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Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was section.

Last in Parliament September 2008, as Liberal MP for Scarborough Southwest (Ontario)

Won his last election, in 2006, with 48% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Petitions December 5th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, the second petition contains hundreds of signatures from all over Canada, including my riding and other areas of Toronto.

The petitioners call upon Parliament to reopen the issue of marriage in order to repeal or amend the Marriage for Civil Purposes Act in order to promote and defend marriage as the lawful union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others.

Petitions December 5th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, I have two petitions. The first one is primarily from people who live in my riding but also in the surrounding areas.

The petitioners pray that the government assembled in Parliament take all measures necessary to immediately raise the age of consent from 14 to 16 years.

Committees of the House November 22nd, 2006

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the second report of the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics.

The committee studied the alleged disclosure of the names of access to information requesters and among the conclusions that it came to, the committee states that based on the testimony that was given it cannot conclude that there was a violation or breach of the law.

The committee further calls on the Minister of Justice to make necessary amendments to his proposed Access to Information Act which the committee is hoping will be before it before the Christmas break.

Criminal Code November 3rd, 2006

Mr. Speaker, I am a bit surprised that no one wanted to ask the hon. member a question. He has been around here for a long time. He is a member who has taken an active interest in justice issues over the years and has been able to contribute to the justice committee in that time to make better legislation.

I was listening carefully to his remarks and there is much that I agree with in his synopsis of the history of what want on.

My recollection is a little bit different in some aspects. When the bill was originally brought forward, many people warned the justice minister of the time, which I suppose sometimes happens, that the judges would end up giving conditional sentences in respect of crimes that the justice minister and the people on the committee would not have expected them to do, which is exactly what happened. Some of the judges used conditional sentences in a manner that was really not intended by the act and by the committee. This upset justice ministers of the various provinces.

What has ended up happening is kind of like a pendulum. When the pendulum swings one way, namely, with the judges using conditional sentences in what I would consider an inappropriate manner, the Conservative government came in with a bill that was on the other end of the pendulum swing. These amendments have not only brought the pendulum back into the middle to permit conditional sentences in the appropriate crime situations, but also to ensure that judges do not use them for the kinds of crimes for which they were not intended, such as serious personal injury offences, terrorism offences and gang related offences.

I wonder if my hon. friend would care to comment on what I have said.

Food and Drugs Act November 2nd, 2006

Mr. Speaker, the menus that I was referring to also provide for caloric information for certain foods, so this is already being done. There is still plenty of room on the menu for additional information. One would think from the way hon. members are talking that I am asking for a very long list.

We are asking for calories, salt and fat content. That is not a lot of information, particularly after what we heard from the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre, who quoted Senator Keon as saying that caloric intake, and I am paraphrasing, is the single biggest threat to our overall health in Canada. The health committee is doing a study on obese children as we speak.

The costs are a bogus argument because the information is already available on websites. It is already available if the consumer asks for it. It is in fact available on the back of the menu, the tray liner. One would think that we are asking for all this information on a menu board. In fact, for businesses that have a menu board, we are simply asking for the number of calories and nothing else. How can that possibly crowd a menu board?

I am urging members to send this bill to committee so that the committee can examine the comments that have been made and can hear from the health department officials who will testify that they had to bring in mandatory nutritional labelling because voluntary nutritional labelling did not work.

I am not asking for the House to pass the bill. I am asking for the House to let it go to committee for further study.

Food and Drugs Act November 2nd, 2006

Mr. Speaker, unfortunately the nature of private members' business is such that I am allowed only five minutes to attempt to make some points in relation to the points that have been made in the two hours of debate.

Allow me to begin by saying that this is really the second hour of debate on second reading, with a request that if the bill passes at second reading it would go to committee. This is not a debate on passing the bill in the House of Commons and then suddenly having this legislation pass tomorrow, thus causing all kinds of undue hardship for the restaurateurs of this nation.

Many interesting and good points have been made in the debate, all of which can be studied by the health committee of the Parliament of Canada. The evidence can be tested. The anecdotal statements that have been made by members can be tested. We can hear from experts at Health Canada.

