Mr. Speaker, I am happy to have the opportunity to speak to this legislation at second reading.
My colleague from Verchères—Les Patriotes mentioned that this was the third time he was able to speak to this bill in the House. I have to say I am just so happy to be able to speak to a bill that is not about locking people up and putting them in jail for crimes that have been unreported.
We have been waiting a long time for this bill, as we have heard. As we have also heard, previous versions of this bill have been killed twice by prorogation. Frankly there has been an inordinate delay getting it through first and second reading here in the House since we returned from prorogation in March.
Considering it is the government's own legislation, one has to ask why we have waited so long. Again this week, yet again, we saw another recall of children's products, this time a recall of 11 million toys by Mattel. This follows recalls on children's drugs, cribs and drinking glasses, and the list goes on and on.
Each time this happens, consumer advocates call for reliable product safety information and a law that gets these unsafe products off the shelves. Ideally, dangerous products would not actually get on the shelves in the first place.
My colleague from Verchères—Les Patriotes mentioned that the minister has been silent on this issue, not even speaking about this issue in the House until October, but actually I would like to correct that record because we have been asking questions in question period, waiting, asking when this will happen, asking when we will get to actually move this forward to committee. She has answered those questions, although I do not think she said the words “Bill C-36”.
We are happy we are here. Finally we are here. I do think it also needs mentioning that the Liberals have been asleep at the switch for 12 years on this issue. By 2005-06, at the end of the Liberals' decade of missed opportunity to improve product safety in Canada, more than 40% of recalls were ordered as a direct result not of us but of U.S.-initiated action. The Liberals were happy to promote and applaud corporate trade but not to police it.
The legislation this bill replaces is part I of the Hazardous Products Act that was enacted in 1969. I will say that again, 1969. To say that this bill is a long time in coming is an understatement. In 41 years technologies have of course changed. The nature of business has changed. The ethics of production have advanced. We need legislation that reflects the realties of a globalized world, which aims to be health conscious and also to establish a more equitable society.
It goes without saying that dangerous products touch the lives of people who are socio-economically disadvantaged more than the rest of society. Cheap products rely on cheaper manufacturing processes, and they are wreaking havoc in the lives of people who cannot afford to make better choices, who are poorly positioned to deal with the health consequences and potentially the lost wages that are due to time off work to care for loved ones who are hurt.
Product safety should not be the right of the rich. It goes very much to equality principles and it is a central piece of moving towards economic justice.
Unsurprisingly, plans to revamp product safety legislation have developed some resistance from industry and from importers due to high costs and the perceived intrusion into their design and manufacturing processes. However, the onus should be on them. Consumer product safety is the cost of doing business in Canada.
The safety of Canadians and particularly the safety of children cannot be balanced against corporate costs. Manufacturers and importers must prove that their products are safe. It is unacceptable to allow products to be negligently introduced onto the market in the absence of much-needed and precise enforcement tools.
We cannot allow tort law to be the enforcement tool, because court remedies may come too late, as consumers or their family members will have already been injured. There may not be an adequate compensation system through tort law that is available for the injuries suffered, and certainly not for the emotional trauma that arises in the worst case scenarios.
We need to catch things before they happen. In reality, strong product safety laws are good for companies because they dissuade them from going down a path that may have widespread consequences to them later.
Product safety laws protect both the health of the nation and the economy. Therefore, I am happy to note that Bill C-36 in its current form contains many of the amendments the NDP pushed for in its predecessor, Bill C-6. For example, the bill would exempt natural health products from its purview. The NDP was proud to support the natural health product industry by advocating for an exemption with Bill C-6. Natural health products contribute to the health and well-being of Canadians and play an important role in Canada's health care system.
I note that other NDP concerns have been addressed. For example, a clause that indicated inspectors were not liable for entering private property has been removed and the inspectors can no longer order a person to take measures for non-compliance. Only the minister can do that.
There are some improvements that can be made to this bill and the NDP looks forward to addressing these concerns at committee. The NDP consumer advocate, the member for Sudbury, has been working hard to identify potential improvements to product safety in Canada and I will outline some of these proposals for the House.
It is worth mentioning that protection is given to tobacco products under Bill C-36. These products have been given a permanent statutory exemption and only the propensity for ignition is included in the act's regulatory framework.
Many stakeholders, including the Canadian Cancer Society and Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada, have pointed out that this is a major failing in the legislation. In April 2009, when the bill was known as Bill C-6, the Canadian Cancer Society submitted a formal request that the permanent exclusion of tobacco products from the act be deleted in order to improve the overall health of Canadians.
There is also an issue of whether there will be adequate resources to enforce the legislation. We cannot allow the bill to exist without the adequate tools for enforcement. The bill implies a more proactive and aggressive approach to product safety, which is completely out of character with past government performance. Therefore, the NDP is considering an amendment to the bill to hold the government responsible for maintaining an adequate inspection capacity and staff to process, investigate and respond to complaints.
Tied to this is the need for stiffer punitive financial penalties. Industry monitoring shows that stiffer penalties improve product safety. Unfortunately, while the Hazardous Products Safety Act already contains fines of up to $1 million for violating its provisions, these fines are rarely imposed, something that we really need to work on at the enforcement end. It is essential that the government change this trend and adequately and consistently enforce the act.
The government also has to get serious about establishing clear and consistent rules for what constitutes a danger. This cannot be allowed to remain as a subjective judgment. We really need a test about what is a danger and how we will decide what is a danger. It is important not just for consumers, but for the industry as well. We need to ensure that industry understands what its obligations are.
Also in the world of enforcement, we need a better system for filing public complaints and the creation of a database that will track product safety issues. This is what the U.S. is moving toward and we need to follow suit. We have an opportunity now not just to make the Hazardous Products Safety Act better, but to be bold, visionary and move forward, not just catch up to our friends around world but maybe even surpass them when it comes to product safety. Right now a product can sometimes be on the market for more than 10 years before a recall happens.
As an example of that kind of delay, the most recent Fisher-Price recall involves products that were on the market for five years. The longer the delay, the less these products will be able to be recalled. In fact, only 10% to 15% of recalled products are ever recovered. That is a shockingly low statistic. This means we need to ensure that the public gets the information when a product poses a danger to people's health through regular announcements that a recall is in effect and to the widest possible audience.
Bill C-36 also focuses on the back end of production, mostly manufacturing, but the vast majority of product safety issues are at the front end with design. Product safety issues result because of design flaws. We need the tools that will catch these flaws before a product goes to a manufacturing plant. Design is so important. Better design leads to fewer accidents and fewer injuries. One way to improve the entire production process is to ensure that third party testing is mandatory, that it is consistent and that it is utilized throughout the entire production process.
We have also heard concerns that Bill C-36 lacks a formal independent review board. An appeal to the board of review under the hazardous products safety act is like an appeal to court. Bill C-36 does not have a review board and these kinds of procedural safeguards.
Currently the wording of the act suggests that reviews of decisions would be made by other Health Canada officers who were not part of the original investigation. Frankly, that is not quite far enough removed. There needs to be some indication of independence. The reviews really need to be done by third parties when a property owner asks for a review of an inspector's order. However, that review is not conducted by a board of review with court powers to ensure a fair hearing. It is only fair to think about it that way and to have those sorts of arm's-length procedures put in place.
In summary, we are pleased that the government has finally introduced this bill. I am getting some smiles from my colleagues on this side of the House. We are pleased that it has been moved for debate, I will note finally. We are also very happy to support it so it gets to committee. The NDP is very much looking forward to discussion of the bill at committee.