House of Commons photo

Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was debate.

Last in Parliament November 2005, as Liberal MP for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell (Ontario)

Won his last election, in 2004, with 48% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Cross-Border Drug Sales November 1st, 2005

Mr. Chair, I think the parliamentary secretary is totally correct. My approach to all this has been to focus on the issues that are important. They are not always the same ones that we see in the news.

For instance, about a year ago cameras were going gangbusters because there were two buses in Toronto with senior citizens getting out of the buses and coming from the U.S. to buy prescription drugs. It made for some great camera shots. At the same time, with one Internet pharmacy supplying 2,000 prescriptions a day we would have had to have a train about 20 miles long to accommodate that number of people if they had all come individually. Obviously that does not make much of a camera shot. A computer terminal just does not do it.

At the same time, it is not the busload that is the issue. Nor is it grandma who is in Florida going to see a doctor there because she is there for the winter. We have the doctor there confirming with the doctor in Canada that it is the grandma known by the doctor in Canada, that she is sick with that particular disorder, and that the doctor recognizes her and sees her all the time when she is back home. Then the doctor over there issues a prescription or some such instrument across the border.

That is not the issue. Nobody is trying to solve that so-called problem because it is not one. The real problem is that which affects the security of our drug supply and that is how I believe we have to address the problem.

Cross-Border Drug Sales November 1st, 2005

Mr. Chair, I do not agree with many of the points the member raised except that he has said he might like to read my book. I agree with that.

More seriously, though, the hon. member says there is no evidence of job shortages. We have had countless press conferences in this building with pharmacists, pharmacist associations, and members of the Canadian Medical Association. I have a letter here from the Canadian Treatment Action Council listing 132 drugs that were not available in one part of the country at one point in time, and so on. Many people inform us or at least allege that these shortages or at least strains on the supply in various regions of the country are going on right now.

The hon. member says that the authority is with the federal government in the U.S. and it is illegal to bulk ship into the United States. He referred to that slightly in this most recent presentation and more extensively a little while ago. I was listening.

What he does not say, though, is that both are forbidden to enter the United States. Internet pharmacies that send cases of stuff to 100 different people or bulk ship 10 cases of stuff to one person are equally forbidden. If the argument is that we should not be sending bulk stuff to the U.S. because it is against U.S. law, I take the hon. member's argument at face value. They are both forbidden. Why would we say that we should listen to U.S. law as it applies to bulk sales but not to the other? I think the argument is the same for both. That is the point I am making here.

I am going to go back to something I heard in the parliamentary secretary's discourse a while ago. If we are having a run on a product, and never mind the U.S. law for a minute, whether that run is caused by someone having shipped cases in bulk to the United States or it is like the other case that I talked about a while ago, with 175,000 prescriptions in one year being shipped individually out of Canada to the U.S., the effect is the same. That was in an area where there was only a handful of them a year ago.

The effect is the same. That is the point I am making. To say that it is only the bulk sale component is not so. In my view, both have to be addressed. That is why I think the government's plan is on the right track. I urge the government, though, to move expeditiously on this issue, not to wait until we have a major crisis and run out of something and then have Canadians getting sick because we do not have the medication in question.

Cross-Border Drug Sales November 1st, 2005

Mr. Chair, I am pleased to take part in this evening's debate on Internet pharmacies.

Most hon. members would agree that I have been raising these issues in the House of Commons for a very long time. During the first year after I left cabinet, perhaps even longer ago than that, I was the only member to raise these issues in the House of Commons.

Many things still trouble me. I want to thank the parliamentary secretary and the minister for the plan they presented this evening, which is the first component in creating a drug supply network. This plan was overseen by the Minister of Health. It was a very good idea. We have to ensure the safety of the supply.

The second point is the need for enabling legislation under the Food and Drugs Act that would allow the Government of Canada to prohibit the bulk export of prescription drugs and other essential drugs when the health of Canadians is at stake. The hon. member for Hochelaga mentioned the section under NAFTA that is somewhat related to all this. At least this could be one of the reasons why that section was drafted that way. I intend to discuss this with the minister.

The third point consists in giving more teeth to the current provisions whereby any purchase or sale of prescription drugs should come as a result of consultations held between the patient and the medical practitioner. We must address this issue.

I heard a Conservative member in the House say that it is only those who have an axe to grind who think that the Internet prescription system damages the health care system. I believe I am paraphrasing the way the member put it.

However, Canadian Medical Association's statement on Internet prescribing in 2004 stated that “It is not acceptable for a physician to sign a prescription without properly assessing the patient”, except as indicated above, and there is a whole matrix of how this is to be done, and so on and so forth. This is the position of the Canadian Medical Association, hardly a group with an axe to grind.

