been found to be valid.

The second mandate of the commission is a review of the health and safety information to be provided to workers so that it ensures it is in full compliance with the relevant federal, provincial and territorial governments.

If the health and safety information is not in compliance, the commission issues an order requiring that the information be corrected within a specified period of time. So that all potentially affected parties are aware of the corrections that have been ordered, the compliance order is published in the Canada Gazette. It is at this point that the claimant has the option to make the corrections, appeal the decision, or simply withdraw the product from sale in Canada.

It is important to note that the track record of claimants with respect to providing accurate and complete health and safety information has not been as favourable as that for the economic justification of their trade secrets.

While the commission requires that all information be in compliance before it finalizes its deliberations, roughly 95% of the applications include health and safety information which must be corrected before there is full compliance. Appeals by the claimant or by any other affected party are heard by an independent appeal board made up of three individuals representing organized labour, industry and of course government.

In response to the concerns of stakeholders, the commission undertook a renewal program with the objective that would make the commission more effective, more efficient and more client oriented. It is also going to be more focused on early compliance with respect to health and safety legislation.

The renewal program was again a tripartite effort with the lead role played by the commission's council of governors. I would like to overview the council itself. It is an oversight body which provides strategic advice and guidance. Its membership includes representatives of organized labour, industry and of course all orders of government.

While the council focused on a number of changes which have already been implemented through administrative or regulatory means, the council of governors also unanimously recommended to the Minister of Health that the renewal exercise be completed by enacting the amendments which are set out in Bill S-2.

There are three amendments. The first relates to the economic justification in support of claims for the exemption from disclosure of trade secrets. The second relates to the correction of health and safety information. The third relates to the facilitation of the appeals process.

The first amendment will permit claimants to make a declaration that the information for which they are seeking an exemption from disclosure is indeed a trade secret as set out in the regulations and further, that documentation in support of that claim is fully available and that this documentation will be provided upon request.

This amendment will ease the administrative burden on claimants and the commission, thereby starting the process of ensuring accurate health and safety information are in the hands of employees and workers.

Administrative measures will be put into place so as to ensure the integrity of the process, but the track record of industry suggests that problems are highly unlikely.

It is also important to stress that this amendment deals specifically with the economic documentation in support of trade secret claims and has no impact on the evaluation of the health and safety information to be provided to workers and employees.

The second amendment will permit claimants to enter into undertakings with the commission. The purpose of these undertakings will ensure that the necessary corrections to the health and safety information will be provided to workers without the issuing of a formal compliance order.

This simply acknowledges industry's concerns that formal orders reflect negatively on its commitment to workers' health and their safety. More important, complete and accurate health and safety information will be in the hands of workers much sooner than is now the case.

The third and final amendment will allow the commission to provide appeal boards with clarification of records at the request of those boards or at the request of the parties to an appeal. This is something that the appeal boards have been seeking, but is not permitted under the act as it stands currently. This change will expedite the appeals process and again ensure early delivery of accurate health and safety information to workers.

These are the amendments to the Hazardous Materials Information Review Act set out in Bill S-2. Members can be assured that the amendments have the unanimous approval of all stakeholders: organized labour, industry, all provincial and territorial governments and the federal government.

The net result of these amendments will be earlier worker access to complete and accurate information on the safe handling of hazardous materials in the workplace. This can only be a positive step for workers' health and safety.

To that end I would like to comment on one of the commitments in the government's 2007 budget, which complements this legislation in a very real and tangible way.

Budget 2007 provides $1 million over two years to the Canadian arm of the International Association of Fire Fighters to help implement the hazardous materials training program. This program will be available to all first responders to an accident or a potential attack. This training and preparation complements this bill.

Firefighters in my riding came to Ottawa to tell me and the finance committee why this program made sense for them as first responders. It is a request that they have been making for over seven years. When it comes down to dealing with hazardous materials, the finance minister, the Minister of the Environment, the Prime Minister and this government listened and with the passage of this bill, we will continue to listen.

