moved that Bill , be read the second time and referred to a committee.
He said: Mr. Speaker, it was a little more than two years ago that Canadians elected a government that had clearly set out its priorities and that began to fulfill its commitments. Not only did we make good on our promises, but we also took measures to tackle new issues that require a quick response.
The safety of consumer products is a prime example of our commitment to act in order to get results. This is why I am pleased to launch the debate at second reading on Bill , an Act respecting the safety of consumer products.
Put simply, the Government of Canada cares about consumer safety and acts accordingly.
The bill we are now debating follows through on our Speech from the Throne commitment to “introduce measures on food and product safety to ensure that families have confidence in the quality and safety of what they buy”.
This bill is a key component of Canada's new food and consumer safety action plan which the announced on December 17, a plan that budget 2008 supports with $113 million over two years. Our plan's objective is simple: to modernize and strengthen Canada's safety system for food, consumer products and health products. Let me take a few moments to remind fellow members about the circumstances leading to our action plan and this proposed legislation.
The fact is that the vast majority of suppliers that make, import, distribute and sell consumer products to Canadians take safety seriously. Those businesses value their reputations. They appreciate how important those reputations are to their success. However, problems can and do arise, perhaps even more in a time when so many different companies in different countries may be involved in creating and distributing a single product before it reaches a store shelf.
For example, we saw problems last year with reports of children's toys with high levels of lead. As minister, I can tell this House that when we heard reports of threats to consumer safety, our government responded with all the tools at our disposal within the existing regulatory framework, but even so, I could see that our processes had not kept up with the market.
The Hazardous Products Act has not been thoroughly reviewed by this chamber in 40 years. As a result, consumer product safety in Canada has been based on a legislative framework that takes a one size fits all approach to regulation. Often the federal government can do little more than react to problems. Even something as important as product recalls have been up to individual companies.
The time has come to use a new approach. The time has come to use the approach advocated in the food and consumer safety action plan. In fact, this is the approach that the government intends to use under the Canada Consumer Product Safety Act.
In addition to the legislative changes we are seeking through this bill, we have already started taking action to better protect consumers. For example, our new children's products and food safety website enables Canadians to search online for recalled food and children's products.
Bill seeks to provide even more tools. Let me take a few moments to describe the legislation.
This proposed act would replace part I of the existing Hazardous Products Act. It reflects our new approach, updated for the globalized economy, based on three priorities: first, active prevention, to stop as many problems as possible before they occur; next, targeted oversight, so the government can keep a closer watch over products that pose a higher risk to health and safety; and finally, rapid response, so we can take action more quickly and effectively on problems that do occur.
In terms of active prevention, the new legislation seeks to establish a regulatory framework that would enable our government to offer better safety information to consumers. It seeks to encourage industries to build and improve safety throughout their supply chains. It seeks to encourage problem prevention.
The proposed legislation includes a key step forward for prevention. It would prohibit the manufacture, importation, advertisement and sale of consumer products that are a danger to human health and safety. This commitment to prevention is strengthened even more by the stronger compliance, promotion and enforcement activities found within this bill.
This bill proposes stiffer fines of up to $5 million for serious contraventions, and would leave the ceiling open to a court's discretion when the supplier is found to have acted wilfully or recklessly.
To encourage compliance, this bill seeks to give inspectors the option to use administrative monetary penalties as a less expensive, more efficient alternative to criminal prosecution.
In terms of targeted oversight, we need a much more focused approach and a much more informed approach. Accordingly, Bill would enable the Government of Canada to require suppliers that produce consumer products to conduct safety tests and to provide the results of those tests to us to verify compliance. This data would enable inspectors to focus on products that could pose the greatest risk to consumers.
In terms of ensuring a rapid response, Bill would allow the government to take faster action than ever before to protect the public when a problem occurs.
As I mentioned earlier today, there is limited government authority currently to pull unsafe consumer products from store shelves, but largely, it is up to the suppliers. In practice they normally respond quickly because that is the right thing to do, of course, for their consumers and for the good of their brands, but there is no guarantee of that in the law. Under this proposed legislation we would gain that authority. If we have access to much better information and records for the businesses involved, our product safety inspectors would be able to respond more rapidly when the need arises.
