Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-51.
First off, I want to say that the Bloc Québécois has been demanding for a number of years already that we look at that issue further. It seems to me that Canadians and Quebeckers are somewhat tired of occasionally being the victims of products that adversely affect their health and that of their children. There have been scandals recently. Just think of the toy scandal, for instance, involving children who suffered lead poisoning.
Quebeckers and Canadians are aware of some degree of deceit in the department stores where they buy everyday consumer items, among other things. Everyone knows that when we pick up a jar of pickles from China, the label sometimes shows that the product was made in Canada. There is false representation every step of the way. The Bloc Québécois raised that issue many years ago, calling on the government to clean up this whole area of drugs, agricultural products and cosmetics. We are pleased in that sense that the issue is being brought before the House today.
The Bloc Québécois will make sure that what I just talked about is reflected in the legislation. We have seen before obligations, everyday things, come into force under a bill, which did not reflect reality at all. That is what we want to pay attention to. It is not because the bill's title refers to tidying up the area of drugs, cosmetics and agricultural products, because the intention is stated in the title, that we should be lax.
In fact, let me say outright that the position of the Bloc Québécois is to vote yes at second reading stage, but there will surely an opportunity to take a very serious look at the bill at the Standing Committee on Health to ensure that reality is defined properly and reflected in the bill.
I have seen governments—and this one is no exception—come up with bills that they claimed would fix some social problem or other, bills that included various guidelines, amendments and new restrictions or that made laws more permissive. We need to sort out exactly what we want this bill to achieve. Naturally, the parties, including the opposition parties, will each have their way of seeing things. All I want to say is that the Standing Committee on Health will study the bill thoroughly.
For now, I will try to communicate the Bloc Québécois' opinion of what is before us now as faithfully as possible.
We also have to talk about how the government reacts and what it is doing to make sure that all products available to consumers are safe.
A number of interesting things have happened over the past few years. I certainly remember how people practically called the Bloc Québécois heretical because it wanted labelling on products. Back then, we were told, “No, no, no.” That was probably 10 years ago now.
We thought we had made some progress, but just last week, one of our colleagues introduced a bill on labelling, and the government worked with the Liberal Party to defeat it. Such things make us wonder about this government's true intentions.
I hope that we will be able to put together a good bill here, and I hope that when it becomes law, the government will actually enforce it. It is easy enough to say, “Here's the law”. It is something else entirely to enforce it, a process that is sometimes not taken seriously.
For example, take what we were told not that long ago, maybe seven or eight years ago when the labelling issue was up for discussion. People were talking about genetically modified organisms. There should have been thorough studies, and, like the United States' Food and Drug Administration, Health Canada should have studied the repercussions and the ins and outs of this issue. But the minister at the time, who is now rector of the University of Ottawa, said, “Oh no, we don't need that”.
Monsanto, a global company specializing in genetically modified products, has conducted all the studies and concluded that it was perfectly safe. In my opinion, that is a serious mistake. It is like asking a Ford dealer if Ford products are any good. What do you think his answer will be? He will say that Ford makes the best products. GM, Chrysler and Toyota representatives would say the same thing about their products.
Government organizations have to ensure that these companies comply with standards. Because of globalization and international competition, standards often vary from one country to the next. That is how we end up with Chinese pickles sold in jars made in Canada. When we are aware of that, we start noticing that the standards are different as well. Therein lies the danger.
Agriculture is affected the most by that. There are many producers in my riding. It saddens me to think that, in the U.S. and Europe among others, the agricultural industry is financed and subsidized, because in Canada we are more catholic than the Pope, so to speak, not subsidizing our agricultural industry in order to comply with the WTO. Yet, there is irrefutable evidence that the United States and the European countries are not complying.
As I said earlier, environmental standards and quality assurance standards for agricultural products in countries like China are different from ours. It is therefore easy for the Conservative government to suggest that we may not be competitive enough. Competitiveness is one factor, but when countries are permitted to subsidize their agriculture and products are allowed into Canada to which standards different from ours, much lower standards, are applied, that does not help our economy and it also puts the health and safety of Canadians et Quebeckers at risk. Attention will have to be paid to this in connection with the bill before us today.
Another interesting aspect of the bill is the tracing system. This is extremely important. When an agricultural product is recalled, we need to know where and in what conditions it was made. Until now, there has been nothing—or almost nothing—like this in place. We are happy to see that Bill C-51 contains provisions on traceability. The bill may also include the register of adverse drug reactions, at least we hope so.
Regarding the recall management system—I just mentioned recalls—if a product is found to be faulty or hazardous, there has to be a way of determining how it will be recalled. Often, hazardous products are recalled in a rush, and there is no way of knowing whether all the products have been taken off the shelf in all shopping centres. This also applies to drugs and cosmetics. We will therefore pay attention to the recall management system.
There is one thing in the bill that we will pay close attention to: regulations. This is a flaw in the House of Commons and Parliament, not just Canada's Parliament, but parliaments in general: often, bills will give responsibility for regulations to the governor in council, in other words, the cabinet, and the minister will make recommendations to the governor in council.
I experienced that myself with a bill concerning veterans that would have seen money paid annually to widows of veterans so that they could remain in their home. In the regulations, three or four months later, we noticed that the governor in council had chosen a date on which the law would be enforced, and before which anyone else involved would be left out. We made our strong opposition known.