I have been involved in this issue of nutritional labelling since 1989. What is fascinating is that all of the arguments I have heard against this bill also were made against nutritional labelling for prepackaged foods.

The pre-eminent one among them is that the voluntary nature of providing the information works. It does not work. It demonstrably does not work. The evidence of that is not simply this member saying it. The evidence is that after 20 years of voluntary information on prepackaged foods, the government felt it was necessary to regulate and put into legislation the kind of information that is put on prepackaged foods. That in itself is evidence that voluntary information does not work.

Why? Because if there is voluntary information, it is going to give the information that the manufacturer thinks is in its best interests, not the information that should be given in the best interests of providing consumers with a proper choice.

This is a topical matter. I note, for example, that there was an editorial in the Globe and Mail on November 1. I am going to read only one line from it, as follows: “Better to educate the public and, a crucial point, to give them the information they need to make a decision”. That is all the bill is trying to do.

The hon. member for Laval has observed that fast food chains are already starting to provide nutritional information. That is accurate. Why is that? Because consumers want it. Even the members opposite who spoke against the bill and my own colleague who spoke against it have acknowledged that consumers are asking for this information.

I want to deal with a couple of things, namely, that this cannot be done. I am holding a menu from White Spot Restaurants, a well known chain. I want to read a couple of things in it: “Lifestyle choices, low carb steak and caesar dinner, 2.4 grams of carbs, 58 grams of protein”. There is plenty of room for further information. Another entry provides for the number of calories of a chicken dinner and then there is still--

Committees of the House October 4th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present the first report of the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics.

It is a succinct report that is very short. It says that further to the testimony of the Minister of Justice and the Information Commissioner, the hon. John Reid, before the standing committee, the committee recommends that the government introduce in the House, no later than December 15, 2006, new strengthened and modernized access to information legislation based on the Information Commissioner's work, as promised by the Conservatives during the election campaign.

Food and Drugs Act September 18th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, there are two ways of looking at it. It is almost impossible to be against giving consumers more information. That is like being against motherhood. I guess the objection would be to the method by which I am attempting to deliver that information. As I said in my speech, the objection from the restaurant industry is that restaurants cannot possibly think of all the permutations and combinations that a customer might order on a pizza, for example, or on a Harvey's hamburger, as it is touted that we can have our hamburger the way we like it.

The answer is that the idea is not to make it difficult for people to sell food to consumers or difficult for consumers to eat it. We would simply say that a standard hamburger is 400 calories and add-ons are extra. Then it should be obvious to consumers that if they buy a hamburger with a bun it is 400 calories, and if the consumer wants to put a slice of cheese on it, there are going to be more calories. At least the consumer would have some idea. For supersized fries, it would be 700 or 800 calories, with three or four grams of fat or whatever the case may be.

This would be just enough to give consumers the information they need. The two main arguments are that it is impossible to do, which is nonsense, and second, that it is too costly. All of the studies have shown that it is not too costly. Clearly, the prepackaged nutritional labelling regulations that came into force in 2003 are in effect and have not bankrupted the industry or led to skyrocketing food costs.

Food and Drugs Act September 18th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, the Canadian government is charged with the responsibility of ensuring the health of Canadians. There are many ways in which the health of Canadians is monitored and services are delivered to Canadians. Many of them of course involve regulations that need to be enforced. There are already labels for prepackaged foods and there are serious penalties for breaching these labels. However, clearly what occurs many times is that consumers themselves will notify the appropriate government agency if they happen to notice that something is not properly labelled or if information is missing. Inspectors will then take a look at that. As with the Income Tax Act, where we do not have enough people to examine everybody's income tax return, there are spot checks, spot audits and spot examinations. This is how it works.

As for the claim that this would be terribly, terribly expensive, that is simply not true. Already we have menu boards, so instead of a large picture of a “big mac” there could be a smaller picture of a big mac, and right beside the price we could put “700 calories as shown”. That is all that needs to be done. This does not involve a lot of costs, particularly for chain restaurants that do not have a lot of changeover in their menus. There is some nuance in the bill to allow for those restaurants that do have some changeover.