This bill would require industries to keep records so that they and federal inspectors can trace consumer products from manufacturer to importer to wholesaler to retailer so action could be taken quickly and effectively when needed. This would be a major step forward and one that is seriously needed in an era of complex global supply chains.
These three elements of our new approach—preventing problems, targeting higher risks and taking immediate action when a problem occurs—confirm that the Government of Canada cares about protecting consumers and acts accordingly.
Does the existing safety net for Canada's consumer products work? The numbers show that it does, but Bill seeks to ensure that the system works even more effectively.
I hope that all parties in this House will stand in support of consumer product safety. I expect that they will agree with me when I say that the vast majority of industry takes consumer safety very seriously. It is only a small percentage which act irresponsibly and whom we will go after, allowing law-abiding Canadian businesses to compete on a more level playing field.
I believe that all members should join with me in supporting Bill , proposed legislation for updating a safety system so that it becomes second to none in the world, because Canadian consumers and Canadian businesses want and deserve nothing less.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise to speak to this bill. I think it is an important bill. It is a welcome action from the Government of Canada. As an opposition party, we look forward to playing our role within Parliament to improve this bill: to ask the proper questions and to hear from Canadians who may have concerns. They may or may not be supportive and may wish to suggest amendments that can be brought to the committee or to the House to ensure that this bill achieves what it attempts to do, which is to protect Canadians.
I am sure the minister will recognize, as will every member in the House, that it is easy enough to protect Canadians. We can make every commercial activity in this country so restrictive that nobody will ever get hurt, but ensuring the protection of Canadians while permitting trade and business to happen, and allowing farmers, producers and manufacturers to do their work, requires a balancing act. As we look at the implementation of this bill, we are going to have to look at whether we can achieve both of those things and make sure that in the future they continue to happen properly and that we do not go too far one way down the slippery slope.
There is a case in my riding right now with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency risking the ongoing success of a long term employer because of an issue of product safety. It is an issue of perceived product safety and how we deal with it. In this case, it has been shown that the product is quite safe, while we cannot give the same level of assurance to the products we buy off the shelf that compete with it. That creates great concern. I look forward to examining how we will do it.
As the member for has brought out, we are dealing with two bills. I do not think we can look at these two bills in isolation. That is probably one of the reasons why the government brought forward Bills and at the same time. While in the House today we are dealing with Bill , I am looking forward to dealing with Bill .
Bill has been in the discussion stage for a long time. It has been in the consultation stage and there has been work with industry to bring it forward, but it is a lot less so for Bill , which seems to involve more knee-jerk reactions because of problems that arose, especially in the fall. When we do things quickly or on that basis, there is always risk. As a Parliament and a committee, we are going to have to ensure that we study this properly and make the necessary modifications so that it achieves what it wants to do, which is to protect Canadians.
The principle of the bill, as I suggested, would be difficult to argue with. I think everybody would agree with it. If I were to term it in any one way, it would be to say that it makes people become responsible for their actions and puts some serious financial penalties on people who do not. If people are trying to profit from legitimate activity, they have some responsibility for that. The first responsibility would be the safety of their consumers and customers, as well as their workers and anybody who comes in contact with their products. I think everyone would agree with that principle.
We have to be careful, because here we are talking about the importer, manufacturer, retailer, distributor or whatever person possible being inspected by Health Canada, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency or the Canada Border Services Agency at any time. In my mind, under this law they would all bear the same responsibility.
What we are telling them is that they have to keep a registry and have knowledge of the chain of supply. That is easy enough to do as a distributor who brings into the country a number of products and distributes them. It is easy enough to do as a manufacturer bringing in the inputs, doing some manufacturing changes, transformation, alteration, repackaging and whatnot and putting them out on the market. Then it is easy enough.
It gets a bit more difficult for a retailer who is not part of a large chain. An independent or a smaller operation may have similar products that it buys from a few places. When it is selling from its business it might be difficult to know exactly where each and every product was sold. It might not able to track them.
