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Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was debate.

Last in Parliament May 2004, as Conservative MP for Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Aldershot (Ontario)

Won his last election, in 2000, with 41% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Food and Drugs Act October 20th, 2003

Mr. Speaker, I have to thank the member for Nanaimo--Alberni for bringing forward Bill C-420 and solving a television commercial mystery for me that I have wondered about for a very long time.

The House will be familiar with the commercial which appears in several forms showing a man coming out of a house one morning, leaping and jumping about, holding hands, jumping over mailboxes and showing great excitement and joie de vivre. We all know, when we see that commercial, that the man has taken a drug that has cured him, at least temporarily, of sexual impotence. He had a nice night before and that is why he is so joyously happy.

I have always wondered why the people who put that commercial together did not just simply say that this was an advertisement for a drug for sexual impotence. However it turns out there was a very good reason why not.

Schedule A in the Food and Drugs Act lists a number of maladies for which it is forbidden to advertise a cure for in the way of any kind of drug or any other prophylactic. Among those various maladies is sexual impotence. Obviously the people marketing this drug are unable to actually name the purpose of the drug.

Bill C-420 addresses this whole question of the list of maladies in schedule A for which it is forbidden to advertise a cure or a remedy. The bill proposed by the member for Nanaimo--Alberni would eliminate the schedule altogether. I have to say that the member has struck a real chord here.

This list was compiled in 1934, before antibiotics were discovered, Mr. Speaker. On that list we can find things like arthritis, asthma, diabetes, depression, gangrene, glaucoma, gout, and it goes on and on. We know there are a number of drugs on the market that address these particular sicknesses. It seems completely unreasonable that the list as it exits makes it impossible to advertise these drugs and their purposes relating to these particular forms of sickness should exist.

That having been said, I still have reservations about simply eliminating schedule A because there is the danger that people without good conscience, shall we say, might try to market cures, remedies and drugs, both prescription and especially non-prescription drugs, which might make claims that are unwarranted.

The bottom line is that schedule A should be scrapped. The member is perfectly right on that point. I realize the Minister of Health has indicated a willingness to overhaul schedule A, but I can see it is completely out of date and should be gone.

The other aspect of Bill C-420 is the member also wants to redefine the word food to include natural health products. I have a lot of problems with that because one thing food is, is food by definition is a natural health product. We all take food because it is good for us. We have this difficulty. If we add natural health products to the definition of food, basically we are defining a word by words that mean essentially the same thing. The difficulty is a semantic difficulty, but a very important difficulty if we actually take this into law.

Natural health products are thought by many not in terms of simply being good for us, but are actually thought in terms of having some curative properties or some properties that might address certain symptoms that one might possess.

In the field of natural remedies, the usage of the words “natural health product” is in this context of something having curative properties that might address a person's symptoms of some kind of malady. But in the strict sense, natural health product simply could mean, and the courts would of course argue this, any kind of food that we might want to take. So eating a tomato or a potato could have curative properties, and I do not think that this is the intention the member for Nanaimo—Alberni has when he wants to add natural health product to the list of foods.

I would suggest that what the member really wants to do and what he should be seeking to do is to add a new definition in the list of definitions in the Food and Drugs Act and have a middle category between drug and food, and that middle category would be medicine. Because what we are really talking about when we move into the field of natural health products and their effect on a person's physical well-being is that we see them as things that can be taken as medicine, and a medicine is not necessarily a drug. A medicine is not necessarily a pharmaceutical.

I have to tell the member opposite that I have great sympathy with where he is going on this, because I am not one who believes that pharmaceutical drugs are the answer to everything. I think one of the big problems, and I think one of the reasons that is driving the member, is that pharmaceutical drugs take a lot of clinical trials, so it takes a long time to get a drug on the marketplace. If a natural health product has to go through clinical trials, then it is delayed in reaching the market.

I point out to the House that a clinical trial is simply a collection of empirical information. Clinical trials are no better than the number of tests that are taken on a particular drug. As it happens, some natural health products are empirically tested over centuries. For an example, I refer to tea. Everyone drinks tea and we know that it has no deleterious side effects. Tea was originally a natural health product that was seen as a stimulant. That is how tea was brought into England in the 18th century when the tea trade developed. We now know that tea does have a stimulating effect and we know now from these very long trials that it has no side effects.

