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House of Commons Hansard #96 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was drugs.

Topics

Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

3:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Motions for PapersRoutine Proceedings

3:30 p.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all notices of motions for the production of papers be allowed to stand.

Motions for PapersRoutine Proceedings

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Is that agreed?

Motions for PapersRoutine Proceedings

3:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Opposition Motion—Drug ShortagesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

March 14th, 2012 / 3:30 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

moved:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should: (a) in cooperation with provinces, territories and industry, develop a nationwide strategy to anticipate, identify, and manage shortages of essential medications; (b) require drug manufacturers to report promptly to Health Canada any planned disruption or discontinuation in production; and (c) expedite the review of regulatory submissions in order to make safe and effective medications available to the Canadian public.

Opposition Motion—Drug ShortagesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Since today is the final allotted day for the supply period ending March 26, 2012, the House will go through the usual procedures to consider and dispose of the supply bills. In view of recent practices, do hon. members agree that the bills be distributed now?

Opposition Motion—Drug ShortagesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Opposition Motion—Drug ShortagesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in the House today to begin the debate on the NDP motion dealing with the current very difficult situation with drug shortages. I will be sharing my time with the member for Beauharnois—Salaberry.

As members know, this motion follows an emergency debate on Monday. I would like to thank the Speaker for allowing that debate to take place. It was a very important opportunity for members of the House to express their concerns and perspectives on the issue of the current crisis of drug shortages and, more important, to put forward suggestions and ideas about what we should do to deal with that shortage. The fact that we had the debate on Monday was a very good first step.

I am very pleased today that the NDP is presenting the motion, which will be voted on later. We are very much hoping that all members in the House from all sides will come together. As the Leader of the Opposition said today in question period, we must work together to protect patients in our country. That is certainly the intent and the belief contained within the motion.

The motion states:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should: (a) in cooperation with provinces, territories and industry, develop a nationwide strategy to anticipate, identify, and manage shortages of essential medications; (b) require drug manufacturers to report promptly to Health Canada any planned disruption or discontinuation in production; and (c) expedite the review of regulatory submissions in order to make safe and effective medications available to the Canadian public.

We have had an enormous amount of information in the media. I also know we have all been receiving emails and phone calls about the impact of what the drug shortage is doing in Canada. We know that the crisis we face today specifically was triggered by the shutdown of the Sandoz drug production facility in Quebec.

What really concerns us, and the reason we wanted to bring this forward, is we believe this production shutdown and this crisis could have been prevented. If there had been an adequate plan in place by the federal government, we would not be here today debating the motion. Nor would we have had the emergency debate on Monday.

We know that Sandoz supplies 90% of all the injectable medications in Canada, and 100% of the narcotic painkillers and sedatives. This is obviously a very important facility and its shutdown had a very immediate impact.

I want to spend a few minutes talking about that impact. We know that the shortage is having the most serious impact on patients who are in intensive care units and those who are dying and are in need of pain management. We can only begin to imagine the stress and anxiety that places on patients who are in very difficult circumstances, but also on their families and loved ones. This is something that is very compelling.

We also know that injectable opioids are the main method for pain control for surgery, post-operative care and for any hospital admission. With the hospitals running low on these drugs, they are now being forced to cancel elective surgeries in order to save these medications for severely ill patients. We can see the domino effect that is beginning to take place in hospitals across the country.

We have also heard from nurses who work in palliative care. These people are on the front line. They have noted that for many people in palliative care, they are dependent on injectable opioids since they cannot take medications orally.

One of the things I was just horrified to hear was the reports from the Canadian Pain Society. It has told us that it has seen an increase in people who are putting out calls for help because they feel suicidal. They are very concerned that they will be unable to manage their chronic pain without the necessary medications.

We have also heard that people dealing with epilepsy are facing shortages and are very concerned about whether they will be able to have access to drugs. As well, individuals going through transgender surgery are also facing very difficult circumstances.

Although this immediate crisis was triggered by the shutdown of the Sandoz plant, I want to make it very clear that this, unfortunately, is not a new situation. As far back as September 2010, there were many reports across the country about drug shortages. In fact, the Canadian Pharmacists Association did a survey of its members and astoundingly 93.7% indicated they had trouble locating medications to fill a prescription in a week and 89% of the pharmacists surveyed indicated that drug shortages had greatly increased in the previous year. Already we were seeing a very difficult situation.

