Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-6 this morning, An Act respecting the safety of consumer products. I think this is a very important bill.
We certainly still have reservations about the bill, but by and large we are in support of it. This is evidence once again that collectively we can make this chamber work and I think that bodes well. If the parties continue to cooperate a little more than they have in the past, we can get some good legislation out of this minority Parliament and perhaps extend the minority Parliament for some time into the future.
I have had some experience with a minority government in Manitoba a number of years ago. We worked with the Gary Filmon government in Manitoba for a period of 18 months and got through a lot of very good pieces of legislation.
As a matter of fact, I am a very big fan of minority governments. When we look back to 1972-74, that was a very productive period in our politics, and as well when Mike Pearson was the Prime Minister in the sixties. We had several minority Parliaments and they worked very well too. That is when we got the flag. We had a number of issues that were resolved in a very good way.
I want to say at the beginning that our critic for this area did a tremendous job on the bill, as she does on pretty much everything she touches. She and I go back a long way. We were both elected to the Manitoba Legislature March 18, 1986. I have had a lot of experience watching her over the years in various capacities, and she takes a very aggressive and very thorough approach to her duties. When she makes a recommendation, we know that it is well-researched, well thought out and there is really nothing given to chance.
Bill C-6 follows a previous bill, Bill C-52, the original piece of legislation that was intended to strengthen the Hazardous Products Act of 1969, which is quite a long time ago. It has been proven increasingly ineffective in identifying and removing dangerous consumer products.
Let us look back to the period of 1969 when the original legislation was brought in. This was at a time when consumer products and so on were coming on the market in large numbers.
Ralph Nader was essentially the father of consumer protection in North America. Most of us were around in the 1960s. Some here probably were not, but most of us were. Most of us actually grew up with Ralph Nader and we know that he challenged the North American auto industry on the basis that consumer products, when they are produced and sold to the public, should be as safe as possible, and that the onus should be on the company producing the product to be liable if its product is defective.
Our thinking in Canada has always been the opposite, that somehow it is the purchaser and end user's responsibility and fault if something goes wrong with a product. Over the years, through people like Ralph Nader driving this envelope, we have seen consumer protection rise greatly. The man has done a terrific service for all consumers in North America by his actions.
We remember the Ford Pintos. I believe he called them rolling Molotov cocktails. These were cars built in the sixties that had gas tank problems and were subject to catching on fire in accidents. There was a statistically large number of these. Any time something like this happened, the car companies blamed the driver. It was never the car company's responsibility; it was always the driver's responsibility. Ralph Nader collected statistics to show that these accidents were happening in large numbers and only with that particular type of car, the Ford Pinto.
He took action against the companies and was able to get compensation for many Americans. He later went on to deal with the rusty Ford issue and a number of other different areas. When he did get settlements for people, at the end of the day, the settlements were always done on the basis that the settlement had to be private because the car company would always want to keep it out of the public view.
The reality is that the public view of how dangerous these consumers products were was enhanced by Ralph Nader's actions. However, that was only the tip of the iceberg. When people did have problems and took action against the car companies, in this case, there was always a settlement, but the people receiving the settlement had to sign a release that they would not talk about it. The public is literally totally unaware that there were probably hundreds of thousands of settlements made that people could not talk about by virtue of the fact that they had signed confidentiality agreements in order to get their settlement.
That is the beginning of how and why legislation such as this was developed. In the 1950s there were not a lot of consumer products to begin with. In those days, people never thought that their children were going to be poisoned by toys. It was something that was never even contemplated. In those days, people were not dealing with consumer products like cellphones, which some people feel are linked to brain cancer. I do not know if there is a link or not, but it is certainly being studied.
A member of my family was found to have a brain tumour just a few weeks ago. It was removed and it has been determined that it was cancerous. He evidently spends a lot of time on a cellphone. The family is certainly questioning as to whether or not there is a connection. Over time, I think that we will have to do studies to show whether or not cancers are in any way connected to cellphone use.
However, these were issues that we never had to deal with in the 1960s because we did not have products like this. In the 1960s the wiring in houses was probably 60 amp and one was lucky to have a refrigerator, a television and maybe a radio. That was all one would have in a house. Today, when we go into our bedroom or any other room in a house, I am sure we all agree that the whole room lights up at night. There are all kinds of consumer items plugged into the wall.
People have suggested that these products are generating electromagnetic radiation and they provide concerns in some cases. I know that we have had some studies done on people who live around power lines. There is a demonstrated suggestion that cancer rates are somehow increased for people who live around power lines. When we are looking at issues like that, it makes sense that we in this country have to come up with very strong consumer product legislation just to deal with the unknown and unforeseen health effects of consumer products.
We have another whole area of involvement here, with producers of products who are less than ethical in their manufacture. Years ago, products were manufactured in Canada. They were done under some sort of quality standards. When producers were in Winnipeg, Saskatoon or Ottawa, producing for the Canadian market, they would know that if they did not produce a good quality product, it would not be purchased any more. Eaton's would not buy it from them. They would be out of business and there would not be any other place to sell their product.
With a huge amount of consumer products today, it seems that almost everything is being outsourced and made in Mexico, China, Indonesia and other areas. I am sure that a lot of those products are of good quality, but there certainly is a temptation, when a supply source is so far away and the competition is so extremely fierce, for quick solutions and shortcuts becoming the order of the day.
