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ENVI Committee Meeting

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[Recorded by Electronic Apparatus]

Thursday, February 17, 2000

• 0946


The Chair (Hon. Charles Caccia (Davenport, Lib.)): We are now moving from in camera to a public meeting. We welcome the new members of the committee, Mr. Mills in particular.

We have now the Minister of Health with us. Mr. Rock, we welcome you with your officials. If you have a statement, by all means make it. We understand you can be with us until 11 o'clock. We are very glad to have you among us.

By way of introduction, let me say we have held a number of meetings on PMRA so far. Without any comments or further delay, you ought to have the floor first, and then we'll have a good round of comments and questions. Again, on behalf of the committee, welcome to this gathering this morning. The floor is yours.

Hon. Allan Rock (Minister of Health Canada): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I'm particularly grateful, because yesterday, as you know, I couldn't attend. There was a vote. We went back to the House for the vote. I looked at my schedule about coming today and found I was on House duty from 10 until 2 o'clock. I was trying desperately to find someone for House duty for me and couldn't. The chairman turned around behind him and said to Andy Mitchell, “Andy, can you do the minister's House duty tomorrow from 10 to 11?”, and Andy said, “Yeah, I can do that.” So he did, and here I am.

So I'm very grateful to you, Mr. Chairman, for solving the scheduling problem, and for having an opportunity finally to be before the committee on an issue that when I arrived in Health I found was a source of some controversy at the time.

When I became Minister of Health and was briefed about the portfolio—

The Chair: Excuse me, Mr. Minister. Excuse me for interrupting you. It was very difficult during the hearings to find people who were praising PMRA. So you have a very difficult task.

Mr. Allan Rock: Well, that's right. No doubt you've found what I did, namely that there are various tugs on this agency. There are those of us who are concerned, for our own sake and for our families', about the environment, of course, and health. There are those who make their living producing products for which they feel they need pesticides, and they're concerned about the efficiency of the agency. There are the manufacturers who want to get access to markets. And of course there's the agency itself, which wants to have the tools to do the job. All of these have to be reconciled.

So over the last couple of years, we did two or three things to try to improve the situation, which you've heard about, I'm sure, in the course of the testimony.

We retained the services of an outside consultant to look at the way the PMRA does its work, look at its efficiency, and look at the relationship between cost recovery and outcomes. That was very useful and provided a comparative measure of how the PMRA works compared to other countries.

We also appointed an advisory committee comprised of a wide variety of people who have interests: environmentalists, producers, and the industry. Those interests are now all at one table to look at policy and priorities for the PMRA.

• 0950

We also prepared legislation, which we discussed with that advisory committee, the outlines of which I know have been presented here. One of the things I want to say today is we're very much looking forward to the recommendations of this committee in relation to the proposed legislation, and we'll look for and rely upon your advice.

In the Speech from the Throne we undertook to address the issue of pesticides, and the legislation will do that. You've had the objectives of the legislative proposals before you. You know that our objective is to strengthen health and environmental protection provided under the current Pest Control Products Act, but also to improve public involvement in the process and communication with the public in a variety of ways.

We want to strengthen the re-evaluation program, because unlike under the current act, the proposed amendments will enable the agency to take regulatory action if a registrant doesn't provide information required for re-evaluation. We also intend to require registrants to report adverse reactions or adverse effects, which could trigger re-evaluations. Some of this is being implemented informally by the PMRA, but we want to have the statutory basis.

Obviously public confidence is important and can only be achieved and maintained if people are involved in the process of regulation. So the amendments will involve an improved consultation process that will no longer require the pesticide industry's permission to publish proposed registration decision documents that contain summaries of risk assessments, for example.

The new statute will permit the public to inspect health and environmental test data supporting pesticide registrations, so we'll be providing Canadians with a way to satisfy themselves that those risk assessments are comprehensive, again, we hope, improving the level of confidence.

Those are some of our objectives. I know this committee has spent a great deal of time looking at all of the elements I've described. Let me just conclude, Mr. Chairman, by saying we very much look forward to your insights and the recommendations of this committee, which will be taken carefully into account as we put the legislation in final form.

The Chair: We certainly appreciate what you said, Mr. Minister, particularly the confidence you are indicating in the work of this committee.

Without further delay now, we have Mr. Reed, Mr. Mills, and the chair, unless other people are ready to jump in.

Mr. Allan Rock: Mr. Chairman, I should have—and I meant to—introduced the officials with me. You perhaps know Dr. Claire Franklin of the agency, and Rod Raphael is from Health Canada.

The Chair: Thank you.

Mr. Allan Rock: We've agreed on the division of responsibility. I will respond to the easy questions and they will take all the others.

The Chair: Mr. Reed indicated first, so he will go first.

Mr. Julian Reed (Halton, Lib.): Thanks very much, Mr. Chairman.

Throughout this time listening to the testimony, a couple of things are becoming clear. Over time, pesticides have improved in terms of their environmental impact. The residual factors have lessened as time goes on, with new products coming on the scene and so on. This morning we were talking about risk assessment. We find it's a dynamic thing, and it in itself is improving.

I have a concern, a growing concern, that the policy of cost recovery appears to be impeding the approval of new product that could be coming on the market. A lot of new product is biodegradable; it disappears in five days or whatever after it's applied. The cost of applying it is very often less, and the amount that is applied is very often less with new product.

• 0955

Yet there are some reasons new product does not get approved in Canada as quickly as it does in a larger market, for instance. As I say, I'm expressing this concern that the process of cost recovery is aiding and abetting that holdup of approval. I wonder, Minister, if you might comment on that.

Mr. Allan Rock: Do you mean the amounts of money are a barrier to applicants?

Mr. Julian Reed: Well, first of all is the fact that a company that's looking for approval goes for the large market first. Canada is a little blip on the screen somewhere. And the costs associated with that approval seem to me to somehow make Canada an afterthought, if you like. So our agricultural industry particularly does not get access to new, better, biodegradable, safer, cheaper product at the same time as our competitors.

