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Crucial Fact

  • Her favourite word was know.

Last in Parliament September 2008, as NDP MP for Surrey North (B.C.)

Won her last election, in 2006, with 46% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Phthalate Control Act June 19th, 2007

Mr. Speaker, I rise to support this bill and congratulate my colleague from Skeena—Bulkley Valley on the really excellent voice he has had for a variety of environmental issues this session.

This is something that we are going to begin to hear more and more about, and that is the relationship between the environment and health. We all sort of know it is there, but we will be able to see more specific linkages to what is in our environment, the health of our bodies and the relationship between them.

We all stand in the House to speak wearing a variety of hats as the people elected in our ridings. I am the health critic for the federal NDP as well as a former nurse who worked in hospitals, and I will speak of medical devices in a moment. I am also a mother and a grandmother.

What do Canadians expect? We expect, as we have heard other people say, that somebody, and I do not think people could identify who but perhaps Health Canada or whoever, has used the highest level of safety consciousness possible before any product is put on the market that someone in their family might use, their child, an adult or anyone else.

When we become parents and sometimes even grandparents, although some of us try, we are not as successful at holding advice back as others, I am sure. My daughter would say I was probably less successful. As parents and grandparents we read books, Internet sites and anything else to find out everything we can possibly know to keep our children safe. We work very hard at that.

We check what is in food and in formula if women are not breastfeeding. We ensure children lie in the correct body position when they sleep, but we expect if a neighbour or grandma buys a toy that it is safe.

We know that there are phthalates in toys. It is of course much more pleasant for babies and small children if the toy is soft. I have picked up toys and squeezed them and thought that one felt better for my granddaughter than the other and that is the one I would buy. It never occurred to me that I should be looking for other things as well that I would not have known to look for before.

We know that children, some more than others but every child to some degree, puts things in their mouths whether it is due to teething or it is one of the ways of exploration. It is one of the ways children learn. If it exists, their instinct is to put it in their mouths. If someone hands a child a toy, the child puts it in his or her mouth.

At the same time, we know that particularly smaller bodies have very different levels of absorption. Their levels of absorption are higher but among adults as well the levels of absorption will vary. If a child is particularly prone to mouthing a toy and has a high absorption level, that child will therefore be exposed to more phthalates than perhaps other children.

We all imagine this lovely picture of moms who are breastfeeding their children because they have been told that is the best thing to do, that is the way babies maintain their immunity and all kinds of wonderful things for moms who are able to breastfeed. It would not occur to us to think that because of mom's exposure to a particular product, a cosmetic or perfume, depending on how much a woman uses a certain product, it gets absorbed into her body and might be transferred through milk to her infant.

As careful as parents want to be, these are things that we have not known about before and why the European Union has banned this completely in toys, as has Argentina, Fiji, Finland, Japan and Mexico. In the United States there are a number of states that are moving to do exactly the same thing. I am quite sure that here in Canada we could do that. We will not be breaking any new ground to do this and we should be moving as quickly as possible to ban phthalates.

The other people we have to be concerned about are other vulnerable people, like folks who are immunosuppressed because they have had chemotherapy for cancer. Their bodies are particularly vulnerable.

Many phthalates are found in medical devices which I certainly did not know about before I read this. Going into the hospital to have surgery people are already worrying enough, at least if they are like me, they are. So do I think about whether the IV line they are using is safe? Or the catheter that someone is inserting is safe? I would not have time to even begin to read the entire list of medical devices, such as the aprons used during radiation therapy, feeding tubes, IV equipment and catheters. The list is enormous.

I have enough things to worry about if I am having surgery other than whether that equipment, which we now know has phthalates in it, is safe, but we also know that there are alternatives. We know if manufacturers are told that it is a banned substance they will very quickly find another substance to use. Indeed, with medical devices a variety of companies have found other substances to use so they can remove phthalates and still have the same effect in the product that they are producing.