I am looking forward to seeing what is meant by this and how this tracking would be applied. Are we creating a system that would be very expensive to operate, so expensive that small entrepreneurs will be forced out of the market, especially at the smaller retail level, those that we would typically call “mom and pop” operations?
We have seen it in the feed store industry already. Out of our concern for BSE and our requirements to label and track all the feeds and all the inputs into those feeds, we have come to those sorts of problems.
If we do not do this correctly, we could bring that type of a problem into where it is not warranted. I will agree that where we have risks to human health, we have to take the appropriate action. If it means that under certain conditions certain individuals or businesses should not be in possession of certain products, then that would be understandable. However, we can very easily throw the baby out with the bathwater if we do not do it properly and if we do not have the proper safeguards.
I have a bit of concern with one of the areas. I had the opportunity to raise it with the minister. I agree with the principle, and I think we all should, that there should be a power to order a recall. I think we understand that. However, if we look at the situation where we are now, we do effect those recalls by negotiations and by discussions. I have not been advised of any situation where the current practices have not worked and where an unsafe product has remained on the market because a distributor, a manufacturer or a retailer refused to remove it from the market. I do not know of any situation like that in Canada. However, it could happen, so the power to recall makes sense.
Sometimes if we give a minister or a department the power to do something, over time it evolves into an obligation to do things, because people test it in the courts or suggest that if that operation had not been done and the minister had effected his power to recall in such and such a case, then we would not have had this operation. Then what happens is that the next time there is a case that looks remotely similar, the minister's inspectors, to protect the Canadian public, as they should, effect or force a recall. That is the risk.
I am not saying that this is what would happen in this instance or in this case, but I would want to be sure that our first actions at all times are negotiations, that they are on the lines of where they are going now, where the inspectors of Health Canada or CFIA are working with the importer or the manufacturer on the Canadian side to see if there is a way to do it without effecting a recall. What happens is that quite often we are able to resolve the situation without human risk, without risk and without bankrupting Canadian corporations. If we effect or force a recall, we could create undue market fears, loss of shelf space for companies and those types of activities, which could become very dangerous. Those are things we absolutely want to avoid.
Let us remember also that we do not have the same sort of power over the people our Canadian manufacturers, distributors, entrepreneurs or importers are competing against, because the regimes in the domestic markets of our competitors might not be the same. I think we have to remember that.
We also have to look at the way it would be administered. Would we be doing this in a way that maximizes the use of the current bureaucracy? Or would we have to replicate everything else and therefore make it more complicated? Are we going to have an importer working with multiple departments to do the same process? Would we have some coordination?
When the finance committee looked at counterfeit products coming into the country, we saw that the Canada Border Services Agency was unable to inspect these products because it was understaffed. There is no way it can do an active inspection so it needs some sort of system that triggers a look at certain imports, stocks or lots. If we expand the requirements without creating a coordinated administration of it, we run the risk of having an overly bureaucratic process.
We have said over and again that we want smart regulations in this country, that we want to streamline red tape and administration processes. This is an excellent opportunity to do it from the onset as we are establishing a new program.
On the question of the penalties being higher, I do not think anybody would argue with that. I think it is a good idea but what people question is whether this has any effect because the penalties are never applied. As there are never charges under the current system, would it be meaningful to increase the penalties? I would suggest that it would be but we need to look at why they are not applied now and whether there are other ways, other than the court process, that we can use.
I was very pleased to see that in the bill the administrative sanction route is being considered where the minister and his inspectors would be able to apply monetary and administrative sanctions on the importer or manufacturer outside the court process a lot faster and more efficiently. I think that is a good idea.
The other thing is the use of injunctions rather than having to charge an entrepreneur, that an injunction can be applied for in court to cease an import, the distribution or certain manufacturing processes or procedures. I think it is a lot better way to go than having to charge and having a long, drawn out court battle that is unsure in all cases and certainly would lead, not necessarily to the protection of an individual's well-being, but certainly would have a negative impact on our capacity to compete.
