Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to Bill C-51. My constituents have deluged my office with emails, letters and campaign materials. The community has huge concerns about the bill. It is a key bill for the future of the health of Canadians. Therefore, it needs careful deliberation and study.
While the bill has been introduced by the government with the goal of improving the health and well-being of Canadians, there are serious concerns that it will have the opposite effect. We want the products and the medications we use to do no harm. That has not been the case in the past, where everything from children's toys to food to pharmaceutical products have done great harm to Canadians because of the lack of government vigilance and regulation.
We want our products to be safe and effective, but many people use natural health products. They are very concerned about the legislation. They are concerned that somehow by using the term therapeutic in Bill C-51, natural products and the practice of natural medicine will be lumped in with the pharmaceutical products to which people want to exercise choice to choose an alternative.
We have heard in the House before that in previous hearings in the 1990s, the Standing Committee on Health recommended a separate special definition and separate regulations for dealing with natural products. To me, that makes very good sense, but that is not what is contemplated with this legislation.
I believe the people who have raised this alarm across the country have absolute validity in raising their concerns. They do not want to use natural products that are not good for them, but they understand natural health products are not the same as pharmaceutical products. Chemical compounds are required to have very rigorous testing before they are allowed on the market, and even then not with always universal success.
I want to read a couple of the letters I have received. They have been send by very many eloquent, well-informed people who are very concerned about the legislation. I will only read a couple of letters.
The first one is from a woman in my riding. She is a community leader and works in health care. She says:
“I'm writing to express my concerns about Bill C-51 and the impact it will have on the ability of my naturopathic doctor to treat my health concerns safely and effectively. As an informed patient, I have chosen to be treated by a naturopathic doctor utilizing natural therapies and substances to ensure optimal health. I'd like some assurances that my choice to see a naturopathic doctor will not be negatively affected by Bill C-51.
I have the following questions: Will Bill C-51 exclude my naturopathic doctor from having access to all the products that they need to treat all my health concerns? Will Bill C-51 result in fewer natural health products being available in the Canadian marketplace? Will inspectors have the ability to enter premises under the search and seizure provisions without a warrant or a judge's approval?
I support the need for regulation that ensures that the products recommended by my naturopathic doctor are safe and effective, but I 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 strategy for natural health products as was recommended by the Standing Committee on Health in 1998”.
I have one other letter. This is from a person who signs it F.P. Jr. It says:
“I'm writing to express my disapproval and disagreement with Bill C-51. It's something to make every democratic person's blood run cold. The bill proposes significant changes to the current Food and Drugs Act that will have wide-ranging negative implications for Canadians.
I'm a paraplegic and with what Bill C-51 entails it would totally eradicate my essential needs of natural products due to my debilitating condition.
Further on it states, “I intensely disagree with Bill C-51 and its aim to remove parliamentary decision making and oversight from national legislation. Bill C-51 is intended to replace democratic representative government with unelected closed door decision making which will bind all citizens”.
There is real concern about the wording which would lump natural products and all kinds of alternative health remedies in with pharmaceutical drugs. There is also concern about the process that would take place for the approval of these remedies. There are estimates that up to 70% of natural health products would fail to meet the more stringent testing requirements that are in place for pharmaceuticals.
One writer stated, “There is concern that Health Canada inspectors would create an equivalent of a police state in terms of their powers to search private property for illegal natural health products. It makes me want to lock up the vitamin C I take in the morning. It is very troubling for people who believe that this is the best thing for their health”.
There is also concern that Bill C-51 describes a practitioner as someone who is authorized under the law of a province to prescribe or dispense prescription therapeutic drugs. Since naturopathic doctors do not have prescribing rights, they would be prevented from making recommendations to their patients.
These are some of the major concerns I have been contacted about. It seems that if there were a third category created and if there were regulations for these natural products, that would go some way to alleviating the concerns that people have. However, these are not the only concerns about this bill.
Certainly there is concern about direct to consumer advertising. Under the current law there is a very clearcut, straightforward ban on advertising for health products and pharmaceuticals. This bill would allow that ban to be bypassed at the cabinet table. That the cabinet could be subject to phenomenal pressure by lobbyists from the pharmaceutical industry, I believe, is not in the best interests of Canadians. Therefore, I am also very concerned about the weakening of the ban on advertising. Already there are loopholes in the ban and companies are advertising. We see tongue in cheek, cheeky ads on television, where it is hide and seek about the product that is being advertised. This is a loophole and, in fact, that loophole should be closed, not opened up, which it well could be by this legislation.
There is concern about the role of the pharmaceutical industry in influencing this legislation. There are many people who choose natural products because they have a mistrust of the role of the pharmaceutical industry, sometimes justified. We have seen cases such as Vioxx and others that have created terrible problems for people. There are some perhaps that are not justified, where the pharmaceuticals that are available to us have been of great assistance to people. What is of concern is the power the pharmaceutical industry has in terms of influencing legislators in terms of public policy.
As the industry critic for my party, I was very concerned about the proposed changes to the drug patent laws that will allow the pharmaceutical industry to continue to evergreen or extend the patent protection for certain drugs and to deny generic drug manufacturers the opportunity to offer their products in the marketplace. There will be a huge cost to the public. This will cost public health plans, private health plans and individuals hundreds of millions of dollars. It is a huge change. The proposed changes were put out without prior notification, without consultation, except to the pharmaceutical industry. There are real concerns about what this continued evergreening and continued patent protection will mean.
There are real concerns about the role of the pharmaceutical industry. There are many people who choose another path, that of naturopathic medicine and naturopathic doctors. We need to reassure them that they will be able to continue to use the products that they believe are assisting with their health and that they know are essential to their well-being.
I just want to say with all the clarity I can that I oppose Bill C-51 as it now stands. Not only could it open the door to direct consumer advertising, with which I strongly disagree, but it gives too much discretion to the minister. It is a thinly veiled attempt to bring in natural health products under the rubric of pharmaceuticals.
Natural health products are a vital component to our health care system. They should be a separate category with separate regulations. We should be operating not on a risk management approach but on a do no harm approach. This bill does not achieve that.