All around, it is clear this bill is a good one and is supported further by this government's focus on dealing with this important issue.

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12:50 p.m.


Anthony Rota Liberal Nipissing—Timiskaming, ON

Mr. Speaker, if you seek it, I believe you will find consent that I split my time with the hon. member for Oakville.

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12:50 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Does the hon. member have the unanimous consent to split his time with the member for Oakville?

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12:50 p.m.

Some hon. members


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12:50 p.m.


Anthony Rota Liberal Nipissing—Timiskaming, ON

Mr. Speaker, Bill S-2 originated in the last session of Parliament under the sponsorship of the Liberal leader of the Senate. It was passed by the Senate, but had only received first reading in the House when Parliament was dissolved.

The bill seeks to change the process by which the manufacturers of hazardous materials can become exempt from providing full disclosure of the composition and characteristics of their products in order to avoid economic harm that would result from the publication of trade secrets during the disclosure process.

At the centre of this process is the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission, the body that grants the exemptions to full disclosure. The amendments to the act have been requested by the commission itself, which has been restructuring over the past three years to allow it to perform its work more effectively and more efficiently.

The Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System was set up in 1987 as a collaborative effort among labour, industry, the federal, provincial and territorial governments. It was designed to facilitate the disclosure and appropriate handling of hazardous materials in the workplace. It requires product labels and safety documentation to include identification of hazardous ingredients in a chemical product, the specific hazards posed by the product, the precautions to be taken when handling the product, and the first aid measures to be applied in the event of exposure to this product.

However, full disclosure of the chemical composition of products does not have to take place if revealing such proprietary information would likely cause economic loss to the claimant or economic gain to the competitors.

As I have mentioned, the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission was created to review such claims against full disclosure. It reviews the health and safety documentation of those products, issues compliance orders, and provides appeal mechanisms under federal, provincial and territorial legislation. The operations of the commission are overseen by a council, consisting of 17 members who represent organized labour, industry, each provincial and territorial government and the federal government.

When the commission receives a claim, it must determine if the information to be concealed is indeed proprietary and whether disclosure would indeed be economically determined to be detrimental to the claimant. If the trade secrets claims is not upheld, then the ingredients must be disclosed, otherwise the product cannot be sold in Canada.

The commission also ensure that the health and safety information supplied to employers and workers accurately and completely describes the hazards of the product and its ingredients. In the event of a claimant or any affected party challenging a decision of the commission, an appeal is begun and is heard by an independent board made up of representatives from government, labour and industry.

Bill S-2 makes three amendments to the current process. The first amendment is aimed at reducing the administrative burden on claimants who currently must gather and present substantial supporting documentation, and on the commission that must review each detailed submission.

In the 17 years that the commission has been in place, no claims have ever been deemed invalid by the commission and only one in 500 claims have been found to be non-compliant.

Under this amendment, a claimant's declaration will be deemed valid and the production of supporting documentation will only be required if requested by the commission, or if a claim is challenged by an affected party. This will lighten the administration burdens of both the claimant and the commission, allowing the commission to focus its resources on the dissemination of health and safety information to workers and employees.

The second amendment in Bill S-2 shortens the time to get health and safety information out to workers and employers. Currently, when claimants are found to have inaccuracies in their safety documentation, a compliance order is issued and published in the Canada Gazette. This amendment allows claimants to undertake to correct these inaccuracies without having a compliance order issued. This will reduce the delay in dissemination of corrected information to employers and workers.

The final amendment with Bill S-2 is also aimed at increasing the efficiency of the claims process, this time with respect to appeals. With the amendment the commission will be permitted to respond to requests by appeal boards for clarification of the record. Current legislation prohibits the commission from providing input at this stage, even for the purpose of clarifying what are often scientifically complicated details. By permitting the commission to assist, when needed, the appeals process will be expedited.

All affected groups, including industry, labour groups and the regulators support the changes to the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission's process contained in this bill.

More specifically, the amendments would reduce the documentation required to apply for an exemption, would reduce the delay in disseminating accurate health and safety information to those workers who use the product, and would enable a prompt appeals process by allowing the commission to respond to requests by appeal boards for clarifications of the record.