The question on the effect on competitiveness is important. In that respect, I would like to see the bill dealt with not only by the Standing Committee on Health but also by the industry committee. I have a feeling that at the health committee we will be able to accommodate the people who want to give us that perspective.
How do we implement these principles and not reduce the competitiveness of Canadian business? I think that is what we should be seeking. Our first responsibility is the protection of human health and we cannot for any reason abdicate on that responsibility but we must look to do it in a way that protects our competitiveness in our domestic market, as well as in our exports. I am looking forward at the committee to be able to do these things.
I am pleased that the bill has been brought forward for debate and I believe our party will be supporting the bill going to committee. I look forward to having these discussions at committee, seeing the specifics of the bill, seeing how the implementation will happen and having the opportunity to present amendments at the committee or in the House. I hope officials of the Government of Canada will be prepared to indicate to the committee the order and types of regulations that are called for and what they would look.
We do take a bit of a leap of faith in the House of Commons as members of Parliament when we give powers to the minister or to the government to enact regulations to affect the intent of a bill that is passed by the House because we do not see those regulations again. They are done, in most cases, by order in council and, in very few cases, are they ever brought before Parliament again, either directly or through one of these committees. I think it would be quite useful if government officials could give us an indication or an idea of the type of regulations that will be required in this case.
I look forward to having a more fulsome discussion of the matter at committee.
Mr. Speaker, as the health critic for the Bloc Québécois, I am very interested in this bill on consumer product safety. The act has not been revised since 1969. The Bloc has been asking the government for a bill to clean up the old legislation, which is no longer adequate for today’s needs. There were gaps that needed to be filled and requirements that needed tightening and we needed to ban the manufacture, promotion and marketing of products that are a health hazard and sometimes even fatal to people who come into contact with them. There is currently no requirement for manufacturers to test their products. With this bill, the onus will be on them to prove that their products are safe.
The Bloc Québécois has repeatedly raised the issue of consumer safety over the last few years. Canadian standards cannot be different from those in other countries, for example, when unusual amounts of lead are found in certain products. There is good reason, therefore, to wonder about the effectiveness of the current legislation. Many products have been recalled over the last few months. There was the toothpaste from South Africa containing substances that were a danger to human health and the Fisher-Price products containing materials that were dangerous and toxic to children. Mattel, the American toy manufacturer, also recalled several million toys made in China in this case. There was too much lead in some toys that many children have, such as Barbie dolls or GeoTrax toys. Fortunately, all these products have been recalled because they were dangerous to children.
The Auditor General looked into this back in 2006. She pointed out all the problems with Health Canada and its ability to control dangerous products. She said that the managers of the product safety program were unable to fulfil their mandate because they lacked the tools. They did not have enough human resources. The resources they had were not used very well and the legislation was not very effective at protecting Canadians. The government has known about all this ever since 2006.
The bill is certainly a step in the right direction, but as my colleague, the Liberal health critic, said, we still do not know anything about the regulations. It is the regulations that will show how the bill will be fleshed out and implemented.
There are five measures in the bill to reverse the burden of proof when it comes to safety. The first concerns consumer product safety. The second extends the powers of the inspectors. The third gives the minister a new power to recall products. Fourth, the penalties will be quite onerous, and fifth, products will have to be traceable.
Let us take a look at what the first measure about burden of proof means. Currently, no constraints are imposed on manufacturers. They do not have to prove that their products are not dangerous and do not pose a threat to consumer safety. Bill would reverse the burden of proof and impose it on manufacturers. Even today, Health Canada itself must conduct tests to prove that a product is dangerous and poses a threat to consumer safety. Bill C-52 proposes forcing manufacturers and importers of consumer products to test the safety of their products regularly, and, most importantly, to disclose the test results. The bill would also require businesses to declare all measures taken or illnesses caused because of their products. This puts the onus on manufacturers and importers, because it forces them to prove that their products are safe, which is what the Bloc Québécois has been calling for since last September.
The second measure has to do with increasing inspectors' powers. As the Auditor General stated in a report, in order to ensure that this bill is implemented and effective, inspectors on the ground will have more powers when Bill comes into force.
