Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-51. I have received a ton of emails both in my riding in east Vancouver and here in Ottawa. I have hear from constituents every day because the word is out in the community about the impact of the bill. I hope either we can defeat the bill, or if it does go to committee, that we can get it significantly changed so we can respond to the overwhelming concerns put forward by the public about the impact on the availability, accessibility and licensing of natural health products.
First, I thank my colleague, our health critic, the member for Winnipeg North. She has very valiantly stayed on this file and kept our caucus updated as to the progress of the bill. I know she will be very active at the committee, if it goes to committee, working with community interests and practitioners to ensure it does not become a big stone wall that denies access for people. Therefore, I thank her for the work she has done and the work she probably will do in the future. There will be a lot of interest in the bill, and a lot of people will follow it.
Very briefly I want to go back to 1997, when I first ran for the NDP in Vancouver East as a member of Parliament. I remember at that time there must have been a proposal in the House, under the Liberal government, to try to regulate natural health products. During the election campaign in May 1997, all hell broke loose in the community because of that. The government was completely caught off guard. It had no idea that it would get the reaction it did. It tried to do what the government today has tried to do, and that is to put natural health products in a box with drugs and to give the nod to the big pharmaceutical companies.
People in communities across the country cottoned on to what was going on and a massive campaign took place. It was a fairly quiet federal election campaign in 1997, but this issue kept on coming to the surface. It was a grassroots issue because people were so outraged, particularly in a place in east Vancouver. The heart and soul of Vancouver is Chinatown, the very origins of our city. A lot of the Chinese traditional medicine practitioners were very concerned about how it would impact them. Therefore, it became very much a cross cultural campaign as well.
After the federal election, the federal government of the day had to back off on what it wanted to do. As we know, since then we have had various machinations in terms of attempts for a regulatory approach. Suffice it to say, all credit goes to well-informed citizens who pay attention to legislation that sometimes creeps in, and they get the word out there about it. As a result, we get all these emails from people who are alerted to what the government has tried to do.
I am very thankful our caucus, with our health critic, the member for Winnipeg North, has monitored the bill very closely. We cannot support it in its present form. We are very concerned that it will lump natural health products in with drugs under a category called “therapeutic products”, which reverses a long-standing practice and position of a separate regulatory framework.
When I read some of the concerns listed in the emails I receive, one of them is the change of the categorization of natural health products. To treat these products the same as drugs is very inappropriate and is much too rigorous.
There are other concerns as well. We know right now there is a huge backlog of applications for the marketing approval of natural health products. How will that be dealt with under the bill? How will we ensure that the backlog is dealt with?
We are very concerned that the fines and penalties within the bill are incredibly excessive. It will mean that practitioners, producers and people who retail or market these products will hang on with their fingernails for their livelihood, and that is a very serious concern.
Why would there be such excessive fines and penalties for these products? In fact, the enforcement provisions are very heavy. They even allow inspectors to enter private property without a warrant. What is going on here?
We are very concerned that in the bill, as we have seen in other bills, so much discretion is left in the hands of the minister and the fact that regulatory requirements can be overridden within the department. Why would that be allowed to happen? This sets off alarm bells for people, especially when they go through the fine print and look at what is taking place.
I am very thankful we have had so much response on the bill. I have had more response on this bill than any bill for a very long time. I gather that other members of the House are getting the same kind of response.
I will read some of the responses I received. Jennifer, from east Vancouver, said:
Bill C-51 undermines the civil rights of Canadians to take control of our own health and well being. It goes against all logic and intuitive common sense and in no way serves the interests of your electorate....
Millions of alternative health practitioners that are certified through Canadian educational institutions who have dedicated their life to studying the healing effects of herbs would not be able to stay in practice.
I have another email from Anne, who lives in east Vancouver. She says:
—categorizing Natural Health Products as therapeutic products, together with drugs, medical devices, cells, tissues, organs, and veterinary drugs, Bill C-51 is viewing these exclusively to the lens of pharmaceutical drugs.