The difficulty with pharmaceuticals is that the public has been led to believe that simply because pharmaceuticals go through a clinical trial of several thousand tests, let us say, that there are no side effects. However, there can be very serious side effects of pharmaceuticals that pass into the open market.

I think we really do need to look in the area that is directed by the member for Nanaimo—Alberni, because I think there is a third category and that third category is medicine, where we do know from long experience there are no side effects to that medicine about which we should be concerned and we know from long experience that it appears to have a positive benefit to the people taking it. There is a middle ground there, which I think we should consider very seriously.

So I am somewhat divided on the bill; I would think that if the bill passed the House and went to the health committee that the committee could strike down schedule A and there would be no impact. As a matter of fact, it might galvanize Health Canada into coming up with a new schedule, which I do not think is possible, actually; I think schedule A just has to disappear because that is the end of it.

As for the question of actually changing the definition of food to include natural health products, I do not think that works. But I think the member has done the House a service in giving us an opportunity to assess the relative values of natural health products and pharmaceuticals. Perhaps there is a middle road, as was mentioned by the previous Bloc speaker, and that middle road is the defining of something called medicine.

Committees of the House October 3rd, 2003

Madam Speaker, just to correct a detail, the member for Elk Island is perfectly correct. The MP's expenses are routinely released but they are global expenses. The information the public gets of MP's expenses is nothing like the detail that was required of Mr. Radwanski or is required of a public servant or is required now of ministers and politically exempt staff.

I would just repeat the question to the member. Would he be prepared to see greater detail? For instance, we are given a form which describes our travel movements and that kind of thing. Would he be prepared to see that level of disclosure, always understanding that the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act protect who we talk to? That is we have to have the same level of confidentiality I would suggest that any minister has. Would he be in favour of the same level of disclosure that public servants are required to have?

Committees of the House October 3rd, 2003

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the remarks of the member for Elk Island because he was able to put into context not only the non-partisan way the committee operated, but also the very human dilemmas that people found themselves in when he appeared before the committee. I am told by my colleagues that it was really an exercise in good judgment and compassion on the part of the members of the committee who had to hear witnesses who were speaking from the heart and out of a sense indeed of fear of reprisal.

However let me put one question to the member opposite. Surely we members of Parliament should always be prepared to walk the talk. By that I mean, we have gone through an experience of looking at the expense accounts and other matters pertaining to the privacy commissioner who is outside the Access to Information Act. In another forum under the public accounts committee, there were problems with respect to exempt political staff not having to disclose their expense accounts, but that has been corrected.

Should not members of Parliament and Senators also come under the Access to Information Act, at least in the sense that we too should be expected and should be willing to disclose our routine spending?

Committees of the House October 3rd, 2003

Madam Speaker, I have already mentioned that there are many ways to reform the act and that we should bring those agencies that are spending public money under the act.

Our experience with the Privacy Commissioner's office, a small department that was without scrutiny, signals that there may be an even more vast problem out in the not-for-profit sector, the charities and non-profit organizations, that have no legislated scrutiny or transparency whatsoever.

This a $100 billion industry that could have problems similar to those disclosed in the Privacy Commissioner's office. Indeed, anecdotally one hears stories that this type of thing does occur.

Committees of the House October 3rd, 2003

Madam Speaker, obviously we cannot have absolute transparency because there are certain things that governments must keep confidential in order to be able to operate. Of course, personal information must be kept confidential, as well.

This is why, when the member summons documents under the Access to Information Act, and that is indeed what he is referring to, there are sections that are blanked out.

However, where he is very right is that both the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act must be reformed. They must be updated because there are sections of the acts that enable bureaucrats to take things out of documents that should remain there.

