Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-6 today.
Canadians are in dire need of updated consumer safety legislation. The fact is that more and more consumer products are recalled each year. Many of these products are not made in Canada and, in most cases, those that are imported are imported from China. In fact, products imported from China have often been recalled.
A scan of the latest incidents in today's news reveals toxic drywall from China, high levels of lead found in jewellery imported from China and toaster ovens recalled due to risks of shocks and burns.
Consumers need to know that their government is taking every action to protect its citizens from potentially toxic and harmful products. The sad reality is that consumers are not adequately protected by the outdated Hazardous Products Act. The 40 year old act has not been effective in identifying or removing dangerous products, leaving Canadian dependent on product alerts and recalls by the U.S. product safety commission instead of Health Canada in the majority of cases.
Consumers should receive protection from their own government instead of relying on their neighbours to the south to take action.
Bill C-6 attempts to address some of those weaknesses in the following ways: empowering the government to order the recall of dangerous products; increasing government authority to require information and action from manufacturers and importers; requiring mandatory reporting by manufacturers and importers of incidents involving death or injury from a product's use or any awareness of potential harm from a product or actions taken elsewhere; and, of course, applying heavy fines to violators.
Despite these positive changes, improvements are needed if the bill is to be effective and supportable. Despite the number of changes and improvements to the outdated Hazardous Products Act, our party has some serious concerns with several measures included within the bill. A number of improvements are needed to ensure that the bill is effective and fulfils the spirit of its mandate. I will look at each of them now.
The first concern that New Democrats have with this proposed legislation is the effect or lack thereof on import safety. The fact is that a whopping 65% of consumer goods sold in Canada are imported. The bill, in its current form, lacks any comprehensive system to ensure that items are safe before entering Canada. The risk management approach may target high risk sources for higher surveillance but overall the system depends on reacting to safety problems identified through use after the fact.
A growing problem with the import market is the use of counterfeited approval labels that are also primarily associated with offshore products. This growing concern has not been dealt with.
The United Steelworkers has suggested implementing a stated ban on products containing toxic substances that would be enforced through a pre-entry testing system, financed through a service fee applied at the border. This is one option and another would be to look at the current labelling requirements.
The second concern I would like to address is that there is too much discretion in the hands of the minister. While inspectors have been empowered with greater authority, many of their actions are optional, even when they believe human health is at risk. Related to the issue of discretion is the weak nature of the language contained in the bill. In order to give the bill the teeth it needs to actually protect consumers, the language should and needs to be strengthened. It should be strengthened by changing instances where it stipulates that the minister “may take action” to “has a responsibility to act” or “must act”.
Another particularly alarming omission from this new version of Bill C-6 from its former incarnation of Bill C-52 is the absence of a clause titled “disclosure to public” under the minister's responsibilities. In its current form, Bill C-6 does not require the government to inform consumers of safety issues that have been identified.
Upon questioning of government representatives when this issue came up, it was stated that companies would be less likely to report unbecoming behaviour if they knew it would lead to public scrutiny. What is more important, a business' bottom line or the safety of consumers?
That brings me to another issue with the bill in its current form, labelling.
The review of the 40-year-old act provides a perfect opportunity to beef up the standards for informing consumers and letting them know exactly what ingredients are contained in consumer products. However, if passed in its current form, the bill would allow for the continued sale of products that, by their nature, pose a risk to human safety.
Finally, the bill can look one way on paper but enforcement, as we have seen with the government, seems to be an entirely different story. Though the bill implies a more proactive, aggressive approach to product safety, it is not likely that any of these measures will be put into effect. These measures are completely out of character with the Conservative government's hands-off approach to industry and that what looks good on paper will likely never be put into practice.
In order to make the bill worthwhile there are several amendments that must be made at the committee level.
It is time to show industries that there are two choices: Make safe products and have them allowed in Canada or do not and prohibit them from entering the country. While the bill emphasizes big fines and tougher enforcement, when in history has the government been in favour in interfering in the affairs of business and industry?
Changes need to be made to the legislation to hold the government accountable and responsible for maintaining an adequate inspection capacity and staff to process, investigate and respond to the new reporting system. Without proper enforcement measures holding the government to task to act, there is no guarantee that any action will occur.
The NDP is rightly concerned that the Conservative ideology of non-interfering with business is affecting the safety of Canadian families and their children.
I will now address some of the issues raised by a number of stakeholder groups. The Canadian Cancer Society has a number of recommendations to amend the bill, the first being the removal of the exclusion provision for tobacco products in section 4. This amendment would remove the exclusion provision stating that essentially no part of the consumer product safety act can ever apply to tobacco products.
The second amendment would be adding tobacco products to schedule 1. The effect of this amendment would be that the consumer product safety act would not apply to tobacco products but that there would be flexibility so that in the future there could be a regulation providing that all or part of the act would apply to tobacco products. Tobacco products would thus be treated the same as all of the other products listed in schedule 1, such as explosives, pesticides, drugs, cosmetics and vehicles.
We agree with the Environmental Defence organization as it also has a number of amendments that it would like to see in Bill C-6. The general prohibition in the act should be expanded so that no consumer product can be imported or marketed if it is a danger to human health or safety, either through direct exposure or exposure via the environment. It also calls for a section to be added prohibiting substances on the list of toxic substances from consumer products except where the substance is not a hazard when used in a consumer product or the manufacturer or importer can demonstrate that no reasonable alternative exists. It also asks that a clause be included stating that nothing in the act limits powers to regulate substances in consumer products.
This legislation should include a duty for the government to act when it is made aware of a risk from a consumer product. There should also be a duty for the minister to inform the public when he or she is made aware of a risk in a consumer product.
The bill needs action and, therefore, in deciding whether a danger to health or safety exists, the legislation should require the government to consider the release of harmful substances from products during use or after disposal, including to house dust and indoor air.
The bill should create a hot list similar to that for cosmetics, including carcinogens, reproductive toxins and neurotoxins. These substances should be prohibited in products, with temporary exceptions granted only to the extent that the product is essential and only where alternatives do not exist. At a bare minimum, any product containing such chemicals should be required to carry a hazard label, as is required in parts of the U.S. and the European Union.
The legislation should also establish a list of product classes at highest risk of containing or releasing hazardous substances. There should be explicit guidance prioritizing the routine inspection of these product classes. Furthermore, this bill should require labelling of all ingredients, as is already the case with cosmetics.
Canadian consumers want reliable product safety information and a law that will get unsafe products off the shelves, if not keep them from being for sale in the first place. All parents and, as a father of two young daughters, we want safe products.
New Democrats will do everything to protect all Canadians across our great country.