Other people are also concerned with this whole business of prescriptions over the Internet in the kind of vacuum that we see now. Let me name a few from a press release that I have which dates back a year ago. I am sure the list is much longer now. It includes: the National Association of Pharmacy Regulatory Authorities; the Canadian Pharmacists Association; the Canadian Medical Association and I just quoted from its report; the Association of Deans of Pharmacy of Canada; the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Manitoba, would you believe, Mr. Speaker; the Manitoba Society of Seniors; Pharmacy Alliance for Canadians; and the Coalition for Manitoba Pharmacy.

Even within those jurisdictions, where these kinds of sales are going on in a very big way, certainly it is not supported by everyone there. The professionals in the health care sector say that this is going too far and that it is wrong. It is not me, not the member for Glengarry--Prescott--Russell. I am not a member of the Canadian Medical Association, much less the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Manitoba, a province 1,000 miles from my constituency.

On top of that there is a whole number of pharmacies themselves, groups of seniors, and a large number of people, consumer groups and others who tell us that we have to be careful with all of this. They include: the Canadian Hepatitis C Network, Canadian Treatment Action Council, Canadian Organization for Rare Disorders, Canadian Arthritis Patient Alliance, Best Medicines Coalition, Manitoba Epilepsy Association, British Columbia Persons With AIDS Society. Those are all consumers of medicine who are worried about this.

One cannot say that every single one of these organizations is wrong. Their concerns are legitimate when we start seeing runs on various products, whether they are caused by bulk sales which arguably of course is worse, or whether they are caused by Internet pharmacies all of a sudden selling thousands of prescriptions in an area where they were not selling any the previous year.

I read one example of 175,000 prescriptions where in the previous year only 10 doses of the same thing were sold. No one can say that increasing the sale of something and removing a product from this country where 10 units were removed last year and 175,000 were removed in a few months of this year, that it does not cause a shortage.

It is ridiculous to pretend that. That is not a bulk shipment at all. This has to do with the Internet pharmacies. Then someone says that the Internet pharmacies, after having seen the damage that they have done, have decided that they are not going to do this any more for a little while. That is hardly a redeeming value. Once one creates a mess and then says that one is not going to participate in the mess that one has created for a little while, to me is not good enough.

This is why I think that part of the program announced to us by the parliamentary secretary this evening is so vital, that is, when he says the government wants to establish a system whereby it will be possible to pinpoint one particular medication and say that is it, it is in the national interest that people not be allowed to send any more of this out of the country, whether it is bulk shipment, Internet pharmacies or anybody else, because it threatens the health of Canadians. That is why we are here.

To me, that is why it is so important. We cannot think of medication as little pills that look like candies, even though they do look like that most of the time. This is a very important component of the Canadian health care system. A member of my family is at home right now with pneumonia. She will be angry with me for raising this, but so be it. The prescription costs $100. I thought that was outrageously expensive, except that after three or four days of taking the medication she is getting better. Then what I thought was that about two hours in the hospital would have consumed twice as much as the $100. Maybe if we think of it that way, the medication, which we all think is too expensive, is not expensive if we compare it to the alternative.

The point I am making is how important all of this is for the well-being of Canadians. Prescription medication in particular is so very vital. I am leaving for South America with the Prime Minister in 48 hours to attend the Summit of the Americas, at least I think I am. I need to have a flu shot and a number of things before I leave. They are all provided to us. Countless other Canadians need medication: preventive, a vaccine, as I am going to get, and for treatment, in the case of others who are ill. We just cannot afford to be out of these products at any time. That is why I encourage the minister, as I have been doing for a long time, to be vigilant on this.

I thank the parliamentary secretary and the minister, too, of course. I listened attentively to the parliamentary secretary's presentation. He simply must continue on that track and be even more vigilant in protecting the health of Canadians.

Cross-Border Drug Sales November 1st, 2005

Mr. Chair, I thank our hon. colleague for his remarks. Like him, I have noticed that this problem is much more infrequent in Quebec and other jurisdictions that have a high quality, or at least strict, code of conduct. It is no coincidence that this industry has taken off in provinces with more, shall we say, flexible codes. The lack of such rules has created this situation.

So I want to ask my colleague if he too realizes that the problem boils down to the fact that the United States—how ironic—which invented consumer protection legislation, is apparently incapable of adopting legislation for consumers regarding pharmaceutical products. It adopted legislation on vehicle windshield height and all sorts of things. Recalls of defective vehicles and so forth originated in the United States.

However, for reasons beyond my comprehension, that same society is unable to adopt legislation protecting its consumers from, in the eyes of some, overly high prices or, at least, prices much higher than ours, and these people purchase their supply from a place that better protects its consumers, meaning from us. Therein lies the problem.

I fail to understand the reaction of some American legislators who say that importing drugs into their country is illegal. In truth, they want to avoid, at all costs, saying that they will enforce that legislation, because this could cost them votes back home.

So, I take issue with the comments of our colleague opposite, the member from Manitoba, who is saying that, since it is illegal to import drugs into the United States, bulk imports must be prohibited. Individual imports are illegal, but we have to ignore this. Only the provision on bulk imports, and not the other, must be enforced.

I want to hear what my colleague thinks about that.