Mr. Allan Rock: You know the fee schedule is such that there are no fees for certain products, such as the bio-pesticides, to encourage people to make application to get them on the Canadian market. That's intended, as a matter of policy, to encourage people to apply for the more environmentally friendly, more benign forms of pesticides.

The other thing is there are lower fees for the products that will have the more limited market. We tried to scale the fees to the more specialized products for which people might seek approval.

But I have to tell you, whether it's pesticides or pharmaceuticals or veterinary drugs, we do find applications for approval are brought to Canada too often later than they're submitted in other countries.

I was looking at a drug the other day about which there's been some public concern with the time it's taking Health Canada to approve it. But interestingly, when I looked at when the application was made for approval in Canada—this is a pharmaceutical product—compared to the States, it was about eight months later. I think sometimes we are an afterthought in the market, because it's a smaller economic issue for the producer.

Dr. Franklin may wish to comment on this. We may have to be more proactive in encouraging the producers to make application for approval in Canada. But certainly through our fee schedule, we try to encourage the more benign products, and through our efficiency, we try to communicate to the industry generally that we will respond quickly in the evaluation of a new product. And through re-evaluation, we're sending the signal that we're trying to get the older products looked at afresh and off the market if there's a newer, safer substitute.

Mr. Julian Reed: Precisely.

Mr. Allan Rock: In combination, those strategies may help.

Dr. Franklin, do you have a comment on that issue?

The Chair: Very briefly, please.

Dr. Claire Franklin (Executive Director, Pest Management Regulatory Agency): The only point I would make in addition to what the minister said is that we do have joint reviews with the U.S., and the joint reviews we started with were with the reduced-risk chemicals and the microbial products. Both types of products are safer, and we've given shorter timelines for those as an additional way to encourage faster entry of these to the Canadian market.

The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Reed.

Mr. Mills, welcome to the committee.

Mr. Bob Mills (Red Deer, Ref.): Thank you.

Mr. Rock, something like you, I'm learning a new portfolio, but I felt it was important to be here to ask you several questions, particularly as they relate to people's health and the organization of the PMRA.

My first question to you is about something you just brought up about the interrelationship between our country and other countries in terms of the technology, the testing, the speed of testing, and the small market concept.

• 1000

When we look at OECD records and how they rate Canada in terms of its technology and so on, we're in the bottom third of those 29 countries. That alarms me a little bit in terms of our ability to test these things to protect Canadians. I wonder to just what extent we're depending upon countries such as the U.S., Britain, and so on, which are rated in the top third as opposed to the bottom third of ability.

Why are we setting up something that may not even be very effective when in fact the rest of the world is said to be doing a better job?

Mr. Allan Rock: I'm not sure what statistics you're referring to, Mr. Mills, when you speak of the technology gap, whether it's in the health care system or whether it's in the capacity of Health Canada to test or evaluate test results when applications for approval are made. But let me respond to your question this way.

It seems to me what we should be doing as a nation is establishing our own standards for safety, and then we should be looking at approvals in harmony with other nations that have the same or similar standards. We should be using harmonization of our efforts to do the job more effectively, but without relinquishing for a moment Canadian standards of safety in doing so.

I went to Washington the year before last to visit the agency of the American government responsible for pesticide registration and regulation. I met with the directors and staff, talked about their standards and their approach, and also talked about the need to harmonize our efforts so that we don't reinvent the wheel, either in Canada or in the United States.

We don't want to relinquish to another country control over health standards or environmental standards in Canada. We want to have homegrown standards. But at the same time we don't want to needlessly repeat or duplicate efforts that have been made in Washington or London or elsewhere. Dr. Franklin has told you we're working to harmonize our efforts with just that principle in mind: taking best advantage of the proximity of a larger neighbour, but at the same time making sure Canadian standards of safety are respected.

So my answer to your question is we're trying to get the best of both worlds.

Mr. Bob Mills: The follow-up would be, can we afford to have the luxury of that sort of system, and are we not running the risk of setting up this bureaucracy for the sake of a bureaucracy?

You seem to be implying that the Americans, the British, and the French would have less concern about the health of their citizens than we might have for ours. I'm not sure, in the global environment we're in today and with the international marketing that goes on, that we really should be as concerned as you imply, because I'm not sure that our standards would be that much different from those of, say, those top industrialized countries.

Mr. Allan Rock: Well, if you're suggesting we ought to turn over to another country the role of regulating—

Mr. Bob Mills: No, work with, very, very closely.

Mr. Allan Rock: That's the plan, Mr. Mills, but not to turn over to another country the role of regulating products for sale in Canada.

Mr. Bob Mills: I guess the question is about the bureaucracy that can build itself around this testing and in fact cannot help consumers, producers, or Canadians in general.

Mr. Allan Rock: “Bureaucracy” is a code word in some ideologies. It's intended to communicate the sense that there's a faceless mass of incompetence churning through tax dollars for no apparent purpose. So let me take issue with the word “bureaucracy”.

The people sitting to my right and to my left and behind me are, Mr. Mills, the bureaucracy. They're scientists of skill and ability who've studied hard, earned their credentials, and earn the dollars we pay them to do a very responsible job. The bureaucracy, as you call it, are these men and women who put their scientific expertise to bear, at the service of the public, often earning less than they could in the private sector, so that they can evaluate the safety and appropriateness of pesticides for which application for registration has been made.

The bureaucracy, sir, is here to serve the public interest, and these men and women are in the Pest Management Regulatory Agency for just that purpose. I don't think it's appropriate to sweep them aside and say “Let's go to Washington for approval of this pesticide, because it's more efficient or effective.”

• 1005

Mr. Bob Mills: I just had my first lesson in Liberal Politics 101, I guess.