Unfortunately, the Access to Information Act is now 21 years old. It has never been reformed. There have been various tries at it. I am one of those who will be introducing a private member's bill to upgrade the Access to Information Act so that there is better access, for instance, to cabinet documents and background papers. Every document that is 30 years old should be accessible. The Access to Information Act must re reformed to bring the Privacy Commissioner and the Access to Information Commissioner under the act.

These are all very positive things that need to be done and I would hope that the member, and his entire side in fact, will support me when I table a private member's bill in the House next week that does this for the Access to Information Act. It would reform the Access to Information Act in these many ways and enable better transparency and accountability, and would bring in all those agencies that right now are outside the act. It would bring them under the act so that we could see what is going on because that is our job as MPs from both sides of the House.

Committees of the House October 3rd, 2003

Madam Speaker, I am delighted to have this opportunity to speak to the government operations committee report on the George Radwanski affair.

The member for Mississauga South was, I think, far too kind with respect to my role in the affair. However, it is certainly true that it was a question that I posed at the government operations committee that led to the disclosures and the whole salacious scandal, shall we say, of a servant of this House, an officer of Parliament, engaging in overspending, improper spending, and treating his staff and department in almost an abusive and brutal manner.

What ultimately came out was a story that has been in all the newspapers of a person who had very little regard for the expectation of integrity that he should have had, very little regard for the people he managed or very little regard indeed for the office that he held. And it has been quite a story, certainly.

Despite the fact that it has made headlines and it has been so salacious, it is, in fact, an exceptional circumstance. It does not speak to the entire civil service.

I would like to address part of my remarks to the concern expressed by the member for Elk Island. People must keep in sight the fact that the reason the Office of the Privacy Commissioner developed the problems it did was because it is not under the Access to Information Act.

The original question that started all of this was a question to the Privacy Commissioner about why he thought that his office should not be under the Access to Information Act. It is legislation that applies to most government departments and permits access to routine financial documents and operational documents by the media, other members of Parliament and the general public.

Mr. Radwanski replied in the negative. He said he did not want to be under the Access to Information Act even though other officers of Parliament said that they were willing to be under the Access to Information Act.

The fact that there was no routine disclosure and the fact that a department like the Office of the Privacy Commissioner would not come under routine external audit enabled Mr. Radwanski to engage in practices that would normally never have come to light.

Indeed, the fact that his documents were requested by the committee, which had the power to summon the documents, is the only reason any of this came to light in the first place. The documents were sent to the committee, and I was the one who requested his expense accounts and other details of his operations. When I looked at them for the first time, and when other members of the committee looked at them for the first time, none of us could see anything wrong with them. In fact, when I looked at them, I thought the hospitality expenses were rather high, but I did not see that as a very important issue.

However, because they were tabled before the committee, people in the Privacy Commissioner's office saw those documents and realized that they had been altered, that they were incomplete, that there had been sections whited out, and that in one document a whole paragraph had disappeared.

Now I submit to the House that no ordinary audit would have caught that alteration of documents. Had the Auditor General gone in on a regular external audit and looked at Mr. Radwanski's expense sheets or looked at the letter he sent to the justice department that later was discovered to have been altered, she would not have noticed it.

And this is the power of the Access to Information Act. When routine documents are available, they are not only available to the media, they are not only available to the public, they are also available to other staff in a department of government.

When documents are altered or changed and they can be called up on the Internet, then there is an opportunity for people who know that they are false to raise the alarm. That is precisely what happened in this case.

When the documents were tabled before the committee, there were people who called me, the chairman of the committee and others to point out the missing information.

That set in motion the investigation that my hon. colleague from Mississauga South and other members of the government operations committee conducted so thoroughly and effectively. It has now led to the resignation of the Privacy Commissioner and an ongoing investigation of where the failures occurred that enabled this person to abuse his public office.

I would insist and I would repeat that the primary problem, no matter what other problems existed, was the fact that the Office of the Privacy Commissioner was not under the Access to Information Act.

Returning to the question of the member for Elk Island of how extensive the problem is that we discovered with Mr. Radwanski, I would suggest that it probably does not exist where government agencies and departments fall under the Access to Information Act.

