Madam Speaker, I am pleased to address this House on Bill C-11. First, I want to thank Bloc Québécois members for their contribution to the debate on this legislation. They did a lot of work. We proposed many changes to this bill.
We too, like the Bloc, have many issues with this legislation. However, unlike the Bloc, the NDP has proposed some changes. In fact, Bloc members opposed the proposals that we made in committee.
Moreover, we proposed an amendment to this bill, dealing precisely with the issue raised by the Bloc Québécois member today. We proposed an amendment to eliminate human pathogens. That is exactly what we did, but the Bloc said no. That is the only thing that researchers and members of the scientific community asked for. That is precisely what we tried to do, but we did not succeed because of the Bloc's opposition. It is as simple as that.
I want to be absolutely clear. We have some problems with this bill and, like the Bloc, we listened to witnesses and, since they were opposed to this legislation, we proposed amendments to it. Two of our three amendments were accepted by the committee and by all the members of the parties sitting in this House. We accomplished a couple of important things, such as asking that regulations be presented to the House of Commons, for monitoring purposes.
That is something we always ask for regarding any legislation. It is absolutely critical to ask that government regulations be referred to the Standing Committee on Health and to the House of Commons. That is what we accomplished. This is not a Bloc proposal. It is an NDP proposal, and the Bloc supported these amendments. So, this is very important, and it is something that we achieved.
We also dealt with the Bloc's concerns through another amendment that I am going to read. This is precisely the proposal that the Bloc rejected. It reads as follows:
That Bill C-11, in Clause 7, be amended by adding after line 22 on page 5 the following:
(c) any activity involving a micro-organism, nucleic acid or protein that falls into Risk Group 2, if the person who conducts the activity provides the following elements to the Minister:
(i) the location of the places where the activity is conducted and the name of a contact person, and
(ii) a signed document certifying that the activity is conducted in accordance with the Laboratory Biosafety Guidelines of the Public Health Agency of Canada.
This is an amendment that all scientific researchers asked for, in order to eliminate human pathogens that fall into risk group 2, and we made that proposal. Bloc members voted against it and now we have a bill that includes all human pathogens that fall in risk group 2.
It has to be pretty clear about what we do in the House and how we accomplish change. The government's job is to bring forward a bill. Yes, it made many mistakes in this case because it claimed to have done all kinds of consultations and to have done a thorough analysis of this area and the government was prepared to tell us that the whole community supported it. The government did not tell us the truth. It did not do the proper consultations because the minute Bill C-11 was tabled, we were inundated with concerns from scientists and researchers that research in this country would be denied. They were concerned that research would be cut off and would not be undertaken because people would be very concerned that they would fall under this criminal rubric and be subject to all kinds of criminal penalties because of their laboratory work with level 2 pathogens.
We accepted the arguments the researchers and scientists made, which was that there has to be a differentiation between the different levels of toxins and pathogens. Therefore, we proposed an amendment to do just that.
Many of the scientists we heard from said that the work that was done by the government's amendment was a step in the right direction and they also said that the proposition we had made was a good one. Yet the Bloc accepted neither.
Our job is not to do the job of government. Our job is to amend and change the bills it brings before us. We cannot simply say every time we do not like something that we are going to send it back and start all over again.
In this case we heard multiple times from those witnesses. Some of us called them and spoke to them individually apart from the discussions at committee. It was clear that this issue about including level 2 pathogens in this whole umbrella of punitive measures around safety in our laboratories was a major concern and had to be addressed.
Many of them said as we went through the process that they could live with the government's amendment. We did not think that was good enough and we proposed one step further. That was the one that was rejected by the Liberals because they were not part of the discussion at all, but most surprisingly it was rejected by the Bloc members. This actually would have addressed their concerns.
We did our best. We put the proposal on the table and we were turned down. We did our part to try to make this a better bill but it is certainly not our job to hold up everything ad infinitum because we did not get our way. We do our best to work within a minority Parliament. We work to make changes and that is exactly what we did. We accomplished two important changes. We did not get the third change. We will continue to find ways to address the concerns raised by scientists and researchers.
It is very important to note that the NDP's amendment to get all regulations before the House is a significant breakthrough. The Bloc members are quite right when they ask how we can vote for something when we do not know the regulations. We deal with that each and every day. Every time we have a piece of legislation we deal with it.
We did it with Bill C-9. That bill deals with the transportation of dangerous goods. It is a very similar situation to this bill dealing with laboratories handling dangerous toxins and pathogens. We tried through a motion to get the House to amend that bill to ensure that all regulations would go before the committee. Where were the Bloc members on that? Where were the Bloc members on each and every other bill where we were trying to get regulations under the purview of the House and we raised concerns about the discretion of the minister and the latitude he or she may have in terms of implementing a bill and for which we do not know the full consequences? It is a legitimate concern but the normal parliamentary way is to amend a bill so that the regulations go to committee.
Now, all regulations for this bill will come before committee as a result of the NDP amendment before the bill is finally approved. It may not be perfect. It may mean the Conservative government can still try to do some things for which it has no authority and where it is taking advantage of grey areas in the bill, but we have a major role to play in terms of overseeing the regulations before allowing the bill to go any further. I think it is important to note all of that.
I will talk a bit about the bill as a whole and put it in the context of the present swine influenza outbreak because the two are very much connected.