It seems pretty incredible that people can go to a pharmacy thinking they will get their prescription refilled only to find out the drug is not available and everyone is put into a scramble. Just imagine the time and resources that takes.

I want to make the point that although we have had a particular situation right now with Sandoz, this has been a more structural and systemic problem in Canada, and indeed globally. Unfortunately, it has been a problem, and now a crisis, to which the federal government has not responded.

We know the federal government set up a working group in 2010. It has eight organizations in it, largely made up of industry. There is no patient representative organization on the group. However, the big problem is it was to come up with suggestions for a voluntary system. As we know, that has been completely ineffective. If it were effective, we would not have had an emergency debate on Monday and we would not have this debate today.

I know there are different perspectives, and I will get into the jurisdiction question, but the fact is the measures that the federal government put in place have simply not worked. They have failed and we have pointed that out repeatedly every day in question period and in the debates that we have had.

What happened was the provincial jurisdictions, in the absence of effective federal leadership, took it upon themselves to try to solve the problem. I applaud them for that, but they are left scrambling to try to figure out what to do. We know that health ministers from B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec have been working together, through calls, working groups and so on, to determine how they can share the current supply and obtain a new sustainable supply. The health minister from Alberta, Mr. Fred Horne, put it best when he said, “We're not going to stand by and simply wait to hear from Sandoz or the federal government”. They could not. They had to jump in and do something in the absence of any plan or action.

We need to reflect and acknowledge that the responses the federal government gave, particularly from the Minister of Health, have been absolutely inadequate and have fallen far short of what needs to be done.

Umpteen times now in the House, in question period and in committee, I have heard the Minister of Health deal with the jurisdiction question. It seemed like the Conservatives were blaming everyone else for the problem, rather than looking at what they could proactively do.

I do not believe this debate is about jurisdiction. It is not about the federal government delivering health care services or treading on provincial jurisdiction. It is about the federal government's responsibility, under the Canada Health Act, to deal with this crisis. Therefore, let us get off the jurisdiction thing and figure out what we will actually do about it.

We have put forward some very concrete proposals in our motion that we believe will deal with both the short-term immediate crisis as well as long term. We want to see a nationwide strategy, in co-operation with provinces and territories and industry. We want to have reporting required. This is a key point. The voluntary reporting has not worked, so many people are now calling for mandatory reporting. That is very important.

In closing, I appeal to all members and all parties in the House to work together on this issue. I am very hopeful that this motion will pass. We will be voting on it tonight, so it is very immediate. We can show the goodwill of the House to deal with this problem in a non-partisan way and also that we can take action at the federal level, working with our provincial and territorial counterparts and with industry as well both on the short-term immediate crisis and on a plan for the longer term. If we have that commitment, we will restore some credibility and faith with the Canadian public that we can deal with this crisis.

Opposition Motion—Drug ShortagesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Oshawa Ontario

Conservative

Colin Carrie ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the speech by my colleague who sits on the health committee. One of the biggest problems we are having here is misinformation. The member for Vancouver East said that elective surgeries were being cancelled in Vancouver. This is based on an inaccurate story in the media. Hospital officials corrected the record and confirmed that the surgeries are happening today.

My concern is that members are blowing things up without checking the facts. Why does the member not check her facts?

Opposition Motion—Drug ShortagesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, we do our utmost to ensure that all the information we are presenting is accurate. Certainly the media is one source of information, but it is not the only source. We have had many emails from people in the field, front-line health care workers, including from Vancouver. Obviously this is something I want to pay attention to because it is my hometown.

I am puzzled by the member's question. It does not deal with the substance. Is he saying there is not a problem? If he is saying that, come on. The fact is that all of the information tells us that we have a really serious problem. I would much prefer if the parliamentary secretary would tell us what he and his government are going to do to deal with the current situation rather than focusing on one small point. Let us get to the substance of this and get some remedies.