For these reasons, I will be happy to support Bill S-2.

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12:55 p.m.


Bonnie Brown Liberal Oakville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to say a few words today on Bill S-2, concerning certain aspects of the disclosure and handling of hazardous materials in the workplace.

The bill sets out how confidential business information or trade secrets are to be accommodated under the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System. This system is used nationwide to inform employers and employees about hazardous materials in the workplace.

The bill before us today proposes to change the Hazardous Materials Information Review Act in three main areas.

The information system was jointly developed by industry, labour, federal, provincial and territorial governments. It was enacted through several pieces of federal legislation and in the provinces through their occupational health and safety legislation.

This system requires the manufacturers, importers and distributors of hazardous materials to provide information on the risks associated with these problems. They must also provide those who work with controlled products with instructions on handling the products in a variety of areas, including their usage, storage, transportation and disposal.

It also provides instructions about the appropriate course of first aid treatment in the event that contamination occurs.

This information is placed on a product's mandatory material safety data sheet or label. The data sheets are used in required workplace safety training programs for the employees and the sheets must be updated every three years or when a change occurs.

As all members of the House would agree, the safety of individuals in the workplace is of prime concern. It is also important to uphold the right of manufacturers to protect the confidentiality of their proprietary chemical formulas from their competitors.

The current process, under the Hazardous Materials Information Review Act, provides a process by which manufacturers can prove their compliance with the law and make safety information available to workers while, at the same time, protecting the privacy of their business information.

Under the current system, suppliers and employers may file a claim, under the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission, to exempt the disclosure of a chemical's identity, to exempt the concentration of an ingredient of a controlled product, and to exempt the name of a study which identifies any ingredient of a controlled product. The commission then decides if the claim is valid.

Bill S-2 seeks to amend the existing legislation in three main areas. First, it would change the information that must be provided by a manufacturer or an employer to substantiate a disclosure exemption claim. Currently, claimants must provide a full economic justification for such claims based on their private business information.

This bill would change the legislation to state that an exemption claim can contain a declaration stating that the information provided is confidential business information and that it will be provided upon request. An exemption claim must also contain a summary of the information supporting that claim and it must be accompanied by a material safety data sheet.

A screening officer with the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission may ask the claimant to provide the information if an affected party makes a written representation relating to the claim or if the information must be verified.

The second amendment would add a new section to this act to deal with the authority of screening officers and what are known as undertakings. If a screening officer determines that a material safety data sheet related to an exemption claim does not comply with the Hazardous Products Act, or even with the Canada Labour Code, he or she may send an undertaking to the claimant. It would set out the measures required for compliance, within a specific period of time, without requiring that the claimant disclose its confidential business information.

The bill lays out the specific procedure to be followed if the claimant agrees to follow the measures that would enable it to comply with the law. However, if the screening officer is not satisfied that the claimant has taken the necessary measures, within the specified time period, he or she may issue an order to comply with the Hazardous Products Act or the Canada Labour Code.

The chief screening officer publishes decisions and orders relating to the exemption claims and compliance orders in the Canada Gazette.

Third, this bill would change the act to allow claimants and affected parties to appeal these decisions and appeal these compliance orders. The current legislation does not allow any participation by the commission in the appeals process. A screening officer's record of the undertaking and any clarifications made by the commission would be added to the basis upon which an appeal board will hear an appeal. An appeal board may dispose of an appeal either by dismissing it or by allowing it with an appropriate order.

The changes to the act contemplated in this bill have the support of business, labour and the regulatory authorities. It seems to be a sensible approach to streamlining the process while safeguarding the interests of workers and the producers of hazardous materials.

I believe the bill has the support of all parties in the House and I too am pleased to offer my endorsement.

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1:05 p.m.


Robert Carrier Bloc Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened to my colleague's presentation on the bill. I would like her to tell me whether, during the work of the committee, amendments were proposed in order to improve the bill prior to third reading.