This is a superb opportunity to move forward with this. I am disappointed that it is not a complete ban because the precautionary principle says we should probably ban them all. Nevertheless we are still faced with the challenges around leaching, absorption, mouthing, et cetera. We are going to spend 24 months reviewing something that was reviewed in 1994 and 2000 by CEPA and found at that stage to be acceptable.

Our tests are more sophisticated now and I think we will find a very different outcome. However, I would like to believe we could do that in a much faster period of time because I do not like thinking that in the next 24 months people will be going to hospitals or children will be mouthing toys. It is not the toys that will be banned, but with the medical devices people may still be at some risk.

We have had some health crises in this country that we were not able to get ahead of. We could not see them coming and we could not get ahead. Tainted blood is a good example. We do not see health crises coming. We cannot see ahead. This is an opportunity to be ahead of something, not chasing it. No one wants to chase a health crisis.

Given that the European Union and all the countries I mentioned have already taken action on this, the faster we act on this bill, the better off Canadians will be. It does give legislators an opportunity to say that we do believe in the precautionary principle. If there is any risk to Canadians we will do everything we can either to reduce or eliminate the risk until we know that the products on the market are as safe as they can possibly be.

This is not world shaking. Many other countries have done this and we know that manufacturers will be able to change because with any other product that we have said is dangerous and told them they could not put this in it, a week or two later the product is back on the market, the dangerous substance is out, and another one is back in that enables the product to be sold safely. We are more than able to do this.

I would be happier if we could have moved more quickly. I would be happier if this were a ban, although it is a ban on the toys, but I am worried about the 24 months before the act comes into force and the total reassessment of all of the medical devices. We will have a lot of people standing beside us, hurrying us to do it, including consumer groups, health groups, patient groups, parents, all those people I mentioned where products could bring their child or family member into some risk or maybe some significant risk.

Illnesses from cumulative diseases are very hard to assess because it not like one exposure to tainted blood or something. Cumulative is very hard to assess and therefore we should not take any risks around cumulation of a product. We should move very quickly to ban these and to move forward to assess the others as quickly as possible.

Again, I thank my colleague for his very hard work on this and I thank the House for the time to speak.

Quarantine Act June 14th, 2007

Mr. Speaker, yes, it does. I would not be standing here to support it if it did not.

Quarantine Act June 14th, 2007

Mr. Speaker, we had two witnesses with different opinions. My question was, “Will people be healthier as a result of this?” and one person said yes, that there was no risk and the other said, eventually, no.

Again, the argument was put forward that symptoms would not show themselves that quickly. They might not on a plane, but I am quite certain, from my personal health experience and from seeing tuberculosis when it is active, that indeed we may very well see that or another serious communicable disease show itself over the course of five days, or seven days, or the length of time that a person might be on a bus or a train with someone to be infected.

I think that it again shows the importance when someone says it is a housekeeping change. I cannot say whether it was an error or whether it was an economic decision. I can only present the member, as I did, with my experiences and the fact that we were unable to interview anybody from SPP.

However, to point again to my experience, even if someone says it is a housekeeping change, we must always read everything carefully and not treat any document either more lightly or more seriously than any other one.

Quarantine Act June 14th, 2007

Mr. Speaker, this was a particularly interesting exercise. We must always put the health of Canadians first. It is important that Canadians are not only safe but that they feel safe.

One of the very important lessons from the exercise that the whole committee has been through is the importance of being vigilant regarding reading the wording very carefully.

The bill was put forward as a housekeeping change and as we hear from members who have spoken, it has turned out to be more than a housekeeping change.

I certainly support the act and I thank my colleagues from the Bloc, the Liberal Party, the parliamentary secretary and the minister for acting very quickly when, as critics, we brought up our concerns about the fact that lands would be removed as a condition of the Quarantine Act.

I can understand updating the bill because we would naturally add air. That did not exist in the Quarantine Act when it was written. However, regarding the removal of lands, when the other critics and myself as the NDP health critic looked at the bill more closely, we realized it probably had a number of other consequences to which we needed to pay attention.

I want to give a brief overview of that. I will use TB as an example because in that particular one many things went wrong. They would not be fixed necessarily by the act because it broke down in many places.