There are many departments that are under the Access to Information Act. Unfortunately there are a number of small tribunals, small agencies and organizations of perhaps 50 or 100 employees that are not under the Access to Information Act, are not subject to internal audit, and are not required to publish annual audited statements.

They are out there and one of the things that has been disclosed by the Radwanski affair is the fact that there is this major gap in our coverage and our oversights of agencies that spend taxpayers' dollars.

Two things should flow, I hope, from the work of the government operations committee on the Privacy Commissioner's file.

First, we need to reform or adjust the Access to Information Act so that every agency of government that spends taxpayers' dollars comes under the Access to Information Act so that everyone can see how that money is spent. Second, we need to compile a list of those agencies that are not under the Access to Information Act and set up a regime where they are regularly audited. I do not see why any agency in government should not be subject to a proper audit. Those are two major lessons we can take from our experience with the Privacy Commissioner.

This whole exercise with respect to discovering the problems in the Privacy Commissioner's office and investigating them is a wonderful example of what members of Parliament can do together. It was not the government that discovered this problem and it was not just the Liberals. The fact that such a thorough job was done to expose the problems that existed with the Privacy Commissioner is a reflection on standing committees, in this case the government operations committee, realizing their power.

I have been in the House for 10 years and 10 years is a long time. But I can remember when I first came in 1993 and, generally speaking, standing committees did very little. Basically, because they were dominated by government members who always wanted to do what their leadership wanted them to do, it was very difficult to see standing committees show any independence or show any real initiative to get to the bottom of things, to look at government spending, and to look at the issues that they were really charged by Canadians to look at.

There has almost been a revolution. The government operations committee did a wonderful job on the estimates as well as on the Radwanski file. The Standing Committee on Public Accounts has done excellent work in looking at expense accounts and at the problems of the sponsorship files where public agencies appear to have misused public funds.

Other committees have shown similar initiatives but these two, in particular, I commend. I think what we are looking at is a new era of Parliament. Once backbench MPs discover the real power there will be no looking back. There will only be looking forward.

Committees of the House October 3rd, 2003

Madam Speaker, I wonder if the member for Mississauga South could describe how the committee, in its investigations after the initial problem surfaced with respect to Mr. Radwanski's expense accounts, operated in a non-partisan way to reach the conclusions in the report he has just tabled.

Government of Ontario October 3rd, 2003

Mr. Speaker, it was with great pleasure and satisfaction that last night I called up my provincial counterpart in my riding, Liberal Ted McMeekin, and congratulated him on his handy victory over his provincial Tory opponent, who became twice a victim because the delicious irony of Mr. McMeekin's victory last night was that he overcame the same person I defeated 10 years ago.

I would like to add that this gives me the opportunity to congratulate all the provincial Liberals for a very fine campaign and to take note of the fact that one factor, among many other factors certainly, that led to the success of the Liberals in the riding was the terrible attack ads of the provincial Tories, which Canadians, the people of Ontario, rejected absolutely. I hope that is a lesson to all of us that this is not--

Assisted Human Reproduction Act October 3rd, 2003

Mr. Speaker, I am like so many in the House on this legislation. There is so much of it that I do support and I want to see it go forward. However there are other aspects of it that about which I am genuinely uneasy.

Part of the problem with legislation like this is it does go to the health committee. As other speakers have noted, there has been quite a full debate in the health committee and many difficult issues have been raised, particularly in the context of embryonic cell research. The problem is however good the debate in committee, the debate does not get into this House.

Every one of us are charged with many other tasks as MPs and it is difficult for us to find the time to look up the Hansards of the deliberations that were carried on in committee on legislation like this, and well we should. Every one of us has a duty to be thoroughly informed on the issues that surround legislation, that is, historic legislation, legislation that heralds the dawn of a new age and that heralds the dawn of a new age that may have many dark aspects.

I find myself inclined toward finding a way in which to use stem cells, non-embryonic stem cells would be preferable. However I also feel that if it is a matter of saving lives, then embryonic stem cells, which would be destroyed anyway, ought to be used in research, always on the assumption that these embryonic stem cells would not be deliberately produced for research, because I would find that absolutely reprehensible.

