Mr. Speaker, like my colleagues, I of course take an interest in the health of my constituents and indeed of all my fellow citizens.
I consider it very important that drugs, foods and authorized therapeutic products be safe, that the effects of these products that are available over the counter or by prescription be studied and known, and that labelling of these products be accurate and honest.
By the way, I still do not understand why this government refused to respond to the very legitimate public demand as expressed in a bill introduced by a colleague calling for labelling of food products containing GMOs so that consumers can know exactly what they are buying.
I will return to the matter under debate. On one hand, the government does not want the public to have information on these GMOs, but it continues to trust pharmaceutical companies to test their own products. On the other hand, through this bill, the Conservative government is imposing severe sanctions on producers, vendors and importers of natural products and drugs that do not comply with Health Canada standards and is placing natural products in the same category as drugs under the heading of “therapeutic products.”
I understand that we do not want to put people’s health at risk, and I agree. Obviously, we must not approve a product that is dangerous to health. However, neither should we approve a system of labelling that would be incorrect in terms of dosage or the composition of a drug or natural product used for therapeutic purposes.
In that respect, and only in that respect, drugs and natural products are similar when they are used in the hope of bringing about a cure. We must have very strong tools to protect the public from fraud—which regrettably does exist—or from truly dangerous products. We know that the wrong information can have harmful and tragic consequences.
It seems to me that, above all, we must make available the necessary resources to inspect products thoroughly, to deal with inquiries properly and to ensure necessary monitoring. Unfortunately, that is not what the government is doing. Instead, it puts before us a bill with tremendous ramifications without providing the means for the agency responsible to properly deal with natural products and drugs.
Some aspects of this bill alarm people who properly like to use natural products. They prefer such products because they feel they are more in keeping with their culture, their lifestyle or, quite simply, their health. Traditionally, there has been a certain tension between those who believe in the practices of western medicine and promoters of alternative medicine, which, of course, includes the use of natural foods.
As my colleague from Quebec reminded us during this debate, between 33,000 and 40,000 natural health products are now waiting for approval. It may appear to some people that the delays that have built up are related to the new licensing requirement provided in this bill.
Many people will ask, quite properly, how a new product would be approved by Health Canada.
Increased powers for inspectors and much heavier penalties for those who break the law—they go up to $5 million and a three-year prison sentence—obviously make some people worry that the bill could create a de facto prohibition on the introduction of any new natural health product.
In my view, these concerns and perceptions deserve to be taken into account. Moreover, the doubts that arise from reading this bill are both numerous and varied. It is quite normal and legitimate to raise questions about the bill.
For example, is the prohibition on direct advertising maintained? What is the purpose of creating a licence for interprovincial exports? Is a product not inspected when it enters Canada? Third, the requirement for hospitals to report adverse reactions to a product to Health Canada could be rejected by the provinces because it deals with the administration of the health system, which is not under federal jurisdiction.
Therefore, I can only come to the conclusion that this bill is, to say the least, poorly constructed. When I say that, I am not blaming the drafters of the legislation but rather the intentions of the Conservative government. I humbly suggest that the faults are so numerous that I doubt that a committee really could amend this bill without changing the scope of the bill, which we know would make the amendments unacceptable.
As a result, it would be a loss of valuable time to send this bill to committee. Instead, we should send this bill back to the minister and his department to start over and make all the necessary corrections, especially since we learned during the debate that the minister wanted his government to introduce several amendments. Other members have referred to the infamous letter that the minister sent to the chair of the committee, and asked to see it. I am not a member of that committee, but I am just as interested in it as my colleagues.
In my view, if we are serious about this bill, it should be sent back to the minister and his department. They should be told to go back to work and when it is properly done, bring it back to the House. Then we will discuss a bill that will not raise so many questions. I have been here all day and I listened to the debate from the beginning. If the bill raises so many questions, it is probably because there are significant flaws in many places.
As the member for Wascana remarked, in a constructive spirit, if we are to produce something that is of benefit to our fellow citizens, the Conservative government should go back to work and introduce a new bill that will do a much better job.