Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to join the debate today on Bill C-52. As you are no doubt aware, I had the pleasure of serving on the Standing Committee on Health for some time and this subject has been on the committee’s agenda for a very long time. Quebeckers, like Canadians, are very concerned about the products that come into the country and are consumed by residents of Quebec and Canada without any assurance that these products are not harmful and that they will not cause health problems.
We have seen in the past three or four years that Health Canada has recalled many products. Unfortunately, very often that is done very late because Health Canada did not have enough inspectors or enough laboratories to conduct the necessary testing, as the Auditor General has reported. As a result, many products were not subject to testing and wound up on the shelves of various stores, either food markets, superstores or shops where one finds toys, other objects and even products such as toothpaste. These products have been identified as being very dangerous to health. We have also seen products for babies that are very dangerous. They could even harm their reproductive capacity in the future. With the declining birthrate that we are experiencing, we certainly should ensure that our children are also able have children. We must ensure that the products used to bathe children and make them beautiful are not dangerous or toxic.
The Bloc Québécois believes it is important that this bill be referred to the Standing Committee on Health so that the different measures can be examined in depth. For a long time, we have been asking the government to strengthen the requirements, to conduct more thorough and more stringent testing to ensure that the products we consume are quality products. There are still serious gaps in the bill. That is why we agree that the bill must be referred to committee so those shortcomings, at least, can be corrected.
It is very unusual for a bill to give special status to some company, manufacturer or particular product. Bill C-52, though, gives special status to manufacturers of tobacco products. They have had special status for a very long time, even though the costs of tobacco consumption are very well known, especially for the young people in our society, who are smoking more and more. We know too that the manufacturers have developed roundabout ways of attracting young people to tobacco. They sell individually packaged cigarillos tasting of banana, oranges, vanilla and chocolate. We have a real problem on our hands when tobacco products are being individually packaged to develop a dependency in young people.
A number of provinces have put a stop to smoking in public places, restaurants, parliaments, schools, school grounds, and hospitals. Smoking is being stamped out everywhere because it is a danger to human health. Tobacco is one of the products that cause the most deaths per year. I know very well because I myself am an inveterate smoker who is having a hard time quitting.
I know how addictive tobacco is and how hard it is to stop. But the bill before us exempts tobacco. Tobacco will not be regulated under it and will not be affected. How is that possible? If we really want to protect the health of Quebeckers and Canadians and take a hard look at the harmful effects of various products on our health, we should also legislate against tobacco products. How can we possibly not do it? This is one of the things we are most concerned about in this bill.
It is not the only one though. As my colleague said just a little while ago, we do not have enough inspectors to meet the increased needs under the bill to ensure that all consumer products imported into Canada are checked. There will not be enough inspectors, even if the bill says that companies will now have to keep a record of all the consumer complaints they receive and the problems found with products, as well as all the times that products have to be recalled. We will therefore have more information about products.
People who manufacture, import, sell or test products will now be required to have documents that will give us detailed information about the retailer so we can know the person from whom they obtained the product and the location where, and the period during which, they sold the product. Those persons will also have to have the prescribed documents, and keep the documents at their place of business in Canada or at any other prescribed place and, on written request, provide the Minister with those documents. The Minister could, subject to any terms and conditions that the Minister may specify, exempt a person from the requirement to keep those documents if the Minister considers it unnecessary or impractical for the person to keep them. We are probably talking about genuinely important bundles of documents.
The requirement that documents about the history of a product be kept will certainly allow for better traceability in respect of the various products that may be harmful to consumers here. We agree with this. There are several other aspects of this bill that we agree with, but as I said, we will have to study several points very carefully. The general public did not feel that they were involved in the development of this bill, either in the drafting or in the way consultations were conducted before it was prepared.
People are sending us letters and memos to let us know they are not satisfied with the way the consultations were held because there was no consultation, properly speaking. This summer a number of toys containing lead were recalled, as were several products that were harmful to health.
Recently, we saw what happened with bisphenol A. I am very sorry about this because a number of businesses have come right to the Hill here and given us these lovely clear plastic bottles we could use to carry our water, without knowing that those bottles might contain bisphenol A. Companies do not procure products because they are not operating out of goodwill, they do it from lack of knowledge and information. Health Canada should be capable of providing that information.
The only way we can be sure that we have a bill that truly meets the needs of Quebeckers and Canadians is by making sure that all of the people affected by the issues that this bill is meant to address, and not merely a few people, are consulted.
We will certainly be making sure that we do our work in committee responsibly, as always, and that we ask the Minister and his representatives the necessary questions so we can be satisfied that the bill will contain everything that is needed to respond to our concerns.
And we will certainly also be putting the subject of tobacco back on the table to see whether there is not something that can be done to include that substance, like any other toxic product, in the products that we want to see better identified and against which we want to be better protected. We know that if we do nothing to ensure that tobacco products are strictly regulated, there are people who may still be harmed by those products.
My main concern is for children, who were affected so much by recalls last summer and fall and this past winter and will continue to be affected, because recalls are still being made. These recalls involve mainly products from foreign companies we know little about and have not assessed. As the Auditor General put it so well, there were not enough Health Canada inspectors to do the work they had to do.
Mattel had to recall thousands upon thousands of toys. This is very disturbing, and it is very worrisome for parents, who buy Christmas gifts for their children or gifts for babies to make them as comfortable as possible, when they do not know whether they can have confidence that the product will not make their child sick, because unfortunately Health Canada has not assessed these products.
Certainly, when the bill goes to the Standing Committee on Health, our representatives on that committee—including the member for Québec, who is doing an excellent job—who know a great deal about the situation, will do whatever they can to amend the bill so that it really does what the public wants it to do.
For example, the heavier fines provided for in the bill are a good idea. It is important that companies pay much heavier fines when they fail to comply with the standards in effect. The precautionary principle the government wants to include in the bill is also very important. Compliance with the bill, which contains a statement about the precautionary principle in its preamble, will be very positive for all consumers.
The bill also gives more power and more tools to inspectors. More inspectors with more power will ensure that consumer products are healthier and less harmful. We will also ask a number of groups to testify and tell us what they would like to see in the bill.