For that to happen, consumer products will have to be subject to recall, relabelling or a licensing amendment. These inspectors will be the means to enforce this bill's most important provisions. As we will see later on, we are concerned about adding to duties and responsibilities, and we have a lot of questions about this.
The third measure is the minister's new recall power. Until now, health authorities did not have the power to recall consumer products found to be dangerous. Recalls were issued on a voluntary basis by manufacturers and importers themselves. Bill would give the minister the power to recall any products that are defective or endanger consumer safety. It is high time Health Canada took this kind of action. We will have to see whether the minister's discretionary power turns out to be effective or not. For the time being, we do not know how that power will be managed.
The fourth measure is intended to provide for real, deterrent penalties. Manufacturers could have be fined $5,000. For a manufacturer that imports or sells a lot of products, that figure was laughable and trivial. Now, the offence could lead to a fine up to $5 million, and the offender could be liable to imprisonment for two years.
Deterrents in the United States and the European Union are said to be much tougher. In the European Union, fines can be as high as 5% of the company’s annual revenue. The United States imposes fines that go as high as several million dollars. It is therefore plain that this will be one measure that could be effective in dealing with a company that failed to comply with hazardous products regulations and standards.
On the question of products being traceable, it is important to know where the product was made and the route it travelled before it arrived here. There will have to be safety reports regarding all supply sources and all components of a particular product. This system has all the features of a traceability system. We shall see what happens when the regulations are made. For the moment, we cannot see how this entire traceability process will be regulated.
This measure seems to us to be fine for now. However, the bill will be studied in committee where we can ask questions and hear from the industry and from organizations that work to ensure the quality and safety of the products that consumers buy.
The alarm was sounded by the Auditor General in 2006: there were not enough inspectors to enforce all of the regulations. There were 40 inspectors in Canada, 10 of whom were in Quebec. That is a very small number for this very big job. Because this bill will expand their responsibilities, the Minister is not yet in a position to tell us how many inspectors he will need, to ensure that the task to be assigned to them by this bill can be properly carried out. He is therefore not in a position to tell us what kind of support they will be given, how their responsibilities will be increased or the human resources that will be required to meet this need.
This was one of the criticisms levelled by the Auditor General in respect of all of the responsibilities assigned to officials.
It is therefore important that resources be increased, and that proper training be provided for these officials, who will see their duties grow. We are well aware that training was not adequate. For example, some of them did not even have training to do food inspection in agriculture. These were people who worked in plants, but who had no specific training to do the job right when it came to the quality of certain foods.
Will there be sufficient funds? Here again, no one has an answer. There was $113 million allocated for enforcing the law in the next two years, for new proceedings, but not for hiring and training new inspectors. So we have a lot of questions to ask the Minister and his officials when this bill is discussed in committee.
As I said, the bill appears worthwhile at this stage, in terms of the broad principles and the desire to have safer products. The public has been very concerned for some time now about the high number of recalls and about products that have affected public health.
We need to act quickly, but is the government prepared to make regulations to tell us how this legislation is going to operate? Will there be adequate funding? The Minister could not give us a satisfactory answer today. We hope that in committee someone will be able to tell us how this money will be allocated. Will it be allocated to training? How much money will be allocated, given the number of inspectors?
There are also two new structures. How much will they cost? Do we not expect most of the money to be allocated to them? We hope it will not be allocated solely to administration, and that it will also be spent to provide proper support for the officers who will be responsible for overseeing the food safety evaluation process.
We know that the government has been making mistakes for two years.
An hon. member: Oh, oh!
Ms. Christiane Gagnon: They are shaking their heads, but it has been making mistakes. I will provide a specific example for the Minister who is shaking his head on the other side of the House. At the end of November he brought out a personal analysis kit for consumers, so consumers themselves could make sure that consumer products are harmless. Really! We opposed that measure. The government was shifting responsibility to consumers. Every consumer had a testing kit and responsibility now lay with the consumer. Imagine! The government made a mistake, and because of that we can see that it was not very realistic to think that consumers could be their own product safety watchdogs. Shifting responsibility to consumers like this was a mistake, it was kind of out in left field.