Opposition Motion—Drug ShortagesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Robert Chisholm NDP Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I have a few facts in which the member opposite may be interested. We had the emergency debate on Monday and we talked about this issue. One of my constituents, a veterinary physician at an emergency animal hospital in my riding, sent me a note to say that it not only affects humans, but it also affects animals. Veterinarians are having problems. They have to come up with new protocols. They are trying to figure out how to treat the animals in their care because they are the last ones to get the medications after humans. It is putting a great deal of stress and pressure on their practices and their ability to serve their clients.

Does the member share my concern that there are more Canadians who are being affected by this problem than the government is prepared to admit?

Opposition Motion—Drug ShortagesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, something I was not aware of was how the shortages affect veterinarians and their treatment of animals and people's pets. We can see how this situation is widening and it is only going to deepen unless we come to grips with the situation internationally and certainly here in Canada.

I am very concerned that the U.S. has taken much stronger action. In Monday's debate I read into the record some of the information about President Obama's response to this crisis and the fact that Congress is taking very strong action.

Clearly, the federal government has an enormous amount of power to deal with this situation which affects humans first and foremost, but which spreads throughout our society.

I thank the member for bringing forward this information. It tells us just how wide this crisis is.

Opposition Motion—Drug ShortagesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Ted Hsu Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for talking about the effects on Canadians of the shutdown at Sandoz. This problem has been going on for almost two years now. Another aspect of this problem is that it affects generic drugs more than brand name drugs.

In that case, it does not get noticed by certain groups of people, for example, people who are covered by drug plans. This happened to my father. He was taking a generic drug and then had his prescription changed. He asked why his prescription had changed. There is a creeping change. People on drug plans do not notice because the costs are taken care of by the drug plan, but there could be costs that are increasing which we do not know about. Would my hon. colleague agree that some study is needed to look at how this is affecting the overall cost of our health care system?

Opposition Motion—Drug ShortagesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member made an important comment. Further examination is required as to what has taken place within the industry. Suggestions have been made that some of the shortages have to do with the fact that companies are downplaying the cheaper generics or putting them out of production in favour of much more expensive newer drugs under the generic cover. This could be exacerbated through the comprehensive economic and trade agreement, CETA, that is being negotiated with the European Union. There are many concerns that it would raise the cost of generic drugs. It is a complex issue and it does require examination.

Let us deal with the crisis right now. Let us also examine how to get control over what is happening in this very powerful market to make sure that the needs of Canadians for pain medications and medications in general come first.

Opposition Motion—Drug ShortagesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

NDP

Anne Minh-Thu Quach NDP Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Vancouver East for her very pointed speech. She has a great deal of compassion, and she quickly realizes what needs to be done and what action the government should take to effectively ensure Canadians' health and safety.

I am very proud to speak today about the proposals in the opposition motion to find a permanent solution for and to resolve the current drug shortage, which has also occurred on a number of occasions in the past. Canadians, health experts and patients are asking the federal government to take action to ensure the safety of the health system. A federal plan is needed and is long overdue. At present, there is no plan, hence the crisis at the Sandoz plant and Monday night's emergency debate.

Falling ill or waiting for surgery already creates a great deal of stress. Imagine how patients across the country feel as they wonder whether their hospital will have the drugs needed for their surgery. Not to mention that patients in Gatineau, Quebec, will have to wait longer for surgery because of the Canada-wide shortage of injectable drugs. It is unbelievable that the shutdown of production at a single plant, the Sandoz plant in Quebec, could affect all Canadian provinces and territories.How has it come to this?

The provinces of Quebec, Ontario, British Columbia and Saskatchewan recently established a plan to manage the current shortage. They are working with the hospitals to verify drug inventories and identify alternative products. Some injectable drugs can be replaced by tablets or other products. However, changes in medications always pose risks. We do not know how the patient will react or if there will be any adverse effects. In short, it is truly a temporary solution.

At this time, Sandoz has resumed partial production of medications. However, the shortage could last months, or even a year, before supply is able to meet demand.

