House of Commons photo

Elsewhere

Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was health.

Last in Parliament September 2008, as Liberal MP for West Nova (Nova Scotia)

Lost his last election, in 2011, with 36% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Food and Drugs Act April 30th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, that is a very good point. It is a point that is often overlooked by the House when we approve a bill. We saw it with Bill C-10. One small element of a regulation was missed by the House, but luckily it was picked up by the Senate, as it would have led to censorship in our film and television production.

In this case, there are a number of acts, such as the Canadian Food Inspection Agency Act, the Fisheries Act, and some agricultural aspects, which the next speaker will certainly want to raise. The joint administration and the cross-regulation between the Health Act, the Food and Drugs Act and other acts necessitate all these amendments.

These are some of the things that we certainly will be studying at committee. We will ask the Library of Parliament for the analysis, which it does very well. We have had the preliminary one. As well, witnesses will appear who can show us if there will be difficulties within their areas of jurisdiction or administration.

Food and Drugs Act April 30th, 2008

Yes, Mr. Speaker, I believe it is. It gives the tools to the Department of Health. It gives the department the potential to ensure the safety of a product as its use evolves. Currently, all we can do is look at whether the product is safe for the use for which the application was made. With time, the use might become completely different than what was considered when that product was developed and when clinical trials were happening.

As I mentioned in my speaking notes, if we want to make the initial licensing so restrictive and so strict as to ensure our safety on all uses in the future, no therapies would ever come to market. No new drugs and no new therapies would ever become commercialized and Canadians would not have access to them.

I think this is a logical way to do it. It is a smart regulation. I do not know why we would ever have accepted stupid regulation, but this is an intelligent way of having regulation and ensuring safety.

It is important to have the necessary tools and the will at the Department of Health to impose those further clinical trials after the drug has been on the market for a certain amount of time. Again, that is going to require some cooperation from pharmaceutical producers.

Food and Drugs Act April 30th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, I thank all members of the House.

I do not want to shock the minister while he is still present in the House, but it will come as very difficult news to him that for two days in a row we have to find some level of agreement with the bill that he proposes to the House of Commons. I am looking forward to this bill being at committee and to having the opportunity to further explore it.

I am pleased with the answer he gave to the member for Mississauga South. It is consistent with the discussion I had with the parliamentary secretary as to the fears out there about natural health products and natural therapeutic products not being targeted by this bill. I think that fear was out there, so I think this will be necessary. As I understand it, we can be assured of the government's cooperation if modifications have to be made in the definitions or in the bill so that this can be clearly drawn out.

That leaves one area of concern that I have been receiving as critic and which members undoubtedly will hear about. It is the question of direct to consumer advertising. While I understand from the bureaucrats or the minister's officials that there is no intention in this bill to permit direct to consumer advertising, it does somewhat change the way it is dealt with.

In the past it was directly in the bill. The bill said that the only advertising on prescription products would be the name, quantity and price. They were the only things that could be advertised. In this case, my understanding of it is that this gives the governor in council the potential to write regulations concerning advertising.

My understanding is that it is not the intent to open up the advertising, but it does take it out of the hands of Parliament and of the committee. That would cause some concern, so I hope that the government, at committee level, will be willing to look at some modifications to the bill, some amendments that might clarify this.

It could be done in one of two ways. One is that we could do the process that we have used in certain elements of the Health Act, which is to bring the regulations to committee for approval. We could limit it to those regulations concerning advertising, because it does not have to be all the regulations permitted under the act, or an amendment straight to the act. I will give some time for the government to consider those amendments before it comes to the committee. Hopefully, they will be negotiated amendments. If not, I am sure we will have some present.

That being said, I think the principles of this bill are quite good. This is not a bill that has been dreamt up in the last few weeks by the government. This bill is a result of a process of discussions and consultations that has been going on since 2003. These are part of the process that was known at the time as the smart regulations process. We were looking at regulatory reforms to the Government of Canada acts that necessitated those regulations to see if there was not a better way to do it, to be competitive internationally and domestically, and to at the same time protect Canadians.

One of the elements that comes in here is drug safety. The assurance of drug safety is very difficult. As the minister pointed out, the test on permitting or licensing of pharmaceutical products is whether the potential benefits outweigh the potential risks. We do not necessarily know when that first evaluation is done what the use of that pharmaceutical product will be in time, whether it will evolve from when the original clinical trials were done, and whether other drugs or therapies will come on stream that might interact with it. We do not know that.

Here we are going with the principle that has been known as progressive licensing and is now termed life cycle approvals or a life cycle approach. I do not know what it could be called that would reflect its true nature, but what it does is say that to get on the market initially the product has to meet the same safety criteria as it is currently meeting. The criteria are not relaxed.