Then, in December, he brought out his Food and Consumer Safety Action Plan. There again, we asked questions to find out what human resources were going to be needed. If so, we wanted to know what kind of training these new inspectors were going to receive. We have to admit that introducing Bill seems a little bolder, but we will have to see what comes of the regulations.
I would also like to raise another aspect of the question that has not been addressed in relation to this bill. I have introduced a private member’s bill dealing with expiry dates for food products. There are no expiry dates on some consumer products now available. In other countries, like France, there is an expiry date on all products. I hope the Minister will be listening when he comes to the committee. I would like him to make this amendment to the Food and Drugs Act, so that the expiry date for all consumer products can be read on a label or could be added to the nutritional content label.
I would like this information to be available to consumers so they can make the most informed choices possible about the products they buy.
Bloc members will be voting in favour of this bill on second reading for the reasons I mentioned earlier. The purpose of this bill is to reassure consumers and make changes to the process for evaluating dangerous and harmful consumer products.
We cannot speak today about the way these five measures will be covered by regulations but we hope that the minister will be able to table the regulations. We cannot simply indulge in wishful thinking and give the minister carte blanche. We have questions to ask him.
Earlier, we wanted to know how the problem of the number of inspectors would be resolved and what kind of training they would receive. In addition, we wanted to know how the minister’s discretionary power would be used to carry out a recall and how, in certain cases, the minister might decide not to recall a product for various reasons. How will the minister decide whether a product is dangerous? What will the limits be for recalling one product rather than another? On that score, we still have questions for the minister and we hope that he will make his intentions clear in committee and that his officials will enlighten us about the regulations.
As I said previously, the Bloc Québécois is in favour of approving this bill on second reading. However, this is an issue we will watch closely in the coming months as the bill progresses toward third reading.
We still have questions that need to be answered before we give final approval to this bill. We also want to hear from the various consumer rights groups, as well as from the business community. At the same time, we must keep our guard up. We realize that we are no longer in a market where we know who has produced a product, especially with all the imported products coming in from all over the world. We know that in some countries the standards are not as safe or as easy to identify.
So, we must not close our eyes but rather try to balance the danger from a product against the viability of a company. Earlier, a member of the Liberal Party said that companies must not suffer either. However, the owners of companies all have a duty to ensure that the food and products they provide to the public are safe. We cannot put aside the primary objective, which is to reassure the public. Above all, products for children must be safe. We must also eliminate the dangerous elements of some products.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join in this first debate on Bill , which is long overdue, long awaited legislation dealing with protecting consumers from dangerous toxic products. I say long overdue because this matter has been before the House on a repeated basis, year after year, for as long as I have been in this place, which is some 13 years, and I am sure long before that.
On the one hand, we welcome the Conservatives' move to bring forward legislation that on the surface appears to be concrete, proactive and significant. I say on the surface because as we start to pore through this very detailed legislation, many questions come to mind. We will be carefully scrutinizing the legislation to ensure that all this tough talk about standing up and protecting consumers and getting tough with the industry is going to matter and is going to mean something.
To this point it is hard to fathom that a Conservative government is prepared to stand up to the big toy manufacturers in our country and to the big producers around the world, which are actively bringing their goods into our country as quickly and as expeditiously as possible. It is hard to imagine that the Conservative government is prepared to stand up to this industry and say that Canadians come first, that the safety of people comes first.
However, I will give Conservatives the benefit of the doubt. My colleagues and I will be very interested in seeing how the bill measures up to the tough talk. When I say tough talk, I point out that the government is very good at using the language the health protection movement has been advancing for many years and for which the Canadian Health Coalition has called and for which the New Democratic Party has called for many years. They talk about strengthening and modernizing Canada's safety system. It certainly sounds good on the surface. If there is anything behind those words, it will make a big difference to Canadians who have waited a long time for something to finally happen at the federal level of government around safety of consumer products.