What is the federal government doing? It is reacting to the crisis instead of being proactive, and it is reacting too late. Yesterday, in a CBC interview, the director general of Health Canada's Biologics and Genetic Therapies Directorate confirmed that the agency was speeding up the licensing process to import essential drugs quickly. Health Canada must nevertheless ensure that these products comply with Canadian quality and safety standards. How will Health Canada inspect drugs and factories? Will it have enough people to do that?

Let us not forget that, in his fall 2011 report, the Auditor General found that in 2009 and 2010 the department was not proceeding with regulatory activities quickly enough and that it could take up to two years for new drugs to get through the review process. When the federal government is slow to approve new drugs, that has an impact on the entire supply chain.

Our motion calls on the government to expedite the review of regulatory submissions in order to make safe and effective medications available to the Canadian public. We are asking the federal government to play its part and ensure that, going forward, all Canadians have access to essential medications. This is particularly important for individuals waiting for cancer drugs; their lives are on the line.

These drug shortages occur regularly. In Quebec alone, in 2008, 38 drugs were out of stock; 63 were out of stock in 2009, and 116 in 2010. It makes no sense. It is only increasing; the situation is getting worse year after year. Contrary to what the government has said since the beginning of the crisis, it is responsible for some aspects of health care. The federal government is responsible for protection and regulation in health care, for example, the regulation of pharmaceutical products, food and medical devices. That is precisely what this crisis is about. The federal government is also responsible for consumer safety and disease surveillance and prevention.

The Canada Health Act is clear: Health Canada has a duty to regulate drugs and monitor their safety and quality. That comes under federal jurisdiction. Need I remind the House that, in our federation, both custom and the Constitution compel the federal government to co-operate with the provinces?

This government seems to have forgotten the basic principles of our country and the of Canada Health Act. Instead of blaming the provinces, it should sit down with them and with the pharmaceutical industry in order to establish a national strategy to anticipate, identify and better manage shortages of essential medications. That is exactly what we are proposing here today. And the official opposition is not the only one saying this. I would like to quote Dr. John Haggie, President of the Canadian Medical Association:

We need the federal government to use all of its leverage with pharmaceutical manufacturers, including economic inducements, to ensure Canadian patients get medicines they need.

The Canadian Cancer Society agrees:

The Canadian Cancer Society urges the federal Minister of Health to provide leadership to address this critical health care issue by:

ensuring there is mandatory listing of unavailable drugs by drug manufacturers;

developing early warning systems to identify potential drug shortages;

assisting hospitals and provinces in dealing with drug shortages.

Why does the federal government not want to legislate this? It is so quick to interfere in labour disputes, at Canada Post and at Air Canada, as it did yesterday.

Take, for example, the isotope shortage in 2007. The shutdown of the Chalk River reactor created a shortage of isotopes, products that are needed in the treatment and diagnosis of diseases such as cancer.

At the time, the Conservative government took immediate action to address the shortage. The federal government's inaction with regard to the current shortage flies in the face of the law and the government's jurisdiction, not to mention the Minister of Health's commitments. Yesterday, in the Standing Committee on Health, the minister said that sustainability will come from innovation and co-operation and that providing Canadians with the information they need is key to optimum population health.

I do not know whether she was listening to her own words, but she is not practising what she preaches. If all those principles are important to her, what is she waiting for to establish a mandatory reporting system in which pharmaceutical companies must disclose information about the supply of essential drugs. Patients' quality of life depends on it. It is all well and good for her to say that the mandatory registry is not a miracle solution—and that is true—but her current plan is completely ineffective.

Her answer therefore gives me the opportunity to say that the federal government needs to develop an effective and sustainable long-term plan to address the current shortages. The Ordre des pharmaciens du Québec is of the opinion that the federal government must also play a role to better manage drug supplies, and that this information is essential in order to prevent other shortages from happening in the future. Drugs are different from other consumer goods. No one chooses to be sick nor what the appropriate treatment will be.

In light of this crisis, it is urgent that the federal government finally demonstrate leadership to protect Canadians' health in the long term. The solutions are clear and simple. They are the three parts of our motion, which I will repeat: in co-operation with the provinces, territories and industry, develop a nationwide strategy to anticipate, identify, and manage shortages of essential medications; require drug manufacturers to report promptly to Health Canada any disruption or discontinuation in production; and expedite the review of regulatory submissions in order to make safe and effective medications available to the Canadian public.

