Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise today on Bill C-6, previously known as Bill C-52, which was introduced in April 2008 and was read for the second time in May 2008. I hope it will get through all the stages this time and that the Bloc Québécois will have an opportunity in committee to make some comments or changes in order to clarify certain things in the preamble to the bill and get answers to some questions we have about the application of the law.
This bill is part of an action plan to ensure the safety of consumer products and foods. The government announced this action plan in 2007, and the 2008 budget mentioned it and earmarked $113 million over two years to implement it. What we want to see now is the framework that will be established, that is to say, whether the number of employees will increase to ensure the safety of consumer products. I will explain why.
The current legislation goes back 40 years and the government wants to modernize the way in which consumer product safety is handled. The main piece of federal legislation on consumer product safety is currently the Hazardous Products Act, which was enacted in 1969. This bill is designed to repeal and replace Part I of that act.
Are the bill’s provisions adequate? Will adequate budgets be provided to implement it? I wonder. The bill regulates products that pose a health or safety risk. At present, it is up to industry to voluntarily issue and manage a product recall. The federal government’s authority in this regard is limited to issuing a public warning and, in the event that it is deemed necessary, subsequently taking steps to regulate or prohibit the product under the Hazardous Products Act. This information is taken from the legislative summary on Bill C-52 that the Library of Parliament has provided.
Bill C-6 seems to tighten the safety requirements for hazardous products. Clauses 7 and 8 spell out the precautions that must be taken, the responsibilities of manufacturers and importers, and their obligation to ensure that their products do not pose a danger to human health or safety. However, even though the responsibilities of manufacturers, importers and any person who sells consumer products appear to be thoroughly covered in clauses 7 and 8, the fact that there is a reference to clause 6 and to some regulatory requirements leads us to think that the provisions of the bill may not be adequate.
We have seen how regulations have been used in practice in the case of immigration and citizenship. When the government does not necessarily want to act quickly, the process can take a tremendous amount of time and put undue pressure on industry, which does not know what the rules will be and what safeguards will be expected of it. The way in which the bill is worded also confers a lot of discretionary power on the minister’s office. These are my concerns about the bill. It also does not specify when the regulations will come into force.
Natural health products are not covered by this bill. Will we have the same problems as the natural health products industry since the creation of the Natural Health Products Directorate at Health Canada? I have some examples. Two companies in my riding are in a difficult situation. They manufacture products that were licensed by the directorate and have a natural product number.
When a product is licensed by Health Canada, there should not be barriers to its export.In this case, Health Canada did not act fast enough or efficiently and forgot that dairy-based natural health products first require inspection by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
Today, because Health Canada's Natural Health Products Directorate did not foresee that this document was required, these companies are having difficulty exporting their products.
In my opinion, in a difficult economic context, our structures should not hinder the initiatives of companies that are growing. Exports are jeopardized because of the inability to issue a health certificate for a dairy-based natural health product.
I am emphasizing this point because this bill on the safety of consumer goods could be more harmful than helpful if it is not implemented quickly, efficiently and with all the necessary resources.
I sincerely hope that this situation, which is so devastating for the economy of my region of Vaudreuil-Soulanges, will be resolved. Businesses should not lose a competitive advantage because provisions are missing or inadequate to support new federal regulations.
The bill contains five types of measures designed to strengthen the burden of proof with regard to safety: measures on consumer product safety; measures to give inspectors greater authority; a new power for the minister to recall products; more severe penalties; and product traceability.
Clauses 13 and 14 of the bill seem to indicate that the government is proposing to introduce a record-keeping system that is similar to a product traceability system. We still have questions about this bill and the direction it takes.
As I said, the preamble to the bill proposes a definition that approaches the precautionary principle. It reads as follows:
Whereas the Parliament of Canada recognizes that a lack of full scientific certainty is not to be used as a reason for postponing measures that prevent adverse effects on human health if those effects could be serious or irreversible;
We would like to be able to analyze this statement in more detail in committee and get a better understanding of the guidelines and conditions behind the bill, as well as what the government intends by this statement.
The preamble also refers to connections between consumer products and the environment. We would like to ask the government whether it plans to include environmental requirements in the regulations. Seeing as how the bill makes no mention of this and the regulations will not be submitted to the committee, we would like to know what the government plans to do in this regard.