That is what has happened. Children's toys have been manufactured inappropriately, and we are paying the price. We have to deal with this essentially because of multinational corporations and their free trade deals that have led to a race to the bottom for the lowest possible cost of production. We see that as a positive thing in society, but we do not tend to look at the negatives. The long-term liabilities and responsibilities come back to bite us at the end of the day.
For example, 90 consumer products were recalled last year, and there were 37 more in this year already. Many of these products were not made in Canada; China was identified as the frequent country of origin. The original act, as has been pointed out, has not been effective in identifying or removing these dangerous products, leaving Canadians dependent on product alerts and recalls by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission instead of Health Canada.
We see the same thing in the financial services area. Legislation and enforcement in the United States are tougher. There are almost no convictions in Canada under securities violations, for example, with the Ontario Securities Commission, whereas there are a couple of thousand in the United States. I have mentioned before that Conrad Black committed his white-collar crimes in Canada, and he was not touched by any Canadian authorities at all. It was under American laws that he was picked up; it was the American system that cornered him, eventually convicted him and put him where he belongs and where he is now, in jail, at least for the next few months.
Clearly, Canada is not in a very strong position relative to other countries. This bill will help deal with that to a certain extent. However, once again we have left out some very important areas that should have been dealt with.
One of the areas that was left out, and it is certainly an issue that is near and dear to me, is the issue of smoking. Presentations were made in committee. It was a very big disappointment to me and others that cigarettes were exempted from this bill. I cannot think of a better example of a product that should be covered by this type of legislation.
I want to read a letter from the Canadian Cancer Society, which was sent to the chair and members of the committee on April 21, 2009. I know there are people watching the debate today who would not be aware that this was the case. I think it is important for them to know that the Canadian Cancer Society wrote a letter to the members of the committee regarding Bill C-6.
While it says it strongly supports the bill and commends the Minister of Health and the government for bringing forward the legislation, at the same time it recommended “the removal of the permanent exclusion for tobacco products found in the bill. The proposed amendment is short and simple but very important. In particular, we recommend the exclusion of subsection 4(2) to be deleted and that tobacco products instead be listed in Schedule 1, along with pesticides, cosmetics, explosives and other indicated products.”
If the majority of the public were aware of this bill and that this exclusion was in the bill, I am sure MPs' phones would have been ringing off the hook. We would have received a lot of feedback from the public on this issue, from both sides, I am sure, because there are still avid smokers who would defend their right to smoke.
I know at least one colleague, who may or may not be close to me at the moment, is a smoker, but I do not know how tough she would be in defending her right to keep smoking.
I am an ex-smoker, so I guess we are the worst people to be talking about this issue, but even people who do smoke tend to take a different view today of that issue. Even 20 years ago, when a member of my original caucus had a party at his house and announced that people had to smoke outside, we all shook our heads and thought there was something wrong with him.
Today it would be the absolute opposite of that. Even the smokers walk out of their houses and smoke on the front steps. If they recognize it is doing damage to their houses, it makes me wonder why they keep smoking in the first place.
I recall that people years ago would not have had a problem purchasing a car that was owned by a smoker. Today it is very difficult to sell a car that was owned by a smoker, so smokers are smoking outside their cars.
Would anybody in this Parliament believe us if we told them that only a few years ago we could smoke on airplanes? It was very, very common, and now that is past history.
We are making progress. It has been reported that smoking rates have dropped, but it is still a big problem. We have legislation before the House right now dealing with the whole area of tobacco and trying to find ways to reduce the number of smokers in the country. I really believe we are going to have to go a step further at a certain point and offer some sort of financial inducement to people who embark on a non-smoking program supervised by a doctor.
I draw the analogy between that and what we did in Manitoba with the car immobilizer program four years ago. We offered it as a voluntary program, with a reduction on insurance if people put immobilizers in their cars. Even though it made imminent sense, very few people took the government up on the program. We made the immobilizers free, and as a reward we gave people the reduction on their insurance anyway. We made them free but we mandated that people had to install these immobilizers or they could not insure their cars anymore.
There was a bit of grumbling, but by and large people complied with the program. We had our auto theft rates drop to the point where we had one day last month when we had zero. We went from the number one car theft capital of Canada three years ago down to having one day with no thefts.
That is a perfect example of how providing a free product and making it mandatory actually has solved a lot of the problem. We may have to do the same thing with smoking to get those final smokers. I am looking at another smoker down the aisle here.
At the end of the day, if the advertising does not work, all the other prohibitions do not work and the social stigmas do not work, we may have to look at offering some sort of a program, administered by the Canadian Medical Association, where we offer financial incentives to people if they quit smoking. They already have financial incentives to stop smoking through their home and life insurance programs, and other programs. I am sure it works in a few cases, but not in all.
The letter goes on to say, “Tobacco products cause more damage to public health than any other consumer product, killing 37,000 Canadians a year. It makes no sense that Bill C-6 in section 4(2) would permanently exclude tobacco products under virtually all circumstances from any of the bill's provisions. The following rationale further supports the proposed amendment. Adopting the amendment would mean that in the future the government would have the flexibility to deal with the tobacco epidemic in a rapid manner should the need arise and the Tobacco Act be inadequate.”
There would be an escape valve available to protect the public interest if necessary—