Any of these problems can also be examined in depth in committee by bringing expert witnesses before committee to answer these questions.

Food and Drugs Act September 18th, 2006

moved that Bill C-283, An Act to amend the Food and Drugs Act (food labelling), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, since 1989, I have been working to provide consumers with information from which they can make more informed food choices. Today I will go to bat again for Canadian consumers by proposing modest but sorely needed measures to ensure they have important health-related information about many of the processed and restaurant foods we eat every day in this country.

Diet-related disease is steadily straining our health care services and, if unchecked, will create staggering demands on our future capacity to fund public health care and become an unnecessary drag on our economic growth which also limits our capacity to finance health care.

The need to better address preventable chronic, non-communicable diseases has been acknowledged in three consecutive Liberal speeches from the throne. The Liberal, Conservative and NDP provincial governments all agreed with the federal government on the need to tackle diet-related and other chronic diseases in the communiqué of the September 2004 first ministers conference on health care and four recent communiqués of the federal-provincial-territorial ministers of health.

Diet-related disease is an urgent public health problem in this country. Heart disease, stroke, certain forms of cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis and dental health all have links to diet that are well recognized by scientists. For instance, the diet-related cases of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and certain forms of cancer costs the Canadian economy $6.6 billion annually due to health care costs and lost productivity.

Diet-related risk factors for disease shorten the average Canadian's healthy life expectancy by nearly five years and prematurely ends the lives of tens of thousands of Canadians every year, to say nothing of the pain and suffering these preventable diseases inflict upon victims and their families.

These days, precious few Canadians grow, prepare or even cook their own food any more. It is unthinkable that we should be eating food without knowing its contents. When the Liberal Party formed government we promulgated mandatory nutrition labelling regulations for most prepackaged foods, which the media dubbed the gold standard, globally. However when it comes to ingredient information on processed food and nutrition information on labels of fresh cut meat and restaurant menus, Canadian law and industry practices are little better than any other country and much worse than many.

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada estimates that those new labels that were passed will reap $5 billion in benefits to the economy as a whole from reduced health care costs and increased productivity over the next two decades. These benefits are 20 times the cost to the industry of modifying food labels. Canadians should not pass up an opportunity to save the health care system more than $2 billion over the next two decades.

Bill C-238 can be implemented even less expensively than the new nutrition labelling regulations because it only requires nutrition information for a small number of national chain restaurants that typically have standardized menus. Many chains have already done the analysis. Plus, my bill permits meat packers to use common, government-approved nutrition databases and it only requires readily available ingredient composition data on processed food labels.

Nearly 30 groups, collectively representing over two million Canadians, support the measures in the bill. In the past two years, support for one or more of the three components of Bill C-283 has been articulated in expert reports published by the Canadian population health initiative of the Canadian Institute for Health Information; two reports of the U.S. Institute of Medicine, an expert body upon which Health Canada often relies for scientific advice; the chief medical officer of health for Ontario; a call for action by the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada; an editorial in the Canadian Journal of Public Health of the Canadian Public Health Association; an advocacy statement of the British Columbia Healthy Living Alliance; and a report commissioned by the British Columbia Cancer Agency and the Canadian Cancer Society of British Columbia and Yukon.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency initiated consultations on a proposal to establish a watered down form of my proposal requiring percentage ingredient disclosures on products that, for instance, promote blueberry pancakes which, in fact, contain little or no blueberries. The fact that the CFIA abruptly discontinued consultations on even that modest proposal illustrates the need for Parliament to step in.

By introducing Bill C-283 I am seeking to achieve three objectives: first, to close a loophole in the new nutrition labelling regulations for packers of fresh meat, poultry and seafood; second, to extend a simplified nutrition disclosure requirement to large chain restaurant menus and menu boards; and third, add a requirement that multi-ingredient processed foods disclose the amount of key ingredients, especially for ingredients that are the subject of marketing claims or for ingredients that are known by the scientific community to have protective or causative effects on major disease risks. In short, it facilitates informed purchasing decisions, not uninformed or increasingly ill-informed food purchases.