Anyway, let's talk about transparency and openness for Canadians. What Canadians really care about is that the food they eat is healthy. That's what they care about. That's the bottom line. That should be the focal point for all of us in this whole effort. I don't mean to belittle any of our scientists in any way, as you imply.

Mr. Allan Rock: Good.

Mr. Bob Mills: I am simply asking why we would duplicate something that's already being done by people who have a lot more resources and money to put into it. That's the point.

Mr. Allan Rock: Let's agree on something. We're working together. That's what you propose we do, and that's exactly what we're doing. We're working together with our colleagues in Washington while always maintaining the right to have Canadian standards but avoiding duplication so that we can get the best value for the tax dollar while respecting the interest of public safety. That's what we're doing.

The Chair: Mr. Mills, you can come back on the second round, if you like. On my list are Madam Girard-Bujold, Mr. Gruending, and the chair.


Ms. Jocelyne Girard-Bujold (Jonquière, BQ): Mr. Chairman, I have a number of questions for the Minister of Health, because throughout the committee's study of the PMRA, three quarters, if not more, of the witnesses who testified were critical of the agency. They criticized its dual mandate, claiming that it presented some contradictions. The agency's mission is to protect health and the environment, while operating on a cost-recovery basis. A tremendous number of complaints were voiced.

Today, sir, there are 6,000 pesticides on the list, with no process in place for evaluating them. Currently, the PMRA has a budget of only $2.6 million to re-evaluate these products. Sir, I have to say that I am very disappointed with the agency, and I'm not alone in feeling this way. A tremendous number of people are disappointed.

Do you intend to increase funding to the PMRA? Do you plan to allocate more money for pesticide re-evaluation? Most of the 6,000 pesticides on the list have become outdated, but are nevertheless still used. Other types of pesticides could be used instead, but are not. Do you plan to give the PMRA a funding boost? Do you intend to restore some semblance of order and to see to it that priority is given to health and environmental issues? That's my first question, Minister.

Mr. Allan Rock: Yes, and my first answer would be that one year ago, we received more government funding for this agency. We allocated nearly $3 million more for the re-evaluation of pesticides and other products. Within the next few weeks, that is by April 1, we will receive additional funding to promote pesticide re-evaluation by the agency. We feel that the PMRA will have enough funds to carry out its responsibilities in this area.

You mentioned the agency's mandate, which is to protect human health and the environment by minimizing the risks associated with pest control products, while enabling access to these products and to sustainable pest management strategies. As you can see, this mandate calls for protecting human health and the environment and enabling access to those pest control products required by the agricultural sector.

I think that this is an appropriate mandate, one that reflects the importance of human health and the environment as well as the need for such products and the need to ensure their availability to farmers.

• 1010

I do think the time has come for us to modernize some of the components of the PMRA. That's why we intend to table in the near future draft legislation. We look forward to your recommendations. An effort must be made to modernize the agency while preserving its basic principles.

Ms. Jocelyne Girard-Bujold: I have some concerns about the cost-recovery issue. We're talking here about health and the environment, and I fail to understand why cost recovery should be part of the PMRA's mandate.

I'm quite concerned about this. As you just mentioned, the PMRA's primary concern is supposed to be health and the environment. When an agency is required to operate on a cost- recovery basis, then I have a problem with that. I have to wonder if safeguarding health and the environment is in fact its true mission.

Earlier, in response to my question, you said that the government was preparing to boost the agency's budget for the evaluation of 6,000 products. At the rate things are going, I think this process is going to take decades to complete. I can't understand the lack of political will to undertake this re- evaluation. We've heard so much about the effects of pesticides on children's health. I would have liked you to hear some of the witnesses tell us just how non-sensical the PMRA's actions are. It is not fulfilling its role and it is not co-operating with the departments. Rather, it's operating in a vacuum. That's what we were told.

You say that you are going to table a bill. I'm eagerly looking forward to that, but I fear that this will take a great deal of time. Until such time as your bill is tabled, what is being done to safeguard people's health?

Mr. Allan Rock: First of all, the PMRA was established in the early nineties. The government consulted with all interested parties and after receiving recommendations from all segments of society, that is from environmentalists and health, industry and agriculture specialists, the government decided to set up a single agency which would report to the Minister of Health. I am accountable to Parliament for the regulation of all of these products. We arrived at this decision after consulting with all stakeholders.

Admittedly, it's not easy to administer the agency with the interests of all parties at heart. For this reason, we established an advisory committee which includes representatives of the Sierra Club, the Crop Protection Institute of Canada, the Canadian Federation of Agriculture and consumers. It's not easy to bear in mind these varying interests. However, our efforts have proven largely successful, thanks to a climate of discussion and consultation. We have discussed with this advisory committee the changes that we will be proposing in our bill, including those pertaining to re-evaluation.

It's important to bear all of these different views in mind, and that's no simple task. In fact, it's always a major challenge. The government has a big responsibility, namely to ensure that products are safe to use. I believe that we have adopted the best approach.

The Chairman: Mr. Gruending.


Mr. Dennis Gruending (Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, NDP): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Good morning.

Mr. Chairman, I have several questions that Mr. Mancini, the NDP's former critic, asked me to pose to the minister.

• 1015

Perhaps you'll allow me to set the stage. The committee of course is concerned about the possible health effects of pesticides on vulnerable people, especially children. We're concerned about how decisions are made regarding safety and risk assessment.

From testimony before the committee last fall and winter, we know that a company called CanTox prepares publicity material regarding pesticides on behalf of various companies. We've discovered, and the minister will know, that CanTox also does work for the government. For example, Health Canada helped to pay for a CanTox study that concluded there was little or no risk for children along Frederick Street in Cape Breton near the Sydney tar ponds and coke ovens. CanTox also did an analysis and assessment related to garden studies in Sydney, and Mr. Mancini, in a letter to Health Canada, questioned the results of that. People in the community have as well. The minister responded to him by supporting his department's acceptance of the CanTox information. Finally, CanTox also surfaced in Saint John, New Brunswick, where it ruled out a full environmental assessment for the Irving Oil refinery expansion. I might say that our provincial NDP colleague, Elizabeth Weir, discovered that the provincial health department was uncomfortable with that CanTox information.