Once the product is on the market, Health Canada has the ability to order further clinical trials or withdraw the licence if there is no compliance. I think that is important, because there could have been such a strict restrictive process, so as to assure absolute safety, that no new pharmaceuticals would ever come on the market.

However, with this process, we assure the safety of the product through clinical trials, and then we have time to do the evaluation as it is being used in the market, because the absolute use might be different from the use that had been foreseen. We heard at committee that the United States food and drug regulations use the 10,000 dosage system. After 10,000 dosages, they do a re-evaluation. Here, it could be different for any therapies.

However, once the experts at Health Canada see how a drug is evolving in its use, they can order further clinical trials at any time. I think it is important to try to understand what this means.

Number one, we know that almost no pharmaceuticals, and I could almost say zero, are approved for use by children. They are very seldom approved for use in pediatrics because it is so difficult to do clinical trials for pediatrics. The clinical trials before the first approval of a drug are done with adults. Then, over time, dosages or uses of prescriptions are studied by specialists in their work. When they find there is some value for use in pediatrics, they try to find the right dosage.

A drug might be developed for one specific use. For example, we have heard about Viagra being used in pediatric care, and while a drug might be developed for one specific use, it can be found through time that it is even more useful for other conditions that had not been considered. This is called off-label use.

I remember reading not so long ago about a cancer drug being used for macular degeneration. It was just as effective as the drug that had been used for macular degeneration. Thus, we can see how a drug might be used in a therapy other than the purpose for which it had its first clinical trials.

We now have the ability, with this bill, for Health Canada to order clinical trials in that area of use and in that population. If we discover with time that the major use of a certain therapy or pharmaceutical product ends up being done by seniors, those between the ages of 50 and 65, then perhaps Health Canada could order that a specific clinical trial be done in that area. If it is for people who have certain diseases and there are risks, we can do those things.

That is a logical, smart approach, which permits the drug to come on the market under the same criteria that it does now. This is what I think Canadians have to understand: this is not the relaxation of the initial criteria. It is a reasonable, intelligent way of monitoring the use of that product over time and changing the licensing standards.

Again, I think it is important to respond to the scare that is being put out there, because there are a lot of Canadians who are finding very good benefits in using non-prescription health products, therapeutic products, natural health products, organics, or whatever we want to call them. They are under different names. People are concerned when they see this bill that it might mean they can no longer access those products. I have had calls about this, as all the members of Parliament will.

I take the minister at his word. When I read the bill, I did not see any effect on the natural health product directorate and I did not see that these products were moved, but the fear is out there among Canadians and I think we will have to ensure, before the bill goes through the House of Commons and the Senate, that it is cleared up.

Yesterday when we were looking at Bill C-52, I raised a question on the power to recall and said that we have to be careful. We have to be careful that the power to recall does not become an obligation to recall. If we give the power to the minister and his inspectors, we have to make sure that this power is used only when all other methods fail and only when all other methods have been attempted, because we do not know of any problems we have had so far. So far, negotiations have been successful.

I see that my time has run out. I thank members for their attention.

Food and Drugs Act April 30th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, there have been discussions between the parties, and I think if you were to seek it you would find unanimous consent that I be permitted to share my time with the member for Malpeque.

Canada Consumer Product Safety Act April 28th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise to speak to this bill. I think it is an important bill. It is a welcome action from the Government of Canada. As an opposition party, we look forward to playing our role within Parliament to improve this bill: to ask the proper questions and to hear from Canadians who may have concerns. They may or may not be supportive and may wish to suggest amendments that can be brought to the committee or to the House to ensure that this bill achieves what it attempts to do, which is to protect Canadians.

I am sure the minister will recognize, as will every member in the House, that it is easy enough to protect Canadians. We can make every commercial activity in this country so restrictive that nobody will ever get hurt, but ensuring the protection of Canadians while permitting trade and business to happen, and allowing farmers, producers and manufacturers to do their work, requires a balancing act. As we look at the implementation of this bill, we are going to have to look at whether we can achieve both of those things and make sure that in the future they continue to happen properly and that we do not go too far one way down the slippery slope.

There is a case in my riding right now with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency risking the ongoing success of a long term employer because of an issue of product safety. It is an issue of perceived product safety and how we deal with it. In this case, it has been shown that the product is quite safe, while we cannot give the same level of assurance to the products we buy off the shelf that compete with it. That creates great concern. I look forward to examining how we will do it.

As the member for Malpeque has brought out, we are dealing with two bills. I do not think we can look at these two bills in isolation. That is probably one of the reasons why the government brought forward Bills C-51 and C-52 at the same time. While in the House today we are dealing with Bill C-52, I am looking forward to dealing with Bill C-51.