Cross-Border Drug Sales November 1st, 2005

Mr. Chair, the hon. member says that the banning of bulk sales is the remedy to everything. My contention is that is only part of the remedy. That is not where it ends.

Let us look at the Internet pharmacies themselves and how they have caused shortages of product and medications in this country. They have stretched medical ethics as though they were an elastic. They have gone so far as to send flyers in the mail last year telling doctors that if they want to make some extra money for their Christmas shopping they could sign prescriptions at $10 a crack. I raised that flyer on the floor of this House. Surely the hon. member, knowledgeable as he is on issues involving medicine, cannot say that this is okay, that this is acceptable.

I want to go back to the issue of Tamiflu. I want to read something that was read into the record earlier today. This is from a media report:

Online, demand by individuals is skyrocketing.

“It's crazy,” said Mark Catroppa, a vice president with in Vancouver, British Columbia. The company has about 175,000 U.S. customers.

Last year, his company sold no more than 10 doses of Tamiflu or Relenza in any month....During the past two weeks, about 400 people a day ordered the drugs [from outside the country].

Can the member say that these individual sales do not also affect the availability of product when that kind of increase is going on, not according to what I say, but according to what the people selling the stuff are saying themselves?

How can the member say that it is only the bulk sales that are at issue and not the Internet pharmacies as an institution?

Cross-Border Drug Sales November 1st, 2005

That is also out of order.

Cross-Border Drug Sales November 1st, 2005

Madam Chair, I almost cannot believe what I am hearing this evening. It is a total negation of the facts as they have happened.

The hon. member on the one hand said that he is against the bulk shipments, but then he spent the rest of his speech defending the Internet pharmacies as somehow being virtuous in this country. For more than a year the hon. member will know that I was the only member of this House who raised the issue of Internet pharmacies and their threat to the Canadian health care system. I thank the minister who is sitting nearby for his attention to this issue. This has been a very difficult issue for the minister to manage. He has done an absolutely outstanding job thus far and I am sure he will continue to do important work in this area.

The hon. member knows, as I do, that groups representing the disabled across Canada, groups representing the elderly, the Canadian Medical Association, pharmacists in his own province have denounced the Internet pharmacies and the member, in the face of one of his own colleagues who spoke a little earlier, defends that whole industry.

In the case of Tamiflu, it is absolutely unbelievable. Let me share this article with the House:

Online, demand by individuals is skyrocketing. “It's crazy,” says Mark Catroppa, a vice president with in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Guess what they do for a living. The company has about 175,000 U.S. customers. That is 175,000 doses of medicine destined for Canadians going across the border to the United States, a product that we know we will need and do not have enough of. How can the hon. member defend that? How can he say that this is legitimate, that this is right, that this is virtuous somehow, when everything that all of us really know is that it is wrong and it is threatening the future of health care probably more than any other issue in this country?

Official Languages Act October 27th, 2005

Mr. Speaker, I think it is simply a wrong interpretation. I am convinced that there is no bad faith on anyone's part.

I will not give a course on procedure here but, between the time when a bill comes back from the committee and the time it is passed in the House—in the case of a private member's bill—that bill is not reprinted. In other words, the clauses that were removed by the committee still appear in the bill, even if they are no longer debated. Now, we are debating only section 41. The other clause is no longer there, because it was revoked a few minutes ago, when we adopted the committee's report. This is how things are done with private members' bills.

However, after this bill is passed, section 43 will still be the same as it was two, three or five years ago. It is not amended, it remains declaratory. Following the amendment made through this bill, section 41 will become binding. This only goes for section 41.

The fact remains that, currently, people can still try their luck before a court. People can invoke any act passed by the Government of Canada, whether it is an act allowing the use of a pesticide to fight mosquitoes, or other acts such as this one, and be more or less successful, depending on the scope of the legislation. That goes for any act, including a provincial one, or even an order in council. This is not a new condition that we have today.

I hope this helps clarify how things work.

Official Languages Act October 27th, 2005

Mr. Speaker, I am doing my best.

Section 41 and 43 were declaratory. The bill makes section 41 enforceable while section 43 remains declaratory. This being said, the enforceable part—which means that it can be taken to the courts, etc.—will become an amendment to section 41 and not to section 43. This is not a fact. The member is incorrect. I am sorry but this is not what this is all about.

Official Languages Act October 27th, 2005

Mr. Speaker, with due respect, the member is wrong: she is talking about the obligations under section 43. In the bill, as it came back from committee, section 43 is gone. The amendment to section 43 has disappeared. Now, we are only amending section 41. The bill, at second reading stage, amended sections 41 and 43 of part VII. That part is deleted in the committee's report on the bill we concurred in 10 minutes ago.

We are now talking only about section 41 dealing with federal institutions. We are no longer talking about section 43, because it was deleted in committee, as my colleague may remember. So it is now section 41. Of course, she may get back to this with a supplementary question, but we are no longer talking about section 43. Indeed, we are no longer amending it, since it was deleted from the bill. The member can ask her colleague about this.