So there's both a general and a specific question here. In general terms, it is a potentially serious matter for any company to work for the industry while performing risk-assessment studies for the government. Specifically, Mr. Mancini asks if the minister will commit today to a review of his department's relationship and contracts with CanTox; if he'll commit today to a review of the risk assessments and related data provided by CanTox to Health Canada; and, finally, if he will commit to provide the results of his findings in writing to this committee.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Mr. Allan Rock: Obviously, the point of any government's use of outside consultants is to make sure we have the best advice available. In this case I'm not familiar with the terms of reference of CanTox's engagement. But I'll take Mr. Mancini's questions under consideration, learn more about it, and respond to him in writing.

Mr. Dennis Gruending: If I may just mention, and Ms. Franklin may know about this, there was correspondence from Mr. Mancini to Health Canada and a letter from you to Mr. Mancini related to the garden study. So you will be able to find this.

Mr. Allan Rock: Thank you, Mr. Gruending. I think that was in relation to one particular study at a particular site. I think what Mr. Mancini is asking through you is for a broader examination of the relationship between the department and this company. Is that right?

Mr. Dennis Gruending: That's right. I'm simply mentioning that there was some correspondence on one of the issues, and he's asking about some and/or all of them.

Mr. Allan Rock: All right. Rather than giving you a superficial answer today, why don't I learn more about it and respond in writing.

Mr. Dennis Gruending: Would that be to the committee?

Mr. Allan Rock: If you'd like.

The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Gruending.

Mr. Dennis Gruending: Do I have any more time?

The Chair: You have one minute.

Mr. Dennis Gruending: You mentioned a role for the public in this whole process. I wonder if you could give us a little more detail about what role a member of the public might have in the whole registration process for a new pesticide or, for that matter, if they have a concern about a pesticide already in use.

Mr. Allan Rock: Two things: first, in the re-evaluation of pesticides already in use, it's our thought that the statutory amendment should ensure that the public has a role in commenting on the re-evaluation. When a re-evaluation is undertaken, the public is notified, and the agency is obligated to take any public views into account before coming to its decision about the results of the re-evaluation.

Second, as I mentioned at the beginning, the intention will be to make public as much as we can about our own assessment of the product, whether it's the risk assessment or information about the ingredients, and, subject only to legitimate proprietary interest concerns on the part of the company, to tell the public as much as we can about the products so that they can form their own view. So we have a better window on what PMRA is doing, the factors we're applying, and the risk assessments we're carrying out. That's the objective. Those are two examples of where we're trying to make more information publicly accessible.

• 1020

Mr. Dennis Gruending: Thank you, Mr. Minister.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Gruending.

Mr. Lincoln, Madam Kraft Sloan, Ms. Torsney, and the chair.

Mr. Clifford Lincoln (Lac-Saint-Louis, Lib.): Mr. Minister, you quoted the mandate of the PMRA as it is now written. Many people feel that the mandate is in conflict with itself because it has the protection of health and environment and also the registration of pesticides, which of course have a direct impact on the former. Would you see the possible mandate as setting up a priority for health and environment as the overall mandate, the primary mandate, and then the registration of pesticides coming as a secondary objective?

Mr. Allan Rock: The mandate is to protect human health and the environment by minimizing the risks associated with pest control products while enabling access to pest management tools, namely, these products and sustainable pest management strategies. So the mandate already focuses on the protection of human health and the environment, and I don't believe that adding a responsibility for a clear and efficient regulatory process overrides that or is inconsistent with it.

Don't forget, Mr. Lincoln, that what we have today, with all of its strengths and weaknesses, came out of a process that took some years in the early 1990s. There was what, a blue book, an orange book, a lavender book, as layer after layer of public and sectoral consultation took place. Everybody who's interested in this was part of that process.

It was only after all that consultation that broad agreement was reached that one department should be responsible, not four, as had been the case, and that a single agency should have the mandate of protecting health and environment while creating an efficient regulatory process. I don't think it's internally inconsistent or contradictory. Yes, it's always a challenge to manage, but what would be better?

Mr. Clifford Lincoln: What would be better? Well, in my view, what would be better is to put health and environment as a priority and the registration of pesticides as a secondary priority. Then it would be very clear—especially since it is within the health ministry. That would be my suggestion.

Mr. Allan Rock: May I comment on that? I don't think it's very far different from what we have now: an agency that's responsible for protecting health and the environment and putting together a regulatory process for getting these products to market. If we're going to have pesticides, we need to have a regulatory process for getting them to market. What better agency to govern that regulatory process than one that is mandated to protect health and environment? How would you put it?

Mr. Clifford Lincoln: As I suggested, maybe we should make it clearer that the first mandate, the priority mandate, is health and the environment. Then you would be quite clear that this is the sine qua non mandate, and within it, by all means, register pesticides with minimal risk.

In regard to legislation, I know you've said, and we're very grateful for this, that you will wait for the report and will be guided by our recommendations as far as possible. Assuming that our report comes out in good time, have you any timeline in mind for your legislation, for introducing it into the House?

Mr. Allan Rock: I don't have a specific timeline. Right now I'm also involved in discussions with my caucus on the issues. I think the two things I'd like to see done before we table legislation are concluding my conversations with my caucus colleagues and getting the recommendations of this committee, considering them, and demonstrating respect for the work you've done. So I don't have any specific date in mind, but that's the process I'd like to follow.

