Mr. Speaker, I am proud to follow my colleague from Winnipeg North on Bill C-51. She has been very eloquent on this bill and has been, I think, by far the best speaker thus far in terms of exposing what really seems to be at work here regarding the agenda that the government has put forward. I am pleased to speak in opposition to Bill C-51.
As with a number of other initiatives from this Conservative government, what it says it is trying to do is quite different from what it actually tries to do when it is seen in legislation. We have seen this time and time again, that essentially what the Conservatives try to use is a smokescreen, political spin. It takes scrutiny, particularly from the NDP corner of the House, to scrutinize very carefully the actual legislation to find out what indeed is the intent of the Conservative government.
Here again is a case where the Conservatives announced, with a great deal of political spin and marketing, that somehow they were trying to add to safety in our health care system with health care products and pharmaceutical drugs.
But the devil is in the details. When we carefully read through this bill, as our health critic the member for Winnipeg North has done and other members of the NDP caucus, we find the intent is quite different than the actual wording of the bill itself.
I would like to touch on two of the most egregious aspects of what is contained within Bill C-51, which essentially, in a very bizarre way, is an attempt to push a very strict regime around natural health products and at the same time, there appears to be an attempt to lessen any sort of regulatory oversight around pharmaceutical drugs.
On natural health products, we have seen over the past few years a growing waiting list for approval of natural health products in Canada. A little bit like the immigration system and a little bit like our health care system, that is the result of both successive Liberal and Conservative governments essentially giving away the public management and the public trust that Canadians have entrusted to Parliament.
What we have seen over the past 20 years is very much a right wing agenda that puts the emphasis on corporate tax cuts above all other things. The result of that is underfunding of our health care system. The result of that is underfunding of our immigration system and the result of that as well is underfunding of the approval process to actually ensure that natural health products are not subject to these long wait lists.
The solution the Conservatives offer up is to simply lump in pharmaceutical drugs with natural health products. I have received far more letters and emails from my constituents in Burnaby—New Westminster on this issue than I have on practically any other. I am going to read into the record a few of the comments that my constituents in Burnaby--New Westminster have written to me on this particular issue.
Mr. Thuot writes: “We all recognize that the pharmaceutical industry has been waging a relentless war internationally on vitamin and alternative natural health supplements for quite some time”.
We have Dr. Chan from Burnaby who writes: “I definitely do not support legislation that treats natural health products in the same manner as pharmaceutical products. Now would be an excellent time for the government to implement a third category for natural health products as was recommended by the Standing Committee on Health in 1998”.
We have Mr. Johrden in New Westminster who writes: “I am opposed to Bill C-51 which has been set in motion to amend the Food and Drugs Act, a bill with worrisome implications for the natural health products industry and consumers”.
We have Ms. Balabanov who writes: “Vitamins and minerals are very important for health and prevention. They cause no deaths as opposed to pharmaceutical drugs that do cause many deaths”.
We have Ms. Lum from Burnaby who writes: “I dare say the only industry being helped will be the pharmaceutical industry who can rake in even more profits once all health foods have been banned or made into prescription drugs”.
We have Mr. Hollenstein from New Westminster who says: “I do not wish this manipulation of the term therapeutic drugs to be an umbrella for all pharmaceutical drugs, to include vitamins and herbal remedies and food in general”.
We have Mr. Robertson who writes, referring to me as his member of Parliament. He said: “I ask you to take a strong stand on this and I for one would like to state that I am vehemently opposed to the passing of such a bill”.
Ms. Bredburn from Burnaby writes: “I am a woman who has greatly benefited by natural health products after years and years of unsuccessful mainstream doctor prescribed drugs”.
The constituents in Burnaby and New Westminster have written time and time again about this foolhardy notion that the solution to the waiting list, that has been caused by government underfunding, will actually ensure that the system works effectively and that new natural food products that are brought on the market will be subject to the appropriate scrutiny and then brought on to the market.
Instead of providing the adequate funding, in a bizarre world that only Picasso could have imagined, we have the Conservatives making the situation worse. However, there is another element to Bill C-51 that I would like to address.
As the government seems to be putting the thumbs to the natural food products industry and most Canadians who rely on herbal remedies and natural food products to maintain their health and well-being, we are seeing, at the same time, an American style approach to the approval of pharmaceutical drugs. What sense is that when in the United States we have seen huge problems with its fast tracking of approval of pharmaceutical drugs?
Progressive licensing simply ensures that drugs are brought onto the market without appropriate scrutiny. We have seen this from other Conservative initiatives in transportation, where it wants to hand over safety management to the airlines themselves. It did not work for railways, as we saw an escalating accident rate, but the government wants to try it for airlines. This type of approach simply does not make sense.
We have seen in the United States drug after drug after drug that has provoked deaths because it was fast tracked. We know that the Conservatives, like the Liberals before them, in these behind closed doors negotiations, the so-called security and prosperity partnership, are trying to harmonize all of our regulations, standards and safety protections that we put into place to lower American standards.
We saw that with transportation safety. We have seen it with the attempt by the Conservative government to raise the pesticide residue permitted in Canadian food. We see this through the SPP process that essentially copying what has not worked in the United States is not in the interests of Canadians.
I would like to read a couple of excerpts from news articles that came out last year around this issue of progressive licensing and how it worked in the United States. I will read a couple of paragraphs from the Washington Post:
Three drugs--Vioxx, Ketek and Avandia--are casting long shadows over the congressional debate on how to update and revise the 15-year-old system that has dramatically sped up the process of bringing prescription medicines to American consumers. All three ran into problems after the Food and Drug Administration approved them for use. The problems ranged from thousands of heart attacks partly attributable to the painkiller Vioxx to a few cases of liver failure caused by the antibiotic Ketek. And the hazards of the diabetes drug Avandia are only now emerging.
The New England Journal of Medicine did a study around cases of these fast tracked drugs, such as the Conservatives are proposing, and these are the comments that came out of that study:
It is incredible that the Agency charged with protecting the public health has such a poor record when it comes to post market drug safety. Regrettably it is incidents like this that demand legislative changes in the way FDA deals with drug safety.
That particular study indicated that 56,000 Americans died as a result of drugs being fast tracked onto the market. This is the danger with this kind of foolhardy Conservative initiative that may mesh with its right wing ideology that government and safety is bad, let us do away with all of that, and let the company CEOs decide what degree of safety or risk Canadians should have.
Very clearly, all the emails and letters that have come from my constituents say the contrary. Canadians believe the government should ensure a higher standard of safety, a more secure process of approving pharmaceutical drugs.
Bill C-51, the thin edge of the wedge, does exactly the opposite, moving toward a kind of progressive licensing, the fast tracking of drugs that did not work in the United States. That is why in this corner of the House we are saying no to Bill C-51.