It is the same thing with these bills. As soon as the minister and the governor in council, meaning cabinet, get too much leeway, there are surprises. If I have time, I will speak about our concerns with this bill if the minister and the governor in council are given too much leeway in regard to the regulations.
I want to issue a caution right now. The Bloc Québécois absolutely does not want natural food products to be considered drugs or cosmetics, meaning that they would be bound by this bill.
My colleague from Quebec City explained that officials had told the committee not to worry, but we are worrying nonetheless. Just because something is raised in committee does not mean that one day—maybe because of the regulations—there will not be a problem.
Many people obtain these products without a prescription, and I think that they are still in a position to do so. These people should not fall directly under this legislation; it must not apply directly to natural food products.
As I was saying earlier, the Bloc Québécois will pay close attention to this in committee, to ensure that natural food products are not affected by this bill. Earlier I heard statistics that nearly 50% of the population uses complementary or alternative medicine, and these people should not end up being victims of this bill.
We are also concerned about encroachment because it is well known that the Bloc Québécois is very protective of Quebec's areas of jurisdiction. A certain number of inspector positions will be established pursuant to the bill. However, we notice that there will be duplication in certain areas. Therefore, we have to be careful because, at present, several duties have been delegated to Quebec inspectors. In my opinion, if more federal inspection positions are created, it is important that there not be a duplication of services in general. That runs the risk of being very expensive for taxpayers and of causing friction also. We believe that it is important to try to avoid encroachment.
With respect to this bill, we also examined the famous ban on drug advertising. I find it interesting. I love American sports and often listen to football, hockey, baseball, or basketball games on American stations. But I also have time to work. Sometimes, I listen while ironing my shirts because I have to come to Ottawa on Monday and I have no one to wash my shirts. Believe it or not I listen to the football game while ironing my shirts or sometimes while reading documents. I can chew gum and walk at the same time.
However, on the topic of an advertising ban, there is a new American dream—drugs. It is incredible. Everyone knows the ads for Cialis and Viagra. We see a very healthy looking man with his girlfriend, wife or life partner and he is always bursting with energy. That is the new American dream: a fulfilling sex life. Yes. It should not surprise us; we see it on television. That is what the ads aim for. And a few minutes later, in another ad, they are selling Celebrex. If you have a bit of joint pain, you should hurry to your doctor to get a prescription for Celebrex. It is important because it not only solves the problem, but it also reduces your chances of arthritis in the future. We can see where this ad leads. There are many more. There is Lipitor—their ad says that if your cholesterol is the least bit elevated that it is dangerous and you should go to see your doctor.
In a few years, American advertising for drugs has gone from $50 million to $1.8 billion. Pharmaceutical companies are not doing this out of the goodness of their hearts and because of their generous spirit. Investing $1.8 billion in advertising ensures that people will stock up on drugs. This causes many things, including over-consumption.
The companies do not tell us this, but the person who wants to live the American dream today, the one who watches football and wants to become Adonis, will have to take Cialis or Viagra, Celebrex to avoid any aches and Lipitor to ensure low cholesterol. That is the new American dream.
We cannot allow this to happen in Canada or in Quebec. It is extremely important to ban the advertising of drugs. Advertising leads to excessive consumption. And what does excessive consumption lead to? It not only causes side effects in people, but it also causes the price of drugs to rise.
Today, almost 40 million Americans are unable to afford the drugs they need. I have even seen busloads of people, sponsored by U.S. senators, come to my riding to buy drugs because they were affordable. The ban on advertising of drugs should continue.
Another aspect of the bill before us is progressive licensing. This is something new. Previously, Health Canada conducted studies and if all the studies were conclusive and all the clinical trials were conclusive, the drug would be released. Now there will be a new approach that could be more progressive. The drug could be released before the experiments are completed.
There are some people who may need that. When people are truly desperate, they sometimes need to resort to extreme or innovative treatment. Even though some drugs have not yet been approved by Health Canada, it is possible under certain conditions that progressive licensing of those drugs will be allowed. Nonetheless, this cannot be used as an excuse to license a drug with great haste. That is the risk we run.
I have a minute or two left. I just want to come back to some of the regulations that could be risky. Clause 30, which addresses the regulations, very clearly states that the minister may make regulations for carrying the purposes and provisions of this act into effect. Potentially, the minister can act in various areas, including product labelling, purity standards, the way in which clinical trials are conducted and the exemption of products from the legislation.
If we open the door to concepts as basic as those and put them in the hands of the minister, we run the risk that the government will take advantage and that the provisions of a bill will go too far or not far enough at the discretion of the minister and the Governor in Council.
These questions are extremely important. I would like to reiterate the Bloc Québécois' position. The Bloc Québécois has been waiting for this bill. We have waited long enough for this bill, so we will take the time needed to study it carefully at the Standing Committee on Health. In that regard, I trust my colleagues on that committee. They will do an excellent job.
The position I just mentioned is the Bloc Québécois' position. We reserve the right to vote against it at third reading. At second reading, we will vote in favour of the bill. In committee, we will do our job and, depending on the gains we make, we will dispose of this bill at third reading.