Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB
Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to rise and address Bill C-37, certainly a very important discussion as we confront what is a national crisis around drug use. However, we have seen a funny pattern from government members, where they draw our attention to a significant problem yet actually refuse to collaborate in a non-partisan way to move these things forward. That is very clearly on the record. Members can laugh, but this is not a funny topic, and it is not funny that we tried to move this forward quickly and the Liberals got in the way.
Let us review the record of what happened. The bill contains certain provisions that are vital for addressing the challenges we face. It also, though, contains a provision that would remove effective community engagement on supervised injection sites. We have a big problem with that, and I will talk about why that is later on in my speech.
It is important for people to understand what the government has done here. Recognizing the need to move quickly on certain provisions but also the need to have thorough debate on this one particular provision on community consultation, our very hard-working member for Oshawa, our health critic, brought forward a request for unanimous consent to split the bill.
What he proposed was very reasonable, and it would have effectively addressed this issue. What he proposed was to split the bill into two sections. The sections on which we all agreed there be urgent action, and I will talk about what those are, he and all of us would agree to immediately deem adopted at third reading, fully adopted by the House, and sent to the Senate. Very likely the Senate would have moved quickly on that as well. Those provisions could already be law today and already addressing this problem right now as we speak. That was our proposal brought forward by the member for Oshawa.
However, the government said no. Why? It insisted that removing an effective voice for communities in the process had to be tied to these other important life-saving measures. It was the Liberals' decision to slow this down by refusing to split the bill. In fact, the offer we proposed in our unanimous consent motion was not just to expedite the provisions on which we agreed. It was also to immediately deem referred to the Standing Committee on Health the provisions on which we disagreed. We were even willing to move that immediately to committee for study while immediately adopting those things on which we agreed. This is how we proposed to work in a non-partisan fashion to move quickly on the things we could move quickly on to get this done.
The government, while pleading about the need and the urgency of this crisis, actually refused to give unanimous consent to our proposal to expedite those sections. Given the strong words coming from the health minister and other members of the government, it is utterly shameful that they refused to work to move this forward.
I would like to highlight the sections of the bill we agree on and the sections of the bill that could today already be law had the government been willing to work in a non-partisan manner. They will still become law eventually, but it is unfortunate that we were not able to move on the timeline we wanted.
The bill proposes to regulate the import of pill presses. Currently, pill presses, which are used for putting together illegal drugs, can be imported freely. The bill contains important provisions that would have any pill press imported registered with Health Canada and that would give our border services officials the authority to detain unregistered pill presses at the border. This is a very important measure that we have strongly supported. It could be law today if the government had been willing to work to expedite this in a non-partisan manner.
Another great provision in the bill would increase prohibitions against certain actions related to controlled substances. This would enhance the ability of the government to stop, in this instance, the transportation of illicit substances. It would enhance the power to do that under the relevant legislation. Again, it is a very positive provision. It would be making a difference if it were law today. It is something we could have moved forward on more quickly.
The bill would grant increased powers to the Canada Border Services Agency to open and inspect packages entering Canada, packages that it suspects may contain contraband such as drugs. Again, it is an important provision that CBSA be given the power to move forward and open packages that it believes contain illicit substances. Again, there is no reason anyone should oppose that. That is why it should have been done by now. It should have been passed quickly. It would have been passed quickly had the government agreed to work with the opposition and split the bill, as we proposed.
In terms of the category of things we agree on, the bill proposes temporarily accelerated scheduling, essentially allowing the Minister of Health to quickly, but temporarily, schedule and control new drugs and substances under the relevant legislation. This is important, because we have seen new drugs coming to the fore on a regular basis. These powers are important.
Four out of the five changes that we would say yes to on this side of the House could already have been law today had the government been willing to work with us.
Why was it so important for us to raise concerns and to insist on further debate on the one provision on which we disagree? The government is proposing to change the community consultation process on supervised injection sites. I have talked before about broader concerns about supervised injection sites. I know that there are many Canadians who do not believe we should have legal islands that allow people to use drugs legally. If we want to send the strongest possible message about the dangers of drug use, we may want to be optimistic in our compassion instead of pessimistic in our compassion. Many Canadians reflecting on that have broader concerns about these supervised injection sites.