This is the constructive, sustainable and concrete proposal being made by the NDP to eliminate the problem of drug shortages. I hope that the government will listen to reason and support this motion today.

Opposition Motion—Drug ShortagesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Conservative

Mark Strahl Conservative Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to listen to the speech by my colleague from the health committee. My question for her is really a question of jurisdiction. The NDP has often had no problem intruding in areas of provincial jurisdiction, but that was before the composition of that party changed in the election.

Certainly, we have heard at health committee concerns about stepping on the provinces' toes. We have heard a lot about mandatory regulations and regulatory changes needed.

Is the member advocating that Ottawa should step in and tell the provinces how to purchase their pharmaceuticals and intrude on that area of provincial jurisdiction? How will that go over with the Government of Quebec?

Opposition Motion—Drug ShortagesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

NDP

Anne Minh-Thu Quach NDP Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, the question is pathetic given that the provinces are demanding that the federal government take action and we are proposing that it co-operate with the provinces to find solutions. The Canadian Cancer Society, the Canadian Medical Association, the pharmacists, everyone is asking the federal government to take action to help prevent future shortages.

What does the federal government not understand? It is washing its hands and passing the buck. It says it can do nothing because this is a provincial jurisdiction, even though the Canada Health Act states that the federal government must legislate on all matters pertaining to drug safety, that is, the effectiveness and quality of medications.

At present, patients are suffering as they wait for drugs. And all that the government says is that it cannot intervene and it is up to the provinces.

Opposition Motion—Drug ShortagesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Liberal

Ted Hsu Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Mr. Speaker, I agree that it is deplorable for this government to not assume responsibility for this international problem.

My question to my hon. colleague is about the voluntary system of reporting.

I think that over the last year, if we talked to doctors and pharmacists, we knew that the system was not working. The websites that listed the drug shortages and potential drug shortages did not match what they were seeing on the ground in the pharmacies, hospitals and doctors' offices. We knew that from a Liberal Party round table that was organized last year to discuss the issue of drug shortages. I do not think we need the Sandoz closure to tell us this.

Is my hon. colleague confident that, with this mandatory system of reporting in place, the government will check to make sure that it is working?

Opposition Motion—Drug ShortagesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

NDP

Anne Minh-Thu Quach NDP Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the Liberal member for his question.

Of course, I truly hope that the government will listen to the pleas from the provinces, experts in the health care field and patients who all want a mandatory system that requires pharmaceutical companies to inform people—hospitals and the federal and provincial governments, at least—about the available supply of essential drugs. That is a start. The President of the United States has called for such measures. We do not have anything like that in Canada.

The current crisis is proof that the voluntary system does not work. If it worked, we would not be here talking about it. Instead of trying to point fingers, we are proposing solutions and proactive ways to eradicate the problem of shortages so that this never happens again and so that patients do not have to worry about whether they will get the treatment they need.

Everyone wants to work together: ourselves, patients, doctors and hospitals. We hope that the Conservative government will get on board and vote in favour of this motion.

Opposition Motion—Drug ShortagesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Nunavut Nunavut

Conservative

Leona Aglukkaq ConservativeMinister of Health and Minister of the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency

Mr. Speaker, much debate has taken place in the House this week regarding drug supply issues. It is a very important debate not only to members but many Canadians and those who care for them. The current supply issues we are facing arose from a business decision made by Sandoz Canada that, unfortunately, lacked planning early on. It created a decrease in supply that we are all working together to fix.

Last November, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration notified Sandoz of concerns it had about one product at its Boucherville plant in Quebec that was not produced for the Canadian market. Similar FDA findings were also made about two Sandoz plants in the United States. It is important to note that at no time did the FDA find that its concerns were of such gravity to require Sandoz to stop producing at any of the facilities. The FDA simply warned Sandoz about concerns and wanted to know what plans Sandoz had for addressing those concerns.

