Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to this as I chaired the subcommittee on this particular topic a couple of years ago.
I agree with the hon. member for Etobicoke North, as does the government, that Canadians with MS deserve to know whether the hope of the proposed new Zamboni or CCSVI procedure for MS rests on a solid scientific foundation, that it works and that it is safe. For that reason, I do not support this bill.
A key element of Bill C-280 is the legislative requirement that clinical tests on CCSVI be initiated. Regardless of the best advice being offered by scientists around the world, this House would begin legislating medical research. Supporting this bill could create a precedent as to how we establish our health research priorities. Setting health research priorities through legislation would not be an appropriate policy measure as it would jeopardize the independence of scientific decision making.
This bill would also require that the federal Minister of Health meet with her provincial and territorial counterparts to formulate a national strategy. The minister is already collaborating extensively with provinces, so why legislate that she has to do that? How would provinces react to such use of our legislative authority?
Another element of the bill would require that the Minister of Health ensure that those who have obtained the CCSVI treatment have access to proper health care. This is clearly an intrusion into provincial jurisdiction. Members of the House will know that the delivery of health care services is under provincial jurisdiction.
This bill is unnecessary. It would legislate a scientific and medical issue for which we already have a collaborative system in place. We in this House need to consider the implications of such legislation. Why would we legislate when extensive action is already underway? We need to use our legislative power prudently or risk diluting its value. Legislation should be used only when it is most appropriate and there are no other ways to achieve the desired policy objectives effectively. This is clearly not the case with this bill.
Let us take a moment to look at MS in Canada and the government's response to the proposed Zamboni procedure. An estimated 55,000 to 75,000 Canadians live with MS. We are all familiar with this number. Too many Canadians and their families are struggling with this frustrating disease. We in this House share their frustration. We also share their hope that effective treatments and, ultimately, a cure can be found. That is why the government is determined to support the investigation of CCSVI. However, this must be done carefully to ensure the safety of all Canadians.
As members of this House know, in June 2011 our government committed to supporting a clinical trial. On November 25, 2011, the Minister of Health along with Dr. Alain Beaudet, president of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, announced that CIHR was ready to accept proposals for a phase I and phase II clinical test on CCSVI. Based on the independent advice of the scientific expert working group, CIHR formally opened the request for proposals in November 2011. Hon. members would be pleased to know that this research is a collaborative initiative between CIHR and the MS Society of Canada. The MS Society has told us that it supports further investigation of CCSVI.
Thorough investigation is the appropriate response with any new medical procedure. While this is difficult for many patients to hear, particularly those with a disease like MS, we need to ensure that procedures are safe before they are made available to Canadians. The principles of disciplined scientific investigation cannot be cast aside, despite the initial hope that has come with the procedure proposed by Dr. Zamboni. That would not be sound medical practice nor would it be fair to MS patients. A clinical trial is the first step. Clinical trials seek evidence on patient outcomes. The main objective of the forthcoming clinical trial will determine whether the angioplasty procedure on veins is safe and effective.
In the coming weeks, CIHR will establish an international peer review committee to review the research proposals it receives. CIHR will announce the successful research team in the coming months. It is critical to move at the appropriate pace on this important matter. An international scientific committee recently reviewed a proposal from Dr. Zamboni himself to conduct a large-scale clinical trial on CCSVI in Italy. The committee concluded that a clinical trial on the safety and efficacy of the proposed procedure should come first.
In other words, they concluded that a smaller scale trial is the way to go at this stage to ensure that the procedures are safe. This is exactly what we are doing right here in Canada.
Bill C-280 also calls for the establishment of an expert panel to advise the minister on the CCSVI treatment, identify criteria for clinical trial research proposals, and advise on the standards for diagnosing and treating CCSVI.
Why legislate this process, when a CIHR scientific expert working group has already been reviewing evidence on CCSVI from around the world for some time now? The working group, made up of scientific experts, reviewed studies of CCSVI published between 2009 and 2011. After doing so they recommended the launch of a request for applications for a clinical trial, and provided terms of reference to guide that research.
Bill C-280 also says that the expert advisory group should advise the government on CCSVI treatment standards. The scientific expert working group is already doing this. For example, in the fall of 2011, a group of experts identified the best procedures for standardizing imaging of veins in the neck and brain. These procedures will be incorporated into the design of the clinical trial. They will ensure consistent assessment of the presence of CCSVI in clinical trial participants.
The CIHR scientific expert working group is already advising the federal government on how best to proceed with regard to CCSVI and MS patients. Bill C-280 would require that the government track individuals who have received the CCSVI procedure. Here again the government has been out front on this issue.
In March 2011, the Minister of Health announced the creation of a Canadian MS monitoring system. This system will gather and share new knowledge on the use of MS treatments across Canada and their long-term outcomes. This information will be useful for Canadians living with MS, for the health care professionals who manage their care and for the researchers who are working toward a better understanding of this disease. The system is currently being developed by the Canadian Institute for Health Information, an independent organization that analyzes information on the health system and the health of Canadians. With information from the monitoring system, CIHI will produce results on the status of MS and its treatment in Canada.
The bill before the House also calls for a conference of provincial and territorial ministers to develop a national strategy. This is unnecessary. The government has been collaborating with the provinces and territories from the outset.
For example, members will have noted that the clinical trial announcement was made by the minister at the federal-provincial-territorial health ministers meeting in Halifax on November 25, 2011. CIHR is committed to working with the provinces and territories as it moves forward with the trial.
The deputy minister of health for Manitoba attends meetings at the scientific expert working group as a provincial-territorial representative.
To conclude, the government has already acted on the key elements of this bill. We have proceeded with prudence and caution to keep Canadians safe. We are relying on the best available scientific evidence. The initiatives implemented by the government have been supported by a wide range of stakeholders, including the MS Society of Canada. The MS Society has applauded the spirit of collaboration between the federal, provincial and territorial governments, and continues to support our work.
It is clear that the research evidence on CCSVI is mixed. In this respect, I would remind the House that well-intentioned medical therapies implemented without adequate research can and have led to unintended negative consequences for patients. That is why medical research has developed rigorous methodologies to test new theories. As legislators, we have a responsibility to allow that research to run its course. It is our duty as parliamentarians to ensure that these procedures are safe for Canadians.
The Government of Canada has put in place the steps to support ethical research, grounded in international standards of excellence. Like all Canadians, we are seeking to better understand the impact this procedure might have on the quality of life of MS patients. We have taken steps and opened dialogue in collaborations with provinces and territories, the medical community and representatives of MS patients.
This is the responsible and prudent approach that balances the need for action and patient safety. The government has a plan of action. Through federal leadership, funding and collaboration, it is moving that plan forward. Our government is acting to give MS patients the answers they need regarding CCSVI.
This bill would neither contribute to those answers nor improve the processes already underway to further our understanding of MS and CCSVI. Quite simply, most of what this bill asks for is already being done. What is more, in my mind, it raises real questions as to whether the bill would be an appropriate use of our legislative authority.
For all these reasons, while I understand and share the goodwill and intentions behind this bill, I cannot support it.