Let us be very clear. That is not the question in this legislation. The question in this legislation is the degree to which, and the nature of how, communities should be engaged in the conversation about that.
The original provisions that were put in place under the previous government established some key requirements with respect to how communities had to be engaged. There had to be strong engagement with the community to maximize the chances that these types of facilities would be successful. The previous legislation put in place a reasonable process to get that done.
The government is proposing in this legislation to significantly pare down any kind of engagement. Previously, there was a requirement that the period of consultation be at least 90 days. The new provisions would allow a period of consultation of up to 90 days. There would actually be no minimum. They could spend two days undertaking the consultation. The requirements in the legislation they put forward are pared down. It says:
An application for an exemption under subsection (1) shall include information, submitted in the form and manner determined by the Minister, regarding the intended public health benefits of the site and information, if any, related to (a) the impact of the site on crime rates; (b) the local conditions indicating a need for the site; (c) the administrative structure in place to support the site; (d) the resources available to support the maintenance of the site; and (e) expressions of community support or opposition.
They have to provide some of that basic information.
They would satisfy the provisions of the new bill if applicants simply said that they talked to a few people in the community about opening a supervised injection site and no one liked it, but at least they talked to some people. That would be sufficient under the proposed legislation.
Let us talk about what the Liberals took out. We hear a lot from the government about the importance of scientific evidence. Actually, the existing application requirements we put in place require “scientific evidence demonstrating that there is a medical benefit to individual or public health associated with access to activities undertaken at supervised consumption sites”. Among other things, the previous legislation actually requires that scientific evidence be presented on what the impacts would be in the context of the application. That would be removed by these new requirements.
We put requirements in place for consultation with local law enforcement and local governments, which are going to be called upon to respond to the challenges and situations that are in place. Those were things that were in place before and would now be pulled back.
One of the defences we hear often from the government and the NDP about supervised injections sites is that there are actually some drug treatment services available at the sites. I know that still does not allay many people's concerns, but the consultation process that currently exists, that we put in place, requires that a description of drug treatment services available at the site be provided with the application. If people are going to apply to open a supervised injection site, they actually have to provide information to the government about the kind of drug treatment services that would be available.
If that is one of the key arguments for allowing supervised injection sites, because it seems that it is, listening to the comments that have been made, then it should be particularly emphasized and required that the person who is applying to open a supervised injection site actually provide some information to the government about what is going to exist in that space vis-à-vis drug treatment. That should be there.
The existing legislation requires, for example, that we have criminal record checks for those who are going to be involved with these facilities. There are a lot of important requirements the existing legislation has in place, and these are basic things, like consultation and engagement with the community and providing information about what is going to be in place in terms of support for people who are trying to get off drugs.
All these things should be there, but we have this vastly pared down proposal in terms of what would actually be required for the application. It is going to be so much easier for people to apply to open these supervised injection sites, and there are no requirements to ensure that we will have the due diligence in place.
Again, members can debate the merits of supervised injection sites, but the existing legislation at least ensures that they are doing the kinds of things they are supposed to be doing. The new proposed legislation by the government completely turns the page on that by not engaging communities and not requiring the kind of due diligence we included in that application at all.
I will conclude by saying again that we had an opportunity to move forward with those provisions on which we all agree. Those could be law today, but instead, we are still debating the entire bill, because the government refused to split it. The Liberals brought in closure on these important community consultation measures.
I say that we move forward with the things that will save lives now, but let us continue an important conversation about whether communities should be engaged when these types of injection sites are opened.
I think it is important that communities be engaged in conversations. I believe that communities are compassionate and that they care about these issues. It is not only the federal government that cares. If we engage communities, if we engage local law enforcement, we will get better solutions that will be more responsive to the needs of the community and will be more likely to solve this problem.
The government needs to know that it cannot fix this problem on its own. It needs to work with the opposition. It needs to work with other levels of government. It needs to work with communities. If we are going to address this problem, we need more voices at the table and more collaboration. That is what we are standing for in the opposition, and that is why, in its current form, I have to oppose the bill.