Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Fort McMurray—Athabasca for sharing his time with me today. I look forward to visiting his riding this summer, and seeing the resource development of the oil sands and the great things that are happening in Fort McMurray—Athabasca.
It is a pleasure to rise and speak at third reading in favour of Bill C-38, jobs, growth and long-term prosperity act, and the many economic action plan 2012 initiatives that it enacts.
In particular I want to highlight how today's bill reduces pointless bureaucratic red tape to help jump-start Canada's economy. I should note that the measures I will speak to today flow from the work of the Red Tape Reduction Commission.
For over five decades, the Food and Drugs Act has served to protect the health and safety of Canadians by providing them with one of the safest and most rigorous food and drug regulation systems in the world. It has served us well, and continues to serve us well. However, it is reasonable that in over 50 years certain aspects of that act may need to be updated from time to time, especially those that do nothing but harm Canada's economy.
Before I begin, let me clearly state that the changes to the Food and Drugs Act proposed in Bill C-38 do not change the scientific assessment process in any way. I repeat, we are maintaining the current high standards of the act.
What we are targeting is the pointless, antiquated and often times bizarre red tape that presented itself after the scientific assessments were completed, red tape that increased the regulatory burden and creating lengthy delays for businesses to get approved food and drug products to consumers.
At present, once a scientific assessment is completed and a food safety decision is made by the experts at Health Canada, be it concerning the safety of a new food additive, setting the limit for a chemical contaminant or approving a new health claim for food, it can take years to circumvent the red tape required to implement that decision. These delays, between decision and implementation, can impede the entry of safe new food products to the marketplace. This disadvantages Canadian businesses and workers by harming the food and consumer manufacturing sector of the Canadian economy that employs 300,000 Canadians, the largest employer in the manufacturing sector in every region of our country.
It can also limit Health Canada's ability to protect the health and safety of Canadians. For example, under the current system, Health Canada determined that a food additive used to combat harmful bacteria in certain processed meats was safe, but it took 36 months for the required regulatory change to enable the use of this product in Canada.
The targeted amendments to the Food and Drugs Act would eliminate these types of delays. They would improve Health Canada's ability to protect the health and safety of Canadians while cutting red tape. More specifically, these amendments include new authorities that would shorten the time it takes for safe food products to be put on the Canadian market.
Streamlining the regulatory process would significantly reduce the approval time for food additives. These new regulatory tools are marketing authorizations and incorporation by reference. I should note that these amendments have received widespread support.
Food and Consumer Products of Canada has voiced its strong support, saying:
This legislation will give Canadians access to the new and innovative products they are demanding, protect product safety and help our manufacturing sector grow.... We strongly support the federal government's move to address these regulatory delays. [This] will bring Canadians more of the products they have been asking for, support innovation and jobs in our sector, and uphold Canada's exemplary safety standards.
The Retail Council of Canada has also added its voice of support, saying:
These amendments will reduce delays and red tape while maintaining the highest level of food safety in Canada...
...in the past, Health Canada would have to seek a regulatory amendment each time a new use was requested for a food additive that the department had already deemed to be safe; this process could take years. Now, the same process will take a matter of just a few months allowing industry to keep pace with growing and changing demands from consumers...
They also demonstrate the government's ongoing commitment to do away with red tape.
The Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association has also noted that the changes “support efforts to reduce regulation and simplify the process by which new products can come to market”.
Bill C-38 also proposes amendments to reduce the regulatory burden associated with managing Canadians' access to safe, approved drugs. These changes would give Canadians a more responsive drug safety system. As the Red Tape Reduction Commission reported, the current process is burdensome.
Let me take a minute to illustrate exactly what these amendments would and would not do. Currently, for instance, once Health Canada scientists make a decision, the process used to make a simple regulatory change to remove a drug from Schedule F of the Food and Drug Regulations can take years. Implementing a decision to change a drug status from prescription to over-the-counter can be delayed by as much as 24 months after the scientific review. What does this delay between decision and implementation mean? It means a great deal to Canadians and their health care system. Delaying timely access to effective and affordable treatments costs the health care system money. It also costs Canadians.
Under the current system, they must continue to take time off work, go see their doctors, get written prescriptions and then fill them at the pharmacy long after Health Canada's scientists have determined that a particular drug is safe and effective for over-the-counter use. I should note that the science used to assign prescription status would not change at all. As is the case today, the scientific criteria, together with the new process for making changes to the web-based list, would continue to be regulated.
Without a doubt, this portion of Bill C-38 would help replace costly and outdated red tape around drug prescription status. In the words of Consumer Health Products Canada:
Without changing the scientific review process, this measure will eliminate the 12-18 month regulatory delay that currently holds up access to new over-the-counter medicines after Health Canada approval. These consumer health products reduce consumer costs and have been shown to save provincial health care systems money...and this measure will quicken access to those savings.
In conclusion, I would like to encourage all members of the House to support Bill C-38 and its measures to reduce red tape and grow the economy while advantaging Canadian consumers.