There is no doubt that there are diseases out there on which the clock is ticking. Parkinson's, for example, is a disease that there is some suggestion could be addressed by stem cell research. If embryonic stem cell research speeds up a solution for Parkinson's, then I would be one who would want to see it happen because it is very close to me. Both in my family and in my community people are suffering from Parkinson's and one's heart goes to them. One wants to help. There are many other diseases to which hope is offered if there is success in stem cell research.

I would make the distinction only that I would support embryonic stem cell research only if there were a reasonable possibility, not probability, a reasonable possibility that embryonic stem cell research could shorten the time to bring cures to the people who are suffering.

Having said that, I take the point of earlier speakers that the bill could have been divided because there are other aspects of the bill, which are not contentious at this point in time at any rate, that we ought to address and address rapidly, and I point to the provisions with respect to cloning.

I can remember when I was in my teenage years being fascinated by the science fiction literature at the time. This would be the 1960s. There was a lot of science fiction literature at that time. The prospect of something like cloning the human being came up in fiction from time to time. I well remember the idea they put forward in fiction, that this would be a way to create people who would never die; that is, create perpetual life.

What they basically would do is take an individual and by cloning they could create indefinite copies of an individual. All they would have to do, in the science fiction of the day, is take that, reproduce its physical body, implant in it the same memories and functions, possibly by a sophisticated computer, and they would get replication of, and I hate to say this, some of my political opponents indefinitely.

Imagine, Mr. Speaker, and I am sorry to take a serious subject and divert for a moment, I look at my friends across the aisle and the prospect of them carrying on for a hundred years or so in their seats, always in opposition, is a prospect that is truly daunting. However I digress.

To be more serious, the reality is the prospect of everlasting life through human cloning is actually a possibility in the age in which we are now. We have already started the process in the cloning of animals and the possibility of cloning human beings and having the computer technology which could actually collect and recreate that human being intellectually, perhaps that technology is to come only in the next 20 or 30 years, is before us now. We have to act now and assert what we feel about mortality.

I do not want to get into religious arguments or religious debates here, but I would argue that there is good reason why men and women were created mortal. It is not something with which I would want to see interfered. This is the type of issue on which the House should express itself.

I would have been in favour of dividing the bill and dealing expeditiously with this type of aspect of the bill. I think a the majority of Canadians who may not be associated with any religion, Canadians who may be very agnostic, would all agree that the prospect of cloning human beings is a frightening prospect and it is something certainly that we should try to prevent for as long as possible.

However let me come back to the embryonic research. I think that is terribly important. I would have hoped that this House could have set aside the time to analyze it fully, to set maybe several days aside where we could have had that debate because it is so vital to clarify and to decide whether we are prepared to set aside all embryonic stem cell research for moral reasons, if you will, and moral reasons are fine. Many Canadians react that way for moral reasons and we have to respect that. However there is this other side of it. No matter how strong one's morals, if lives can be saved, then we need to have that debate and we have to find that balance.

This is what Parliament is all about always in this House is that we have to deal with difficult issues and strike balances. We have had anti-terrorism legislation here just recently which is anathema to the vision that Canadians have of themselves. Yet we were forced, because of the world situation, to bring in measures that were unthinkable 10 years ago or only three years ago. I think this House tried very hard to strike a balance, and as a matter of fact I think we did it better than any other nation, a balance between new security provisions and retaining as best we could the liberties and the privacies that we hold so dear.

The issue on embryonic stem cell research is exactly the same type of thing. The House has to make a decision and it is a very difficult decision. I would have liked to have had more time myself to read everything that was said before the health committee and then come to this House in a debate and hear other members who have done the same thing, not the members of the health committee, other members who have the concerns as were expressed by all members of the health committee and have a real debate here, then come to a conclusion by a vote in this House on this specific question of embryonic stem cell research. Right now, quite frankly, I think I would vote in support of it. However maybe after the debate I would vote against it. I do not know but a lot more debate would have been appropriate.

Supply October 2nd, 2003

Madam Speaker, should the government be prepared to run a deficit in order to maintain this particular program?