If a noticeably ill person were to fly into Canada, as the individual would have been, get on a bus or a train with very noticeable symptoms, there would have been no responsibility on the part of any staff to report the individual. They would have carried on for some length of time with the other passengers on the train, the bus or whatever, exposing all of these individuals to a potentially communicable disease. That presented for us a great dilemma.

While we did hear from many public health officials that in the space of time it takes to take a flight from London, England to Ottawa, symptoms are unlikely to present themselves. That may be true. However, if a person got on a train in Florida and travelled all the way to Vancouver, there indeed would be time for symptoms to present themselves.

If a person contracted the disease but was not showing symptoms, a week later this person certainly would be. Therefore this person would have exposed a large number of people in a very small contained space to a communicable disease.

I would mention that we see a lot of cross-border traffic between the United States and Canada. We are always glad to have American tourists visit. I assume they are always glad to have Canadian tourists visit. I think we would all agree to that.

We found it unusual at committee that whenever we asked anybody whether this had any connection to the security-prosperity partnership, we were told that none of those people were available to come to talk with us. The health witnesses we spoke to said they did not know anything about it. We became more and more puzzled as this went on.

Getting back to the example of TB, people think of tuberculosis as a disease we do not hear about very much any more. Anybody who grew up in my generation would have seen TB sanatoriums. When I went into nursing in 1961-2, they were just closing, at least in Ontario, because we thought we had beaten it.

Now we are seeing an increase in tuberculosis, particularly in urban areas, perhaps from people from overseas who come from the very tightly packed urban areas which do not have all of the hygienic advantages.

In my own community, the lower mainland or other cities around the country and in the United States, we are seeing an increase in a disease that we once thought had virtually disappeared.

Anything we can do to protect that from spreading is absolutely critical. That is what people elect us for, to ensure that the health committee and people responsible for health, and indeed all parliamentarians, put people's health as a top priority. We make no concessions to that whatsoever.

We did have some discussions. My Liberal colleague raised the question that we have already lowered pesticide, or raised pesticide, a proposal to allow more pesticide because it will make our trade more even with the United States. So we did have to ask ourselves about whether this was related to the security-prosperity partnership which would make it easier for people to cross the border and, therefore, was related to that.

That would be the worst light to put on it. The best light to put on it would be that people simply did not understand when it came out what that really meant. To give credit to the parliamentary secretary and the minister, when it was brought to their attention it was changed very quickly. I absolutely want to acknowledge that.

We are pleased as long as we are clear that land is back in. I was very pleased to hear the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health who spoke, although he frequently mentioned airports and water, but he did mention land, trains, buses, cars, anything that is crossing the border. If we are crossing on a cart, a tricycle with something behind it, whatever it is, it is a conveyance and therefore there is a responsibility. If someone believes someone is ill and sees symptoms, but none of us are diagnosticians, except diagnosticians, we can all I think recognize when somebody appears very ill.

I think we recently had a circumstance where a person appeared very ill. If land had not been in there and the United States had not acted, although obviously it did not work in that case, but I am sure the Americans are reviewing why that all slipped through the cracks with them. However, we are all much more comfortable with this.

I rise to support this amendment and be very clear that I think it was all the critics who brought this to the parliamentary secretary's attention. The parliamentary secretary did take that to the minister and the fact that land is back in there makes us able to support this, knowing that we have put the health of Canadians first, but we will always very carefully read something that says it is only a housekeeping amendment.

Canada Transportation Act June 14th, 2007

Mr. Speaker, when I moved to British Columbia from Nova Scotia 25 years ago, the very first thing I heard about was the concern about the rail yards because we have rail yards in Surrey.

James Karpoff, who was the member of Parliament for Surrey North from 1988 to 1993, has a pile of speeches, letters and so on where he deals with this very concern. In my neighbourhood in particular, the rail yards are right below where we live. Did we know that when we moved in? Of course we did, but we were told that the railway was working on changes so that we would not feel the vibrations, not hear the noise in the same way, we would not hear shunting at 3 o'clock in the morning, that all those things were changing and that people were working hard on that.