Following up on the FDA findings, my department inspected the plant and found it to be compliant with our rules for safe quality production for the product it was providing to the Canadian market. My officials held discussions with the company about how it planned to address the FDA findings. The size and scope of the company's production cutbacks were never fully revealed until last month. Its officials informed my department and its customers that it was cutting some production, including products that were medically necessary. Sandoz made this decision without first finding alternative sources for its customers who need these drugs. To make things worse, a couple of weeks ago my officials became aware of a fire at the Boucherville plant.

Sandoz made a business decision, but its impacts are far reaching. We know that our health system relies on safe, secure and reliable supply chains for drugs. Access to medications involves many people. It only works when all work together to ensure the right drugs are available at the right time, when patients need them.

Health Canada is this country's regulator with regard to the safety, quality and effectiveness of the drugs available in Canada. Doctors prescribe the drugs and pharmacists dispense the drugs. Provinces and territories are responsible for the delivery of health care. They know the needs of the Canadians they serve, they know what drugs are consumed and in what quantities. They know what to order when entering into contracts with the pharmaceutical industry. They are also responsible for the terms of these contracts. They make the decisions to enter into sole-source contracts and should be aware of the consequences. Finally, it is the drug companies that manufacture and supply the drugs to their customers, namely, the provinces and territories, as per the contract they have negotiated.

In order for the system to work, each player must do its part. We all must work together. Canadians can rest assured that our government is doing its part. We are doing everything within our power to help minimize the supply issue for hospitals and patients. We have been working around the clock to provide support to the provinces and territories as they manage their drug supplies for their jurisdictions. Let me take a moment to highlight some of those activities.

We are bringing the provinces, territories and federal care providers together on a regular basis with Sandoz Canada. This is to ensure they have critical updates on information. We are making sure they have the information they need to help make informed choices about supply decisions. We have provided the provinces and territories access to information on those companies that are already licensed to produce drugs identified as being in shortage. This information is also on Health Canada's website and is open and accessible to all Canadians.

I have been in contact with some of my provincial counterparts to discuss the challenges we are facing and met with some members of industry to discuss their role in resolving this current situation and a long-term solution. We have contacted our regulatory partners in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, as well as in Europe. They have provided us with a list of potential suppliers. We have shared this information with the provinces and territories in an effort to help them secure alternative supply arrangements.

We offer 24-7 emergency service to help facilitate access to critical medicines so that physicians are able to provide the care and treatment patients need as soon as possible. This is what Canadians want and we are delivering.

However, we have not stopped there. We are fast-tracking approvals for products, including those produced abroad and approved by trusted counterparts. We are working with our international partners to share safety data to help speed up our reviews. While we are quickly authorizing these approvals, Canadians can rest assured that Health Canada is not taking any shortcuts when it comes to protecting their health and safety. Alternative products and alternative suppliers of these critical drugs must meet our safety standards. Drugs we approve must be effective and meet quality and safety standards.

We have been in constant contact with Sandoz, working with it to ensure company officials appropriately and safely resolve any concerns. In addition, I wrote to Sandoz urging it to improve the information it is making publicly available on drug shortages. Sandoz has responded. I information on current and projected supply is being communicated. Canadians and the health system they rely upon are getting the information needed to plan for and adjust accordingly.

These efforts are paying off. Sandoz is working to come up with a plan to solve problems that interrupted production and created the supply issue. The company is also working to find alternative suppliers to make up for the shortfall from its production line.

My department is currently reviewing approximately 15 submissions that could create an alternate supply. My officials are fast-tracking these reviews so we have solutions for the weeks and months ahead.

Under normal circumstances, we usually complete authorizations for similar generic drugs within six months. However, to help health care providers get access to replacement supplies of drugs that they normally get from Sandoz Canada's plant, we have committed to expediting all phases of the drug review process as much as possible. We anticipate being able to make decisions on some of those applications within a matter of a few weeks.

We are doing our part. By working within our regulatory framework, we believe that we have the tools that can help ease the shortages as they arise.

Industry, the provinces and the territories also have tools at their disposal that can help deal with the current supply situation. They need to step up and fulfill their roles and responsibilities so patients get the care they need.

While these actions respond to the current situations, Canadians should know that we are not stopping there. Drug supply interruptions are seen worldwide. However, our health system is resilient. It has some of the most creative, passionate and caring professionals working to provide the highest level of care to Canadians. We must not take that for granted. The health system needs information in advance so that it can plan and adjust. Given time and information, our incredible health care professionals can adapt.