Bill C-51 has been in the discussion stage for a long time. It has been in the consultation stage and there has been work with industry to bring it forward, but it is a lot less so for Bill C-52, which seems to involve more knee-jerk reactions because of problems that arose, especially in the fall. When we do things quickly or on that basis, there is always risk. As a Parliament and a committee, we are going to have to ensure that we study this properly and make the necessary modifications so that it achieves what it wants to do, which is to protect Canadians.

The principle of the bill, as I suggested, would be difficult to argue with. I think everybody would agree with it. If I were to term it in any one way, it would be to say that it makes people become responsible for their actions and puts some serious financial penalties on people who do not. If people are trying to profit from legitimate activity, they have some responsibility for that. The first responsibility would be the safety of their consumers and customers, as well as their workers and anybody who comes in contact with their products. I think everyone would agree with that principle.

We have to be careful, because here we are talking about the importer, manufacturer, retailer, distributor or whatever person possible being inspected by Health Canada, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency or the Canada Border Services Agency at any time. In my mind, under this law they would all bear the same responsibility.

What we are telling them is that they have to keep a registry and have knowledge of the chain of supply. That is easy enough to do as a distributor who brings into the country a number of products and distributes them. It is easy enough to do as a manufacturer bringing in the inputs, doing some manufacturing changes, transformation, alteration, repackaging and whatnot and putting them out on the market. Then it is easy enough.

It gets a bit more difficult for a retailer who is not part of a large chain. An independent or a smaller operation may have similar products that it buys from a few places. When it is selling from its business it might be difficult to know exactly where each and every product was sold. It might not able to track them.

I am looking forward to seeing what is meant by this and how this tracking would be applied. Are we creating a system that would be very expensive to operate, so expensive that small entrepreneurs will be forced out of the market, especially at the smaller retail level, those that we would typically call “mom and pop” operations?

We have seen it in the feed store industry already. Out of our concern for BSE and our requirements to label and track all the feeds and all the inputs into those feeds, we have come to those sorts of problems.

If we do not do this correctly, we could bring that type of a problem into where it is not warranted. I will agree that where we have risks to human health, we have to take the appropriate action. If it means that under certain conditions certain individuals or businesses should not be in possession of certain products, then that would be understandable. However, we can very easily throw the baby out with the bathwater if we do not do it properly and if we do not have the proper safeguards.

I have a bit of concern with one of the areas. I had the opportunity to raise it with the minister. I agree with the principle, and I think we all should, that there should be a power to order a recall. I think we understand that. However, if we look at the situation where we are now, we do effect those recalls by negotiations and by discussions. I have not been advised of any situation where the current practices have not worked and where an unsafe product has remained on the market because a distributor, a manufacturer or a retailer refused to remove it from the market. I do not know of any situation like that in Canada. However, it could happen, so the power to recall makes sense.

Sometimes if we give a minister or a department the power to do something, over time it evolves into an obligation to do things, because people test it in the courts or suggest that if that operation had not been done and the minister had effected his power to recall in such and such a case, then we would not have had this operation. Then what happens is that the next time there is a case that looks remotely similar, the minister's inspectors, to protect the Canadian public, as they should, effect or force a recall. That is the risk.

I am not saying that this is what would happen in this instance or in this case, but I would want to be sure that our first actions at all times are negotiations, that they are on the lines of where they are going now, where the inspectors of Health Canada or CFIA are working with the importer or the manufacturer on the Canadian side to see if there is a way to do it without effecting a recall. What happens is that quite often we are able to resolve the situation without human risk, without risk and without bankrupting Canadian corporations. If we effect or force a recall, we could create undue market fears, loss of shelf space for companies and those types of activities, which could become very dangerous. Those are things we absolutely want to avoid.

Let us remember also that we do not have the same sort of power over the people our Canadian manufacturers, distributors, entrepreneurs or importers are competing against, because the regimes in the domestic markets of our competitors might not be the same. I think we have to remember that.

We also have to look at the way it would be administered. Would we be doing this in a way that maximizes the use of the current bureaucracy? Or would we have to replicate everything else and therefore make it more complicated? Are we going to have an importer working with multiple departments to do the same process? Would we have some coordination?

When the finance committee looked at counterfeit products coming into the country, we saw that the Canada Border Services Agency was unable to inspect these products because it was understaffed. There is no way it can do an active inspection so it needs some sort of system that triggers a look at certain imports, stocks or lots. If we expand the requirements without creating a coordinated administration of it, we run the risk of having an overly bureaucratic process.

We have said over and again that we want smart regulations in this country, that we want to streamline red tape and administration processes. This is an excellent opportunity to do it from the onset as we are establishing a new program.

On the question of the penalties being higher, I do not think anybody would argue with that. I think it is a good idea but what people question is whether this has any effect because the penalties are never applied. As there are never charges under the current system, would it be meaningful to increase the penalties? I would suggest that it would be but we need to look at why they are not applied now and whether there are other ways, other than the court process, that we can use.