It is now 2007 and I do not know what to tell my neighbours. That is part of my question. We have people who have spent tens of thousands of dollars literally on their homes, patching cracks in the foundations because of the vibrations of the rail yard. It is perhaps half a mile down the hill from us.

We have people who have not been able to afford to double glaze their windows. I know they should because it is energy efficient, but it is also about the money to do it. They are awake walking babies at night. People say the baby will go back to sleep. If the person who is a mom or dad who has just spent two and a half hours to get a baby to sleep, having that baby wake up again is not a small matter.

We have had people on our street under palliative care at home who have great difficulty getting any kind of peace and quiet at all, even with the medications they are on. Then they are awakened again by the shunting noise in the middle of the night. It is unconscionable.

People have come to me as their elected MLA, councillor and elected MP to ask, what could I do to help them? I ask my colleague, what do I now go back and tell the people in my neighbourhood? Who do they ask? Do they find every senator and ask them? What do I tell them that they need to do next? If the amendment passes, what is it that they can do next? It would never have occurred to them to go to an unelected body to have changes made to their quality of life. Perhaps my colleague could help me with what I can say to my neighbours at a community meeting which is actually next week.

Food and Drugs Act June 6th, 2007

Mr. Speaker, I will follow up on the comments of my colleague who just spoke. This is indeed a bill that merits our attention. It is an issue that merits our attention. I think that in some ways we have had intermittent attention paid to it around Internet pharmacies, but perhaps not in the larger perspective of what drug exportation has the potential to mean.

In my understanding of the bill, and I will look to my Liberal colleague to be nodding or shaking her head if I misspeak, there is a concern that for Canadians, for the most part in some kind of emergency, drugs would not be available because we would have a shortage through bulk exportation or exportation in large amounts to the United States. The example that my Liberal colleague from St. Paul's used was around Tamiflu.

There are a couple of things that affect this. When the United States politicians introduced the pharmaceutical market access and drug safety act, and I believe it was in 2007, I think that efforts or initiatives were stepped up in order to be able to access bulk exports on an even greater basis, because that act appeared to be opening even further a door that was probably open anyway but was going to be open on a much more official kind of basis.

I live in the border city of Surrey. Our 400,000 people make us a city. I do not think that this bill is intended to stop the carload of senior citizens who drive up there from Bellingham to get their personal prescriptions filled. I think we have to be clear about how the bill is not intended to simply completely close down the gates to any kind of sharing or purchasing of drugs by American citizens.

We know that we are very fortunate in this country. Although our system could be better in that we could have a national drug plan, and we are working on it, that is for another day, We are able to have our prescriptions at prices that are more affordable for us than they are for many American citizens who indeed either cannot afford them or do not have coverage.

There are somewhere around 250 million Americans who do not have any medical coverage whatsoever and they are not going to be able to afford prescriptions anyway. While we have some people in those circumstances, it is much more severe in the United States. I do not think this bill is saying that those kinds of people would not be able to access any drugs at all from Canada.

However, I think there has been a dramatic expansion and there is a potential for a dramatic expansion of importation to the U.S. of drugs in large bulk amounts. That is perhaps a bit different from what we heard from another colleague. With the United States opening the door, and with manufacturers here who I am sure would be willing to sell in bulk amounts, I think that would be a dramatic expansion.

I do not think there is any question that the business of Internet pharmacies has decreased. I hope, as my Liberal colleague does, that it is because people perhaps have a greater understanding of what some of the risks might be and are able to access those drugs at home. This is not about the expansion or contraction of Internet pharmacies filling individual prescriptions, although those indeed are dropping.

There is an interesting question about this that I get asked all the time when this comes up. It has come up in B.C. a number of times as we see people coming in from the United States. People say that this will probably create jobs, so why can the manufacturers not put on more shifts and manufacture more drugs? It is perfect, they say, there is the solution.