• 1025

Mr. Clifford Lincoln: Now, we've heard a lot of testimony, of course, including testimony from the PMRA itself. We asked the PMRA to supply us with a lot of information, which it did, answering all the questions we had asked them. In many ways, the problem is that the PMRA has a huge mandate and the funds to do it are just puny, such as, for instance, the funds devoted to alternatives to pesticides, which is really the main objective if we look at health and environment. The maximum used, for the last year on record, is $700,000. It's just a tiny little sum.

I look at a letter that PMRA sent to us about commitments for pesticide registration review—and remember that some of the pesticides now in service have been in there since 1960. That's 40 years for some of the ingredients. The letter says:

    - an adverse effects reporting system is not in place, but work has begun...

    - re-evaluation has been [slower than we talked about before] and a proposal for an enhanced program has been released for consultation;

    - a formal risk reduction policy is not in place... [but] will be part of an overall policy.

    - a formulants policy is not in place, but an outline has been discussed at the Pest Management Advisory Council, and a draft... is being developed and will be published for consultation...

Is there any way whereby we can put a bomb under the whole system and get more money to make sure these things are accelerated? They're so important for all of us.

Mr. Allan Rock: I share your frustration. I know Dr. Franklin does too. The agency had a deficit last year, and we had to cobble together some money from Health Canada to fix it. In the budget last February we got more money for the agency, and that has helped.

But you're right. If we'd had the money we needed, we could have tackled these things long before now. Many of them are urgent, particularly the re-evaluation of some pesticides that have been on the market since I was born—

An hon. member: How long?

Mr. Allan Rock: That goes back a long way.

But I think there are signs that are encouraging, Mr. Lincoln. Dr. Franklin's resolve to tackle these issues is clear; you heard her testimony. We do have not only more money, but hopefully soon we will have the legislative basis for the re-evaluation and the legislative basis for reporting adverse effects.

What I can tell you is that we're keenly aware of the urgency of the points you've raised. We're determined to tackle them as quickly as we can. We're making incremental progress through better financing and we're broadening the statutory base. I guess what I'll have to do is report to this committee and to you as we make progress to make sure the pace is fast enough.

The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Lincoln.

Madam Kraft Sloan, Madam Torsney, and the chair.

Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan (York North, Lib.): Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I'd like to follow up on the first point that Mr. Lincoln raised with regard to this problem with the mandate. One of the things you've done very well as Minister of Health is to take on the tobacco industry and put the interests of Canadians' health as number one. We have to really applaud you for that, because I know there has been a lot of pressure from the industry and from all the other groups, cultural and otherwise, that benefit from tobacco money and sponsorship of their programs and things like that.

The concern I have, and this is what Mr. Lincoln was talking about as well, is that we really clearly have to understand that the PMRA works, first, in the interests of Canadians' health and the protection of the environment and, secondly, in industry's interests. The testimony we have received seems to put this into a bit of a question.

For example, you have the PMAC and the EMAC. The EMAC is comprised essentially of industry representatives and economic interests. The PMAC is sort of half-and-half. It's very difficult to identify the other half, which is the public interest side. So right there, when you take a look at the people who are advising you and the agency, it's really weighted and skewed in one direction.

• 1030

Then when I take a look at the proposed amendments or the proposed aspects of this new legislation, it says that diverse and conflicting interests in relation to pest management must be balanced within the regulatory system in a way that is consistent with the overall public well-being. The reality is we have this word “balance” here. You have to decide whether you're protecting public health as a first priority or not. That's the most important thing.

Also, it's important to point out that as part of our testimony, we had the Ontario College of Family Physicians come before our committee. They also had a press conference. They have an impressive study that talks about the dangers of pesticide use. We heard from many medical people talking about their concerns. A medical doctor from Montreal was denied access to information on some of the effects of some of these pesticides when she was trying to treat a sick child who had obviously come in contact and was suffering some kind of effect. So there is a medical constituency out there that is concerned.

The Chair: Ask your question, please.

Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan: My question is, how is this new legislation going to better reflect the interests of Canadian health than what I've seen in these proposed amendments? And will the precautionary principle be operationalized within the bill itself and not just mentioned in the preamble?

Mr. Allan Rock: Our plan is to have the precautionary principle certainly in the preamble. If you feel it's better expressed in the bill itself, we'd be happy to take that into account. I have an open mind in that regard. But the precautionary principle has to be included in the legislation in one way or the other.

Let me come to your points more directly. On the issue of tobacco, I appreciate your kind words, but there's a major difference between tobacco and the issue we have before us this morning. With tobacco we have a product that kills you when it's used as intended. It's legal, but only because it's impractical to make it illegal. It's the single most important public health issue in front of Canada. It's important for Canadians to understand the strategies used by the tobacco industry in trying to promote its product, particularly the effect on kids. So it's a responsibility for the Government of Canada to do everything it can to increase the understanding of Canadians about tobacco and the tobacco industry.

Pesticides are a very different situation, in my respectful view, because you have a product that is necessary if you're going to produce food we need for our table and for export. So we have everybody around the issue, whether it's the people who grow that food or the people who process it or package it or export it or eat it, and those who live in the environment, who want the same thing, it seems to me. They want to get the food we need while at the same time protecting our health and the environment. So it's a very different thing from tobacco.

On the advisory committees, EMAC is a different matter. I know there's been some discussion here about whether EMAC ought to exist or be folded into PMAC. I don't feel strongly about that. What I do think we should have is a good, vigorous advisory committee where all the interests are at the table.

I don't think the Sierra Club feels its voice is muffled or that it doesn't have a chance to express itself in the advisory committee. They have vigorous representation. They do a terrific job there. Rick Van Loon, who's the chair, draws out all the interests when a problem is being discussed. I've attended one of their meetings and I've watched it. It's quite an energetic process.

So I don't think you can do a head count and say there are more people from industry and farming than there are from the environment. It's a good vetting mechanism for policy, and they do a pretty good job.

