Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise as a member of the Standing Committee on Health, and also as a consumer, to speak to Bill C-51.
The Bloc Québécois has been saying for a long time that there is a lack of surveillance over foods from countries other than Canada. We ask that importers of such products meet standards similar to the ones we have here for products manufactured in Quebec and Canada. The Bloc Québécois also wonders whether these importers should not also be subject to a number of criteria to ensure that public health is not threatened by products manufactured elsewhere.
Of course, Bill C-51 would introduce innovations such as a tracing system, a register of adverse effects especially for drugs, a recall management system, a new measure to eliminate damaging effects on public health. However, the bill also contains slightly vaguer measures that, according to the bill, would be clarified by regulations.
It is because of this vagueness that we must meet in committee with the Minister of Health, in order to find out why the bill leaves so much room for regulations. It is also important that the committee hear experts from various associations and even members of the public. Once the committee has done its work on Bill C-51, we expect the minister to be extremely open to amendments that will improve the bill.
At this point, I would like to mention a few vague provisions that will require clarification when the bill is studied in greater detail in committee. We know that Bill C-51 makes changes regarding drug advertising. Subclause 15.1(2) of the bill prohibits advertising of prescription therapeutic products. I quote:
No person shall advertise a prescription therapeutic product to a person other than a practitioner unless they are authorized by the regulations to do so.
Here, once again, the bill mentions regulations yet to come.
Nonetheless, this regulation would allow prescription drugs to be advertised. It is possible to do so under paragraph 30(1)(h).
The Governor in Council may make regulations for carrying the purposes and provisions of this Act into effect, including regulations... respecting: (i) the labelling, packaging or advertising—or the offering or exposing for sale—of foods, therapeutic products or cosmetics.
Current legislation at least bans the advertising of prescription drugs. However, as we know, it is possible to get around the legislation. There are two choices for advertising drugs: the product can be named but not described and the ad can show people enjoying themselves living a better life, or the problem can be described but not the treatment and people can be told to consult their physician.
We know that the bill appears to be going in precisely the same direction. Consumer associations in Quebec and Canada have asked the government a number of times to plug this loophole.
Perhaps this should be cleared up in committee.
There is also the marketing and approval of drugs. Currently Health Canada is assessing the possibility of setting up a new type of drug licensing called progressive licensing. Bill C-51 includes some of the concepts involved in this progressive licensing approach. It would allow information to be collected and analyzed on an ongoing basis after the drug is marketed. It is only after the drug is marketed that a greater number of people will be exposed to it and that other important data on the drug could be established.
It is good to look at the entire life cycle of a drug to see whether it works. Quite often when clinical trials are done, the number of guinea pigs, as they could be called, is relatively limited, which sometimes prevents us from seeing in detail the possible interaction a drug may have with other drugs the patient is already taking. What is more, as Professor Carleton from British Columbia told us in committee, genetics can also come into play when assessing drugs.
However, considering this approach, we need to ask questions. Will the process be rushed? Will drugs end up on the market before they have been carefully examined? Another question we should ask is whether drugs will be put on the market before they are fully ready to be put on store shelves and in pharmacies.
Subclause 18.7(1) of the bill seems to open the door to that possibility. It states:
Subject to the regulations, the Minister may, on application, issue a market authorization to a person in respect of a therapeutic product other than a designated therapeutic product if the Minister is of the opinion that the person has established that the benefits that are associated with the therapeutic product outweigh the risks.
(2) The market authorization is deemed to be subject to the terms and conditions that are prescribed from time to time.
(3) The Minister may issue the market authorization subject to the additional terms and conditions that he or she considers appropriate.
We would like to speak to the minister to find out, for example, what are the criteria he will use to evaluate and make that decision in accordance with proposed subclause 18.7.
The bill also states that the minister will establish a register where information on adverse effects will be available. Subclause 20.8 of the bill says:
The Minister is to establish and maintain a publicly accessible register in which is to be kept the prescribed information about therapeutic products.
However, we also read in the bill that the information in the register will come only from health care institutions. No register will be set up to gather complaints from consumers or patient associations, for example. Only health care institutions will be able to contribute. What is the reason for this? It would be interesting to hear the minister's response to this as well.
This register raises another question. We currently have the MedEffect register. What will happen to it? Does this mean that this register is ineffective? Once again, it would be interesting to come back to these questions in committee.
The bill also talks about inspectors. This is important. Currently, there are many inspectors who work within the Quebec Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Agri-Food performing the same duties as this bill proposes. These people play an important role in food inspection. We wonder how Bill C-51 would affect these people and if the federal government would be interfering in Quebec's jurisdiction with this bill.
There is also the question of natural health, which—