However, the manufacture of drugs does not work in the same way that manufacturing tomato sauce works. Some of those drugs have ingredients that are perhaps more scarce in terms of their biological sources. Also, it takes time to manufacture additional amounts of drugs.

As well, many medications are time dated, so drug manufacturers cannot just create a warehouse or a storehouse full of medications that are ready to export when somebody asks for them. They may be out of date, and the manufacturers are not going to have the excess sitting on their shelves, excess that they have not been able to forecast. They do their business based on forecasting, which is primarily based on the needs of Canadian patients. That is where they develop their business plan. They develop it on what they see as the trend line in medications that are being used and approved in Canada.

There are two other things I want to mention. I have seen what happens in emergencies. Not every drug that would be bulk exported is a vaccine, and I understand that, but vaccines are part of that bulk export. When SARS hit Canada, I was at Home Depot one day and saw people pushing huge carts full of crates and crates of masks out of the store. By the way, those little paper masks would not have done any good anyway, as we discovered. As we probably know anyway, they not terribly effective, but people were hoarding them in case something happened.

In any kind of an emergency there is this human response to hoard: drugs, food, things that will protect us, water, or whatever it might be. I worry that in the case of that emergency where a vaccine is needed, and again, Tamiflu is the example that was used, there might be a health risk for Canadians. I want everybody to be healthy. I want Americans, Canadians and people around the world to be healthy, but we have a responsibility as legislators of this country and as people involved in health to ensure that there are the health resources necessary to meet the needs of Canadian citizens.

When we are talking about bulk exporting, I have another concern. My understanding is that regulators at the border have said that they have an opportunity to check only about 1% of what crosses the border. We all know that there are such things as counterfeit drugs. I do not think there are going to be people looking to see whether these are counterfeit drugs that are being shipped across the border or whether they are being shipped across the border in a box that says “Christmas presents for Aunt Millie”.

Mr. Speaker is telling me that I have one minute left. I look forward to further debate on this bill, but when we are looking at bulk exports, I do think that there are many risks involved and it is only responsible of the Government of Canada to look at this and ensure that Canadians are protected first.

Seniors May 31st, 2007

Mr. Speaker, I often share stories in this House about people who live in my riding. Today I would like to recognize the 17,000 seniors who call Surrey North home.

I was pleased to meet many of my neighbours at a public forum I sponsored last week to help seniors protect themselves from fraud. Not surprisingly, our discussion turned to other issues facing seniors today, such as how there are many elderly people who cannot afford the rising costs of prescription drugs, how it is getting harder to find quality home support in Surrey, and how the responsibility of looking after spouses is difficult without help.

Seniors in Surrey tell me that they are behind the NDP's plan to ensure dignity and security for Canadians as we grow older. They support the seniors charter our party has passed in the House of Commons. They are grateful that we are trying to guarantee retirement security and protect pensions, the only party to do so.

They want the government to act on the NDP's call for free drug and dental coverage for seniors. It is the least we can do for the people who helped build our country.

Health May 30th, 2007

Mr. Speaker, each day the country loses 150 good paying manufacturing jobs. That is 150 families each day who lose their income and their drug coverage.

While working and middle class families continue to get squeezed through the jobs crisis, big pharmaceutical companies are making off with record profits.

When will the government start standing up for working families and not the drug giants, and take action on universal drug coverage to all Canadians?

Health May 30th, 2007

Mr. Speaker, behind the numbers that make up the manufacturing job crisis in the country, there are real families who find it impossible to make ends meet. When a job disappears, the whole family loses the economic security that comes not only with an income, but with the benefits as well. With each of the 250,000 manufacturing job losses, an entire family loses its prescription drug coverage. This is not right.

When will the government take the first step to introduce universal drug coverage and protect working families in Canada?

Aboriginal Affairs May 18th, 2007

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in the House today to support Motion No. 296. It is unconscionable that we would rank 78th on the United Nations Human Development Index in terms of first nations children.

People call this Jordan's principle. There are some other principles that go along with this. How about principles that say patience not paper? How about some principles about kids first, not bureaucracy first?