Don't forget it's in the interest of the industry and of the farmers to get the safest possible product to market. It's in the interest of the industry and of the farmers, as well as the rest of us, to make sure the environment is not harmed; otherwise they'll bring their own businesses and their products into disrepute with the public.

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As to access by the medical profession to information, I can't comment on the cases you've raised. I don't know the details. But if you have concerns about specific cases, please let me know and I'll get you more information. Or maybe Dr. Franklin knows more about it than I do.

As I said in response to a question from Mr. Gruending, the idea in the legislative amendments would be to get more public information on the record and greater access to information about what's in these products, about the assessment we made before approving them, and about what we're learning during the course of re-evaluating them. So I'm all in favour of more information to the public and to the medical profession.

The Chair: Madam Torsney, the chair, and then a brief second round.

Ms. Paddy Torsney (Burlington, Lib.): Thank you.

First of all, I certainly hope the agency's first mandate is to serve Canadians and to protect their health and environment, not to serve industry, as has been suggested. Clearly they interact with industry, and unlike my colleague from the Bloc Québécois, who thinks... I think he should clarify exactly how it's not the same people collecting the money from the industry and doing the evaluation of the science, so it's not the same kind of conflict as has been suggested between their mandates.

The second thing I want to know is, as you take advantage of the harmonization and the information that is shared between the United States and the OECD and other places... We've seen this whole issue of endocrine-disrupting substances. We know we're not doing enough in terms of the evaluation of products vis-à-vis children and females, as well as other adults who would be at risk.

How are you going to account in the new legislation for other science concerns that are emerging? We looked in the CEPA legislation at evaluating products based on a number of different criteria, and one of the ones being looked at was adding endocrine-disrupting substances. But that's what we know today. How do we know about evaluating?

How are you going to give them the flexibility to take advantage of the key learnings from the OECD, from Washington, and from wherever else we're a party to that we're evaluating the new products and re-evaluating old products on the very latest scientific concerns and operationalizing the precautionary principle so that the health and safety of Canadians is a primary concern?

Mr. Allan Rock: On that last point first, in re-evaluation, there's nothing to prevent it. In fact we encourage our scientists to look at the most up-to-date information from around the world and apply that to old products. Indeed that's the very purpose of re-evaluation, as you know: to apply today's science to yesterday's product to make sure we detect and identify threats that might not have been understood at the time.

On your second point as to children, I know that as I followed the testimony before the committee, some referred to the American experience in taking children as the indicator when evaluating the effect on the population, because of the vulnerability of children. What we had in mind was to talk about sensitive populations, which is a broader term that would include children, but also it would include those with allergic or other immune responses that make them sensitive to pesticides or their use. So what we have in mind is to calibrate our criteria to people who are less hardy than the norm, perhaps, and that would include children.

On your first point, you're right; I should have responded more fully to the point made earlier about cost recovery. I don't agree with the notion that because people have to pay a fee, the Government of Canada is somehow compromised or in conflict. Our customer is always the Canadian citizen.

I go every few years to purchase a licence to drive a car here in Ontario, and I have to pay a fee. And when I first got licensed, I had to pass a test and pay a fee. But it didn't mean the standards were somehow lowered for me because I gave them money. It didn't mean that—

Ms. Paddy Torsney: Don't get too far out there.

Mr. Allan Rock: Well, perhaps you've seen me drive, so that's not a good example.

Voices: Oh, oh!

Mr. Allan Rock: But the point is, just because you pay a fee, it does not have to be equated with conflict or compromise.

In this case I'm persuaded it's not. As you know, the government broadly has gone to cost recovery, because we feel it's a fairer way to apportion the cost of governance. But I do insist that the customer of the Pest Management Regulatory Agency is the public of Canada, and that's where our interest lies.

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Ms. Paddy Torsney: Thank you.

The Chair: Thank you.

We'll start a quick second round. There are already three people on the list.

But I would like to ask two questions, one of Dr. Franklin and one of the minister.

Dr. Franklin, in your very comprehensive letter to the clerk, dated February 14, 2000, for which I thank you, you indicate on page 4 that a formulants policy is not in place, a formal risk reduction policy is not in place, and an adverse effect reporting system is not in place. Can you indicate to us when they will be in place?

Dr. Claire Franklin: The formulants policy is drafted now. We're just going through the final in-house comments on that. It's a relatively complicated document in that there will be some timelines for industry to remove certain formulants from their products. So we're really just doing that finalization. We're hoping to have it ready to go out in March. There would be public comment on that. They go out as proposals, and then we get comments on them. We're targeting that it would be in place by September.

The Chair: What about the other two?

Dr. Claire Franklin: With regard to risk reduction, as we've indicated in the letter, a number of activities fall under this. We're targeting to have the overall framework by June, and the activities we're currently doing, which, as I've mentioned, are the joint reviews for reduced risk chemicals, microbials, etc., will then be allocated in the framework so that the overall picture will be seen. We will certainly be requesting broad input from the public on that framework on whether there are suggestions and how they would like to see us move forward on that activity. So we're hoping to have that done by that time.

The Chair: By which time?

Dr. Claire Franklin: We're hoping to have the outline of a framework done by June, and then it will take us a period of time for consultation before we really move forward on that.

With regard to the adverse effects, although we do have some activity, the reason we haven't finalized that is that we need the authorities of the legislation to require people to submit any adverse effects they observed. We do get from time to time information that comes in. We do have a project with the provinces where we are trying to get some integration of the work that's done at the provincial level and then have that submitted to us as well. But the actual requirement is contingent upon the legislation.

The Chair: As to re-evaluation, when will that be completed?

Dr. Claire Franklin: As I've indicated in the budget, we are already doing some.

The Chair: Yes, but you indicate that it has been slowed.

Dr. Claire Franklin: It has been. There's no question about that.