I was very pleased to see that in the bill the administrative sanction route is being considered where the minister and his inspectors would be able to apply monetary and administrative sanctions on the importer or manufacturer outside the court process a lot faster and more efficiently. I think that is a good idea.

The other thing is the use of injunctions rather than having to charge an entrepreneur, that an injunction can be applied for in court to cease an import, the distribution or certain manufacturing processes or procedures. I think it is a lot better way to go than having to charge and having a long, drawn out court battle that is unsure in all cases and certainly would lead, not necessarily to the protection of an individual's well-being, but certainly would have a negative impact on our capacity to compete.

The question on the effect on competitiveness is important. In that respect, I would like to see the bill dealt with not only by the Standing Committee on Health but also by the industry committee. I have a feeling that at the health committee we will be able to accommodate the people who want to give us that perspective.

How do we implement these principles and not reduce the competitiveness of Canadian business? I think that is what we should be seeking. Our first responsibility is the protection of human health and we cannot for any reason abdicate on that responsibility but we must look to do it in a way that protects our competitiveness in our domestic market, as well as in our exports. I am looking forward at the committee to be able to do these things.

I am pleased that the bill has been brought forward for debate and I believe our party will be supporting the bill going to committee. I look forward to having these discussions at committee, seeing the specifics of the bill, seeing how the implementation will happen and having the opportunity to present amendments at the committee or in the House. I hope officials of the Government of Canada will be prepared to indicate to the committee the order and types of regulations that are called for and what they would look.

We do take a bit of a leap of faith in the House of Commons as members of Parliament when we give powers to the minister or to the government to enact regulations to affect the intent of a bill that is passed by the House because we do not see those regulations again. They are done, in most cases, by order in council and, in very few cases, are they ever brought before Parliament again, either directly or through one of these committees. I think it would be quite useful if government officials could give us an indication or an idea of the type of regulations that will be required in this case.

I look forward to having a more fulsome discussion of the matter at committee.

Canada Consumer Product Safety Act April 28th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, I want to start by thanking the health minister for bringing this subject before the House.

There are a lot of questions to be asked about the bill. I look forward to seeing the bill at committee. We will be supporting sending the bill to committee so that we can look at the details. We generally agree on the principles.

I would take this opportunity to ask the minister, while he is available, to answer questions on two elements of the bill.

First is the introduction of the power to effect a recall. As the minister mentioned in his opening remarks, currently it is being done on a voluntary basis and with quite good effect. Industries have recalled their products quite willingly.

My concern is that if we go to a power to recall, over time will it become an obligation on the inspectors to recall? To protect the people of Canada from potential lawsuits in the future, rather than negotiating a recall or action with the private sector as is done currently, will they find themselves in an obligation to recall situation? Has the minister considered this or had discussions about it?

Second is the staffing requirement. The way the bill is structured, it will require collaboration from border security agencies, Health Canada inspectors, as well as CFIA inspectors. Of these three groups, the one with the least ability currently would be Health Canada, which has the lowest number of inspectors, and the bill puts a lot of responsibility on Health Canada. How will the staffing shortfall be handled? Has he given this serious consideration?

Canada Border Services Agency April 11th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, the government told us that three investigations were underway about the incident at the Vancouver airport. Obviously, any video recordings of the incident should be part of these investigations.

Do the investigators have a copy of the video in question? Are there multiple copies? Or did the government officials conveniently erase evidence that could be used in the investigation?

Canada Border Services Agency April 11th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, there is a disturbing pattern arising with regard to taser use. First we see the RCMP censoring taser usage reports. Now we learn that taped footage from the tragic incident at the Vancouver International Airport last fall was erased by border officials.

What is the government trying to hide about the misuse of tasers in this instance?

Cancer April 11th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, April is the Canadian Cancer Society's Daffodil Month, in recognition of the millions of Canadians touched by cancer.

Unfortunately, most Canadians know, or will know, someone who has suffered from cancer in their lifetime.

According to statistics this year approximately 166,000 Canadians will be diagnosed with cancer and about 74,000 will die from this terrible disease. The new numbers also suggest that one out of four Canadians will succumb to cancer. This is shocking.

It is important that we do not give up on the fight against this terrible affliction. We must take the opportunity to better understand this disease and to appeal to all governments and to all the people of Canada to step up and show their support. Together we can and will make cancer history.

Committees of the House April 10th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, yes, there were meetings of senior cabinet ministers with Fred Doucet and Karlheinz Schreiber. However, it is worse than that. If the member for Burlington thinks it was bad for me to meet with Karlheinz Schreiber, the current Prime Minister met at Harrington Lake with Brian Mulroney, the guy who accepted envelopes full of cash. If it is illegal and unethical to give cash, it is certainly illegal to receive it.

Why did the Prime Minister meet there? What were they discussing? Why was he meeting with a person who he knew had done that devious deed?