That is why I initiated a process with industry early last year to provide a long-term solution for adequate drug supply. I wrote to industry with a request to find an efficient way to inform those who are purchasing drugs of current and potential supply interruptions and to work to reduce the number of shortages.

Through this process, we continue to work with industry to ensure that the health system gets enough advanced notice so that treatment plans can be smoothly adjusted. On this point, notification is essential for planning. Advance warning in the system can help pharmacists and hospitals use measures to prepare for upcoming periods of tight supply.

Without notification, we all recognize that this creates a challenging situation for all. Patients may not get the drugs they need and health care professionals may have to adjust treatment plans. Without question, lack of planning and notification creates a difficult situation for many.

Industry and health care professional associations have come together and responded to my call for action. The plan they tabled provided for a phased approach to responding to this complex issue. The first phase, which was completed this past fall, was the posting of drug shortages on two public websites. These websites provide the health system with the information provinces, territories and the health care system need to plan for and respond to impending supply issues. However, these sites are only effective if used properly.

I expect nothing less than timely, accurate and comprehensive reporting of all supply shortages. That is why I have continued to meet with industry and I have insisted that it speed up the implementation of the plan it has tabled with me. Canada needs one website, not two. In addition, I have conveyed my expectations that it must contain timely information on current and anticipated drug supply issues, along with information on alternatives and more information to help the health system plan for and cope with disruptions in supply.

I am pleased to report progress. In response to my calls for increased transparency and acceleration of the tools to inform the health system, industry has responded positively.

Sandoz has committed in writing to improve its transparency. In fact, Sandoz officials responded to my letter for advance notification of shortages in a very positive manner. They agreed to post information about the current drug shortages online on the public website and to give 90 days notice of any drug shortages that arises in the future. They also have resumed partial production. This is encouraging and I expect they will live up to their commitment.

With proper notice, we are able to use our tools to help reduce the consequences of drug supply interruptions for patients, their families and health care professionals. As I said earlier, that is exactly what we are doing.

I am pleased to announce that last Monday two industry organizations, the Rx&D and the Canadian Generic Pharmaceutical Association have made a commitment to support the long-term solution. These two industry associations, representing both the brand and generic manufacturers, have also made a public commitment on behalf of all their members to using the public website to post information on drugs that are currently or anticipated to be in shortage. They have also committed resources to accelerate the development of the website.

Given that it is industry that not only makes but profits off the sale of these drugs, I believe it is appropriate that it contributes to the long-term solution. I am pleased to report that it now has made that commitment.

This work will bring industry and professional health care associations closer to doing their part and continue to work on information sharing. It will bring the transparency needed to ensure they create stability in their supply chain to prevent drug shortages from occurring in the first place.

As members can see, In just a short time there is already proof that by working together, industry, provinces, territories and health care professionals, we have already made a difference. Members can rest assured that as we work our way through this, the well-being of every patient will always be our priority.

I will now address an issue that the opposition has repeatedly raised in the House over the past few weeks. In fact, both the NDP and the Liberal Party put up members who repeatedly asked for mandatory reporting by regulation.

Our top priority is getting the information into the hands of the doctors and patients so they can make informed decisions. The quickest and easiest way to do that is if industry and governments can agree on what information is needed and simply make it public in a voluntary way. Giving advance notice, whether it is a voluntary or mandatory activity, only really helps when a drug company plans to shut down production of a drug. No regulation can provide 90 days' notice of a fire in a plant that halts production.

If a drug company is caught making drugs in a plant that compromises the health and safety of Canadians, we cannot let it continue making drugs in that facility for 90 days. A mandatory system of reporting will not change the fact that there is only one company providing over 95% of these drugs to the entire country. It will not solve the root cause of the drug shortages we are currently facing.

The NDP, led by the member for Vancouver East, said on CBC yesterday that the NDP wanted to let the provinces and territories continue to sole source purchasing but then, in the committee, her colleague, the member for Beauharnois—Salaberry, said that the federal government should interfere with provincial operations and pass laws that protect the provinces.