What we have in the policy paper that was discussed with the advisory council and then the proposed directive that is out currently is an outline of an integrated program that would re-evaluate by 2006 all of the food-use products. That's to tie it very closely with the timeframe the U.S. has. The stakeholder document suggested to us that we should benefit by reviews that were done elsewhere, and that's why we have that timeline on that particular document.

But I could point out that we already have an aggressive program for the re-evaluation of the organophosphorous products, which are the ones about which there has been significant concern raised through the U.S. program.

The Chair: Thank you, Dr. Franklin.

Mr. Minister, others have already raised this question, but I must do the same, and that is the issue of the mandate, which is really engaging us to an extensive degree because we have problems with it. I thought you put it very well, actually, in outlining it in the House of Commons last May when you replied to a question by the member for Brandon—Souris who was asking for an emergency permit by PMRA for aerial spray. In reply you said, and I quote from Hansard: the hon. member knows the [PMRA]... has to [balance public safety and environmental concerns against the needs of producers and growers.]

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I think that adverb “against” says very much, and it puts the dilemma of the balancing act before us in a stark manner. In reply to Madam Girard-Bujold I believe you said that these are conflicting interests and it's not easy to implement them.

You read to us the mandate, and the words “minimizing the risks” are in the mandate. One then has to ask oneself, what does “minimizing” mean? What is left once the minimizing criterion is met? How is the risk arrived at by way of a rather complex procedure, which we are studying and which is certainly a major learning process for most of us who are not very keen with mathematical equations and the like? This concept of minimizing risk is a very important one, and it is very central.

As Clifford Lincoln also put to you, we are asking ourselves, why should there be an obligation to balance? Why this necessity of balancing, conceptually speaking? I'm not talking beyond the legislative terminology at this stage. Why should we in society balance when two interests are before us and the minister has to ride two horses galloping in opposite directions? Surely, the mandate would be easier to implement if the mandate of health were to be implemented first and the mandate of approval made a secondary one, as already indicated. Would you please comment on that?

Mr. Allan Rock: I will, and I appreciate the profound nature of the question. I don't pretend to have as profound a response, but let me just give you my thoughts as someone who has had to sit in that chair for the last couple of years.

My job would be a lot easier if my mandate were to eliminate risk. My job would be a lot easier if my mandate were only to have regard to health and the environment to the exclusion of all other factors. My job would be enormously easier if I weren't called upon to balance but merely to identify what is clearly in the interest of health and the environment.

But if we were to take that route, Mr. Chairman, I don't think we'd govern Canadians very well, and I don't think we'd meet our responsibility to Canadians. Canadians want to have a steady, reliable source of safe food. Canadians depend upon an agricultural sector not only for economic reasons but also for social and health reasons. Canadian farmers are competing with others across the border who have access to a range of products that might increase their yield and make their products more competitive. All of these factors are relevant. I'm not saying they override, but they are relevant.

If we were to leave the elimination of risk as my mandate, then we would have no pesticides whatsoever, presumably, although there could be some that are seen as so benign that they don't involve risk. I'll leave that to Dr. Franklin. But if we're going to eliminate pesticides altogether in order to eliminate risk, where would we be? There's risk inherent in it, so—

The Chair: We would be at a different level operationally speaking, but we would, I think, be meeting better the concern of the Ontario College of Family Physicians, which stated in its brief and in a press conference that the current pesticide regulatory system in Canada poses an undeniable risk to children's health.

Mr. Allan Rock: Then let's find out what they mean by that. If there are specific products they have in mind, then let's look at their evidence, apply it to those products, and decide whether we have to take them off the market or change their formulation. If they're talking about the fact that our minimum permissible residue level is too high, let's hear them out, and let's take their views anxiously into consideration, because they're obviously a group worthy of our respect. But I don't hear them saying we should take all pesticides off the market—

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The Chair: Nobody's suggesting that.

Mr. Allan Rock: —and if you're not going to take all pesticides off the market, then you have to get into balancing, and that means minimizing risk. That to me means looking at a proposed new product and making a decision after you understand its scientific makeup and its effect on people, including children: Does this present a demonstrable risk such that whatever benefit it may have it doesn't justify our approving it?

So we can't eliminate risk. We have to understand it, we have to minimize it, and we have to bear in mind our objectives broadly, to allow people to grow food, bring it to market, compete with others, and feed the country while at the same time respecting health and the environment.

This sounds like a lot of bromides, but it's hard to answer your question without resorting to clichés.

Mr. Chairman, it's not easy. Dr. Franklin will tell you it's very difficult. But we do the best we can. If you have proposals to make as to how we can improve that, please let us know. You've spent more time on this now than I have, so I'm going to listen to your views.

The Chair: Thank you very much, Mr. Minister.

In the first round we have Madam Catterall, followed by Mr. Mills, Madam Girard-Bujold, Mr. Lincoln, and Mr. Reed.

Mr. Allan Rock: I might just point out that Mr. Mitchell agreed to serve for me until 11 o'clock.

Voices: Oh, oh!

[Editor's Note: Inaudible]

Ms. Marlene Catterall (Ottawa West—Nepean, Lib.):

Mr. Allan Rock: All right. In fairness to him, that sounded like a long list.

I'm just thinking about Andy over there, who...

The Chair: Madam Catterall.

Ms. Marlene Catterall: I think the discussion we've just had is the most important discussion we could possibly have—namely, where are the standards?

I understand the principle that you cannot eliminate every risk. Going back to my municipal days, if you tried to plan a sewer system that would never allow a basement to flood, you'd never have a sewer system, and you'd certainly never have any other services, but at least you would establish a standard where your sewer system would be good for a 100-year flood possibility.

I'm having real trouble coming to grips with what our standard is here. I'm not even sure where benefits come into this at all. We're approving products and I don't know exactly what kind of benefit assessment we're doing. Risk assessment? I think I have that fairly well down.

I guess, Minister, the thing that has been of greatest concern to me in these hearings is that our standard is not very high. It's not even acceptably minimal, from what I can see, when we don't know and don't demand information on impact on fetal development, impact on children.