We are talking about the precautionary principle in whatever we do. One of the fundamental principles behind Bill C-11 is that Canadians, health workers and all who come into contact with pathogens and toxins are safe beyond a reasonable doubt. Our first premise in dealing with the bill was to ensure that this safety provision was a part of it, but not in any way that would try to prevent research in important areas. We did not get what we wanted on that bill, but we made a good try.
With respect to the do no harm principle in the current context of the swine influenza outbreak, it is important to note that, because we have such capable and competent individuals in our national laboratories, especially our level 5 laboratory in Winnipeg, the National Microbiology Laboratory, we can feel somewhat confident that scientists are doing their job, ensuring that Canadians are protected in the event of a pandemic and that work in labs for which they have oversight are operating according to the highest principles and standards.
In that context, I want to single out Dr. Frank Plummer. He was the individual to whom Mexicans sent their concerns and samples once this soon-to-be-identified swine influenza broke out in Mexico. Dr. Frank Plummer and his team identified this new strain, which became known as the swine influenza. This laboratory is overseeing much of the work in this area. In fact, it is working very stringently on the development of a vaccine, which could happen, as reports show today, much sooner than actually expected. There could be a vaccine developed within a couple of weeks for the swine influenza, thanks to the work of Dr. Frank Plummer and his whole team of scientists and their collaboration with the CDC in the United States, with public health agencies across the country and with public health officers in every province and territory.
I want to mention the work of Dr. Frank Plummer because he also helped us identify the issue around listeriosis. Through Dr. Frank Plummer, the electronic surveillance system detected the listeriosis outbreak. We were able then to take measures to deal with this very serious pathogen and ensure further containment of it.
Dr. Frank Plummer is known to us all for his work, especially, in the area of HIV and AIDS. He is one of the internationally renowned scientists who have done leading and groundbreaking research in getting to the bottom of HIV and AIDS. He has been recognized for that work in many parts of the world. In fact, as members will know, he was recently appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada. Probably more important than anything, he was inducted into the Royal Society of Canada. He has received a grant from the Grand Challenges in Global Health, an initiative of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which continues studies on HIV resistance and work on the HIV vaccine. He was named Canada research chair of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and has been elected to the American Society of Clinical Investigation and the Association of American Physicians, and I could go on.
We are talking about someone who is world renowned, who is providing groundbreaking research on new unidentified pathogens and toxins. He has been behind the developments around listeriosis. Now he has been identified as the key researcher with respect to the swine influenza. He will ensure that we have a vaccine for that latest epidemic in short order.
He is a person with whom we consulted regularly throughout the debate. He took the time to come to our committees, along with Dr. Butler-Jones, the head of the Public Health Agency of Canada. As a result of their efforts, particularly Dr. Frank Plummer's, we were able to get a better handle on the nature of level 2 pathogens versus level 3 and level 4 pathogens and, in fact, begin the process of trying to put in place a modified regime with respect to level 2 pathogens so research would not be stymied and scientists would not feel any encumbrances around their work.
That has been accomplished, in part, thanks to all the scientists who came before us. They were very vigilant in their work at our committee. In fact, I want to mention the efforts by a number of them with respect to this bill, as the Bloc also referred to, and indicate that they were instrumental in our understanding of this whole area.
I hope the government has learned some lessons from Bill C-11, that it must ensure thorough consultations before it proceeds with legislation. I am glad it listened to some of our amendments. I hope it will take seriously our concerns about the regulations and will act quickly and promptly to bring those regulations before the House.
We have the unfortunate example of human reproductive technologies legislation that was passed by the House some five years ago. It still has not been finally approved, nor are the regulations forthcoming. Here is an area where changes are happening every day, by the minute. There are all kinds of concerns about the new groundbreaking innovations in fertility treatments as well as concerns with respect to identity of anonymous sperm donations. Back five or six years ago, our committee tried to address numerous concerns and provide good advice to the government. We are still waiting for those regulations.
We hope the government has learned something from this most recent chapter in its legislative pursuit around protecting Canadians and has learned the lessons from the witnesses we heard at our committee. We hope it will ensure that all legislation brought to the House in the future is done so only after thorough consultation with stakeholders has been provided and with all regard for and taking into account the concerns raised by those people most directly affected by this legislation.
The government has failed to do that in this case and we have ended up with less than perfect legislation.
We are prepared to support the bill in the final analysis. I know Bloc members will go into conniptions over that. We believe we have done our job in trying to improve the bill. We have spoken to the same scientists they mentioned in the debates. We believe we have addressed their concerns, to a large measure, through the amendments to the bill by the government and then by ourselves.
We know it is a less than perfect legislation. There will be concerns identified along the way. We will ensure, through the regulatory process, absolute vigilance and complete oversight to ensure the government is true to its word about bringing forward regulations that meet the specific concerns of the scientists, researchers and laboratory workers.
We will hold the government to account every step of the way to ensure the health and safety of Canadian researchers, laboratory workers and patients are always at the top of the equation and that nothing in the legislation gets in the way of good research and groundbreaking scientific endeavour.
We will continue to raise the need for more government assistance, not less as was the case with the government in the last budget. I think all scientists were shocked by the cutbacks to research. They are crying for the government to pay attention to the need for Canada to be involved in the continuation of groundbreaking research and investigative studies, which will enhance the health and well-being of all Canadians.