Moreover, we believe that industry self-regulation poses a problem. I refer to an article by Stéphanie Bérubé in La Presse in April 2008, entitled “Is your food safe?” The article said that as of April 1, 2008, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency was inspecting barely 2% to 5% of foods and that this small percentage accounted for nearly 98% of the risks.
The Standing Committee on Public Accounts, on which I sit, receives reports from the Auditor General on other similar issues involving Health Canada. Products come into the country but are not inspected. As well, Health Canada lacks resources, has a heavy bureaucracy and uses some questionable mechanisms when it comes to product safety inspection and analysis.
In today's technological age, Health Canada does not always use electronic means, but often uses fax machines. So I am concerned about the implementation of all this, as well as the debates on regulation and the provisions of the act that give the minister's office considerable powers to exclude certain industries. Earlier my colleague mentioned an industry that is excluded from the legislation at this time. There are also plans to deal with natural products in another bill. As I was saying, some businesses are already having problems because of the legislative framework in place. Those problems have been exacerbated by the economic crisis, Health Canada's operating problems and its inability to rapidly respond to the questions posed by people who export our products. The situation is terrible and the risk is increased as a result.
The people watching us need to know that the existing legislation is outdated. It no longer reflects how trade works or the importance of consumer product safety. This bill is simply an attempt to update the legislation respecting consumer product safety.
The issue of consumer product safety has already been analyzed and the Auditor General has made some recommendations. We saw a glimpse of this in 2006 and as I said earlier, the Auditor General raised certain concerns in 2008. In that regard, there is no doubt that the program managers cannot fulfill their mandate at this time. What will happen when they are given even more responsibilities? The government has the important responsibility of ensuring that budgets are adequate and that the necessary resources are available.
The Auditor General's November 2006 report revealed that the Government of Canada knew that consumers were exposed to risk because of lack of funding for the program. I therefore maintain that, even if the bill makes it through the committee stage, there must be sufficient resources. Health Canada's missteps raise serious doubts about the government's ability and interest when it comes to managing its own files.
Regarding what is done elsewhere, my colleague from Québec mentioned that in March 2008 the United States strengthened its legislation on toy safety. In the United States, according to the latest statistics I have here, out of 413 recalled products, 231 were toys. Thus, they have adopted provisions to regulate the toy industry. Other legislation will also follow.
The European Commission has proposed making toys safer by prohibiting carcinogens in toy manufacturing and strengthening oversight. I was in Europe recently, more specifically in France, and I met some French families.
Those French families informed me that if there had not been such a fuss made on April 1 about the safety of toys and such products as baby bottles, they would not have been aware of the dangers to their health that some products presented. They were therefore very happy that the French-language press talked a lot about it.
As well, I am pleased that this bill tackles the question of consumer product safety. However, listening to the debate in this House, the bill will have to be examined in depth in committee. We will have to be careful when it comes to regulations, and make sure we fund this program adequately.
As I said, this program has already had trouble meeting the requirements as we know them now, and it needs more funding. Once again, on the question of regulations, the industry must not be penalized because Health Canada has not provided a form needed for exports, for example. Appropriate oversight on this, therefore, is essential. Consumer groups are waiting for this legislation. The government had known this for a long time and the Auditor General has talked about it.
The government knew that the current legislation did not protect the public properly. It was not until the incident in the summer of 2007, the recall of toys that contained lead, that it indicated its intention to amend this legislation. That is unacceptable. The Bloc has done considerable work on this. The Bloc therefore called on the Minister on several occasions to tighten safety requirements to deal with dangerous products so the manufacturing, promotion and marketing of any product that might present an unacceptable risk and be harmful to health could be banned.
We are also calling on Ottawa to put the burden on manufacturers of inspecting their products and showing that they do not endanger consumers’ health and safety. And we are asking that the approach taken by the government not put the industry in complete charge of the safety of consumer products and thus leave the public’s health in their hands. This legislative approach reflects what the Bloc has asked for. We will have to wait for the regulations and the budget, however.
The Auditor General’s concerns are well founded and the government must make a commitment to having enough inspectors to do the job properly. The bill puts the burden on retailers to make sure their products are safe. We will have to make sure there are enough inspectors to enforce the law and we will have to make sure the forms needed for putting products on the market are also reviewed and are adequate.
We therefore support the bill in principle and supporting referring it to committee.