When we talk about the treatment of children, in this case first nations children, whatever the agency of first contact is, it provides the service. I do not care which one it is. We can figure out later who pays the bill. It is not fair for a young child to have to lay in a hospital bed waiting for something which adults are bickering about, or they cannot decide on, or they are shuffling papers or they are arguing over jurisdictional issues. There is nothing moral about that.

I want to talk a bit about some experiences I have had in this area. As the minister of health, the minister of education and the minister of children and families in British Columbia, I have heard many heart-rending stories. However, I will go back some time before that.

I am a pediatric nurse and I worked at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. There were young toddlers, two, three, four, five year olds, on the surgical floor. Many aboriginal children came to that hospital. In those days it was almost the only hospital with intensive pediatric experience. Children from northern Ontario and northern Manitoba would come to the hospital and they would be there for extensive lengths of time.

Let me talk about a child I will call Michael, although Michael is really a composite of a number of children that I knew. Michael was from northern Ontario and he came to the hospital have surgery. His surgery was very complicated. He needed rehabilitation after the surgery and then other surgeries later. It involved orthopedics. By the time I met him, he had been there for about 22 months.

It was Christmastime. Anybody who knows Toronto, knows the Santa Claus Parade used to go down University Avenue. The windows of the Hospital for Sick Children face University Avenue. We would gather all the children in front of the window so they could watch as the parade went by. Like many hospitals, people try to take as many people home as possible. By Christmas Eve the ward was fairly empty, except Michael was there as were other aboriginal children.

Where was Christmas for them? They had seen Santa Claus go by, they had heard the other children on their ward getting excited about being home and talking about their stockings and being with their families. Michael and other aboriginal children were in the hospital in beds and cribs.

I remember going to work at midnight and checking to ensure everybody was asleep. There were probably two or three of us tiptoeing around, hanging stockings on the ends of beds and cribs and filling them with toys so in the morning those children would know that somehow Santa had found them.

Michael was there for another year and a half. There was no money for his parents to visit. None of his family could visit him. There was no Ronald McDonald House at that time. One might say that I was nursing a long time ago, and I was, but it is not substantially different now. His family could not come down to visit him and he could not be flying back and forth, with the kind of surgery and rehabilitation he was having.

What do children that age think when they have not seen their parents in a year and a half or two years? They think they have been abandoned. They think it is their fault. They think they have done something wrong. Because they have not seen their family, they think nobody loves them.

Eventually Michael went home, but I am trying to imagine the kinds of family support services and resources that would have had to be there in order to build that family again for a child who had been away for that length of time. Those services were not in place then and many of them are not in place now.

There were other children with Michael who could not go home because no one could decide where they could go. They were “in care”, but no one could make the decision about what foster home it would be, funded by whom, where it would be, and whether it would be in their home community, so they just continued to stay.

These are children at their most formative ages.

For a minute I want to look at this through the eyes of Michael. Michael has seen on television and read books about what home is, but he has never seen one. He has heard the kids on the ward talk about what a home is and what they do at home and where they play at home, but he has never seen one. What does Michael do? He wonders what is wrong with him that he cannot have the same home that the other children do. Why is he different? What is wrong with him that nobody wants him?

First nations agencies should have all the capacity and resources they need to provide all of the services that first nations children require, and I repeat, all of the capacity and resources. In some provinces some of that is starting to work, but my Lord, it has been far too long in coming, and for many aboriginal children it is not anywhere close to being there yet.

If we are truly child centred, then it is about the child. Everyone knows that I am an adopted only child, and sometimes folks suggest they could guess that without my telling them, so I have no extended family. The potential for extended family support for first nations children is huge. It is something that I and my children will never experience.

As a mom, I cannot imagine not having the experience of going in every night to tuck my child in and of tiptoeing in before I go to bed to see if they are asleep. That is what these first nations parents cannot do. That is the joy that comes from parenthood.

How can there be any reason whatsoever that we cannot support this? If we cannot treat a child immediately under all circumstances, then as a country we have failed and as a society we have failed. Jordan cannot have waited or died in vain. Let no child wait again.