Is the NDP calling on the federal government to pass regulations or laws that would interfere with the provincial jurisdiction for health care? Does it want Ottawa to pass laws that tell provinces and territories how to purchase their drugs?

Our government does not believe that provinces and territories need protection. We have confidence in them. They are the ones that understand the health care needs of their jurisdictions the best.

I am encouraged by the commitment and the willingness of all governments, as well as industry and health care professionals, to work together to improve our current supply issue. I would like to stress that our government will use every tool at our disposal to help minimize the impact of any shortages. As such, we will work to help get access to high quality, safe and effective drugs.

We have obtained a commitment from industry to be more transparent and forthcoming about shortages. We have obtained industry commitment to contribute to the funding of a long-term solution. We will continue working with Sandoz to keep on top of the supply levels at the Boucherville plant so that we can have a better sense of the impact any change might have on the Canadian supply chain.

As I have said, the federal government has acted in the interests of Canadians and it is working. We will continue to provide ways to help the provinces and territories create a drug supply system that does not leave Canadians vulnerable to changes on a single production line. In fact, all of the players in our drug approval supply system have to be sure they are thinking and their planning is always in the best interests of their patients and their needs. We are keeping all options open. Canadians deserve nothing less.

At this time, I would like to move an amendment, seconded by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health. I move:

That the motion be amended by inserting after the words “report promptly to Health Canada” in section (b) the words “and the provinces and territories”.

This would more accurately reflect the important role of the provinces and territories, not only regarding drug supply but to honour their responsibility for the delivery of health care to their Canadian jurisdictions.

I look forward to the comments from the NDP health critic, the member for Vancouver East.

Opposition Motion—Drug ShortagesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

It is my duty to inform hon. members that an amendment to an opposition may be moved only with the consent of the sponsor of the motion. Therefore, I ask the hon. member for Vancouver East if she consents to this amendment being moved?

Opposition Motion—Drug ShortagesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, we agree to the amendment.

Opposition Motion—Drug ShortagesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

The amendment is in order.

Questions and comments. The hon. member for Vancouver East.

Opposition Motion—Drug ShortagesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I listened very carefully to what the Minister of Health had to say. I thank her for the amendment which, as I have just said, we are pleased to accept.

In listening to her comments, I want to stress that the motion talks about requiring reporting on any planned disruption or discontinuation. Obviously, if there is a fire, it is impossible to report it in advance. I believe that is covered in the motion.

I also agree we are all talking about the need for a long-term strategy and to get to the bottom of this. Part (a) of the motion talks about co-operating with other jurisdictions in developing a nationwide strategy, so I assume that with the amendment the minister and the government will be supporting the motion. I just want to make that clear.

Part (c) of the motion talks about expediting the review of regulatory submissions. In her remarks, she said there have been 15 applications that have come in. I know that the provinces, for example, Manitoba, are saying that the biggest priority right now is for the federal government to provide a quick turnaround on the licensing of alternate therapies.

When the minister says it will happen within weeks, I wonder if she could specify a little more what that will mean. Because we do know that the Auditor General, in his fall 2011 report, did raise concerns about the lack of service and process for dealing with these kinds of submissions. We do need to deal with that shortcoming. When the minister says “within a few weeks”, could she possibly spell out what that means in terms of expediting in a safe way those approvals?

Opposition Motion—Drug ShortagesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Leona Aglukkaq Conservative Nunavut, NU

Mr. Speaker, as I said in my comments, we have received about 15 applications. My officials are working 24/7 to review all those applications. In fact, we have also contacted our international counterparts to get assessment data of these various products that are approved in different countries to speed up our processes. Each time that an application is made, we have officials working through them. In the normal course, it would take about six months, but we have said to the provinces and territories to expedite that as quickly as possible. In terms of a specific timeline, dates or hours, I cannot comment on that. What I can say is that we have the mechanisms and the processes in place to review those applications and we hope to have those in the hands of the provinces and territories as soon as possible.

Also, as I stated in my comments earlier this week, we have also provided to the provinces and territories a list of approved companies that can produce these products in Canada. That information is already with the provinces and territories.