When we're approving products for essentially aesthetic use, how are we measuring that benefit against the risks, however small they might be? That's an area I have deep concern about. Certainly we'll be making recommendations to you on that.

It almost seems as though pesticides are in a special category such that we need them so badly we say, well, if they don't harm healthy males, they won't harm anybody. I know that's an oversimplification, but that was the part of the testimony that struck greatly, and I'd appreciate your thoughts on it.

As well, I'm concerned about the impact on workers and why pesticides are not subject to WHMIS requirements.

Mr. Allan Rock: Without repeating what I said earlier, I think we have to do everything we can to minimize risk.

You know, part of this discussion eventually leads us to genetic modification. One of the ironies of the debate about genetically modified food is that some of the modifications make it possible for farmers not to use pesticides at all in the growth of the product.

An hon. member: Hear, hear.

Mr. Allan Rock: So then you have the dilemma, if you're concerned about genetic modification and its long-term effects, of how you measure that against whatever risk is involved in using a pesticide. Are you further ahead or not?

• 1055

I won't repeat what I said earlier, but I am sensitive to the concern. If you have something to recommend that will help me or help us get it right, I would be grateful.

Certainly the points you raise about measuring it against fetal development are important. If we don't do that well enough, let's change it. As well, with regard to the point you make about not just using the healthy adult male, we agree, and we're going to change that.

Coming to your point about workers' health and safety, I know of your interest in this subject. As a result of it, I asked about this point before coming here today. This is the answer, for what it's worth. I'm told that the degree of regulation of pesticides, and the resulting labelling and warning, is greater than the degree of protection that would come out of getting workers' health and safety mixed into the use of pesticides. So if you have a worker who is handed a pesticide product to use, the label and the warning and the attached document give that worker more information, and therefore more protection, than would occur if you lumped this into the workers' safety process.

Now, that's what I'm told. I don't know if you've been told the same thing or if you would like to have further detail on that.

Ms. Marlene Catterall: I certainly would. That can be sent to the committee.

Mr. Allan Rock: It can indeed. I'll get a more detailed response prepared for you, because I know of your interest in that subject. We'll send it to you for your assessment.

Ms. Marlene Catterall: Thank you.

The Chair: Thank you, Madam Catterall.

Now we move into the express lane, one minute each.

Mr. Mills, please.

Mr. Bob Mills: Mr. Rock, the environment commissioner identifies a critical problem that has gone on for some time with regard to the coordination between departments and the interchange of information. Along with that, I know personally the concern that environment ministers have in provinces with regard to coordination of things federally and provincially.

I wonder if you might address what you've done to try to alleviate that and fix that problem.

Mr. Allan Rock: I don't know. I'll have to find out for you. Do you want to hear from Dr. Franklin on that point?

Mr. Bob Mills: I think the chairman has given us a minute, but sure, I'm quite interested in that, not just within departments but also the provincial aspect of it.

Mr. Allan Rock: I don't know, frankly.

Do you know, Claire?

Dr. Claire Franklin: Very quickly, an interdepartmental committee has been set up to have a look at and integrate activities on all toxics, including pesticides. I think that's the fast answer to that particular issue.

With regard to provinces and activities for integration in the pesticide area, we do have an FPT committee that brings to the table both us and representatives from the provinces who are involved in provincial legislation. So I think that's a very active committee to get that level of integration.

Mr. Bob Mills: They feel it's not working and I just wonder if you think it's working.

Dr. Claire Franklin: I think the provincial co-chairs do feel it's working. Unfortunately, the individual did not appear before your standing committee. From the P.E.I. perspective, I think there are specific areas where we too are concerned with some of the situations and are working with the province on that particular issue.

The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Mills.


Go ahead, Ms. Girard-Bujold.

Ms. Jocelyne Girard-Bujold: Do you plan to state clearly in your new legislation that the primary mission of the PMRA is to protect health and the environment? Will the agency's mission be to serve the industry, or in other words, to register pesticides as efficiently and cheaply as possible, with the protection of health and the environment as the overriding concern? Will that in fact be its mission? What you're saying, sir, is not reflected in the facts or the PMRA's mission. I enjoy listening to you speak, but I would like to see you put your money where your mouth is, or in other words, define the PMRA's mission in your new bill.

Mr. Allan Rock: The PMRA's current mission is to protect human health and the environment. That's what appears first in the mission statement and that's not about to change. That's the agency's primary responsibility, but it must also ensure that farmers have access to pest control products.

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These objectives are already clearly stated in the agency's official mandate which you have before you.

Ms. Jocelyne Girard-Bujold: It's also part of the PMRA's mission to operate on a cost-recovery basis, whereas health and the environment are also part of the mix. Furthermore, Canadian studies should focus somewhat more on the environment. In my view, they fail to take the environment into consideration. As you know, the Inuit in Canada's North eat fish tainted with mercury. This affects their health. Health care costs are exorbitant. If we focussed our attention on this before looking at pesticides, we would come out ahead and you wouldn't think that we needed a great deal more money. You claim that you are short on funds. As I see it, you have money to spend on other areas, areas that come under provincial jurisdiction.

In this case, you're responsible for the PMRA and I don't think that you're fulfilling your responsibilities, or that the PMRA is fulfilling its mandate.

The Chairman: Thank you, Ms. Girard-Bujold.


Very briefly, please.


Mr. Allan Rock: One has to read the mission statement. Pesticides are not the cause of mercury levels in Arctic waters. I think the mandate already reflects the true priorities of Canadians.

Ms. Jocelyne Girard-Bujold: I disagree with you.


The Chair: I apologize to the other members of the committee, but here is the justice committee, which has to move in.

We thank you very much, Mr. Minister, and your officials, for your appearance today.

Mr. Allan Rock: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

The Chair: This meeting stands adjourned.