Statistics Canada says that Canadians spend about 30% of their food budgets on restaurant meals. McDonald's restaurants alone claim to serve an average of three million Canadians every day. Plainly, it is no longer an occasional treat to eat at restaurants but rather a central feature of daily life in Canada and yet we rarely see any nutrition information on restaurant menus or menu boards.

It became clear to me and some of my colleagues that the costs of even chemical analysis would be less than a penny on the price of enough food to feed a family of four in a typical faster food restaurants and cheaper by half to calculate such information from existing databases.

Some industry efforts, though encouraging, are not really effective, whether by accident or design. For instance, McDonald's restaurants now provide nutrition information on the back or the underside of tray liners. Imagine, on the back or the underside, for heaven's sake, instead of on the menu boards where the information could actually be used by consumers before they make their purchases, or even on the front of the liner so they could read about what they are eating to help them make more informed choices for their next meal.

Some restaurant owners made the outlandish argument that menus would have to be modified to accommodate every conceivable special order that a consumer could make, such as extra sauce, pickles on the side, with or without cheese, shared orders, et cetera. However, menus at Subway, White Spot and Extreme Pizza, companies that emphasize made to order foods, found a way to report at least some useful nutritional information to consumers, despite the alleged difficulties. Without such information, even trained nutritionists consistently err in estimating calorie counts from physical appearance only.

My bill also proposes to mandate that manufacturers of processed foods show on labels the percentage by weight of key ingredients. This information will help consumers choose more nutritious products, say, products with more fruits or less added sugars. Requiring this information will also help protect consumers against deceptive ingredient claims by unscrupulous manufacturers that tout the presence of appealing ingredients, like vegetables or whole grains, but actually put very little of those ingredients in the product.

Percentage ingredient labelling rules are in effect in Thailand, the European Union, New Zealand and Australia. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency acknowledged the need to establish percentage ingredient labelling requirements. However the CFIA's now dormant proposal leaves open many avenues for consumer deception about ingredient composition and fails to require disclosures that would effectively aid consumers in selecting more nutritious products. My bill does not suffer from the same defects.

Health Canada and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada have already done a thorough job of demonstrating the need for nutrition labelling on prepackaged foods, in the regulatory impact analysis that accompanied the amendments to the food and drug regulations promulgated in January 2003. An exemption for fresh meat, poultry and seafood appears to have been granted in response to claims by several industry associations in 2000 that it would take four to five years to generate nationally representative nutrition data tables for various cuts of meat and species of seafood.

For years, Health Canada and various Canadian industry associations have published such data. Six years have passed. Bill C-283 would provide all parties yet another two years to refine their data in any ways necessary. Without such nutrition information, how many Canadians would know that a three ounce serving of trimmed, broiled top round beef steak has only about one gram of saturated fat while a three ounce serving of trimmed, broiled shoulder blade pork steak has four grams of saturated fat, a full four ounce difference in saturated fat content between two cuts of meat the same size, a difference that is not evident from visual inspection or even taste?

The House may recall that in a previous Parliament, a Conservative member who is now a minister of the Crown, the Minister of Veterans Affairs, spoke very favourably about an earlier version of this bill. He said:

What the member is attempting to do would be very difficult to argue against...We are concerned with the health of Canadians. They have a right to know what they are eating. It would serve the purposes of a lot of people in Canada if we could find a way to adopt this legislation. Details have to be fleshed out in committee. We support moving Bill C-398 on to the next logical step.

I hope all members of the Conservative government will demonstrate the same good sense as that hon. member. I hope members will not prevent Canadians from getting the vital nutrition information they sorely need to make healthy food choices for their families and themselves.

The scientific basis for requiring that this information be provided to consumers is tried and true. The scientific consensus is that Canadians should consume more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and beans, and less sodium, added sugar, saturated and trans fat and, for most of us, fewer calories.

By now, I think and hope, the food industry has seen the writing on the wall. I urge my friends on both sides of the House to ensure that this writing ends up where it should be and where it can do the most good: on the food labels and the menu boards. I urge them to support this bill by sending it to the health committee for in depth study with a view to improving the bill for the benefit of all Canadians.