We went through this for so long with the Liberals. It is impossible to recount how many attempts we made to try to move the Liberals, when they were in the government, to the point where they would take some action. Year after year we presented private members' bills. We raised serious incidents, yet we could not bring the Liberals to practise what they preached, which was supposedly believing in the do no harm principle, the precautionary principle, the belief that products on this market should be safe beyond a reasonable doubt, that people, especially young children, should not be exposed to dangerous toxins and that we had to be very careful about testing products and ensuring industry was responsible.
Canadians, after all these years, are getting a little tired of all the talk and no action. When I was first elected in 1999, we heard then about the dangerous toys on the market. We heard about lead or cadmium being in many children's products. We tried to get the government to move. It would not, so we brought forward private members' legislation.
I want to refer to March 10, 1999 when I introduced Bill C-482, an act to amend the Hazardous Products Act. This was very specifically to deal with the fact that toys for young children and babies contained phthalates. There was substantive scientific evidence to show that exposure to phthalates was very dangerous to the health and well-being of children.
Since then, other colleagues have pursued legislation. My colleague from has introduced similar legislation dealing with exposure to phthalates and other dangerous substances. My colleague from has been raising the issue of bisphenol A, just as I and others in the House have done. Repeatedly over the years we have tried to get government, Liberal or Conservative, to act in the face of this dangerous exposure to our children and young people and adults in our society today.
We have something of a possibility today. We have a sign of legislation that could in fact do the job. Listening to the dialogue between the Liberals and the Conservatives, I get the feeling that I am at some sort of board of directors meeting where people are weighing the question of how far we should go to protect consumers without disturbing the profit margins of these companies. It seems like we are talking about bottom lines in terms of corporate survival and corporate health and profit margins as opposed to human health and safety.
Let us not forget that today is a special day for all of Canada. This is a day of mourning for workers in this country who have been injured or have died on the job. When we are talking about exposure to toxic substances, whether it is in terms of workers who are producing the products or consumers who are buying and being exposed to these products, we have to take action in a substantive concrete way. We can no longer simply afford to say nice words and pleasantries around this issue. It is time to actually make a real difference.
We need more than legislative change. We need more than what the Conservatives have brought forward today, even if it is a flawed piece of legislation. We need a cultural change. We need a philosophical change. We need an understanding from government that all processes have to be in place to protect Canadians from dangerous products and toxic toys.
The Conservatives say that they really believe in law enforcement. We hear it all the time. We hear it in terms of crime on our streets and neighbourhood safety. We hear a lot of tough talk. Do we ever hear that kind of tough talk when it comes to producers of toys and consumer products? I do not think we have. The minister will try to say that in this bill the government is getting tough, that there are going to be big fines, that the government will have the power to recall and it is going to send a strong message.
If we look closely at this legislation, we will realize that it is very open-ended and without obligation. There is no requirement on the part of the government to be tough. It says it may be tough, it may recall products, it may fine corporations, it may take action, but there is absolutely nothing explicit in this legislation that says when a toxic product gets on to our shelves and consumers are exposed to that product, the government must and will take firm action. There is nothing that explicit, nothing that definitive in this legislation.
The Conservatives have generated so little trust among Canadians on every front, especially when it comes to the health and well-being of Canadians, especially when it comes to health protection in the face of dangerous drugs, toys, food, exposure to all kinds of toxic chemicals in our environment today. The government has not taken the kind of action that would warrant Canadians believing that it is prepared to go all out, to be tough when it comes to the health and well-being of Canadians.
We have to devote today to talking about the importance of being tough, the importance of doing what we say we are going to do. We have to devote today to the importance of standing up for workers who are killed or injured on the job, and the importance of standing up for Canadians who are exposed to dangerous products and who suffer serious consequences as a result, something that lasts a lifetime. All the talk in the world around recall and tough regulations will not fix the problem, unless we are prepared to make sure that the products coming into this country are as safe as possible.
Unless we apply the do no harm principle, we are no further ahead. If we simply say we are going to continue this buyer beware model that the Liberals started and the Conservatives seem so endeared about, wrap it up with a few little bells and whistles around recall and around big fines, it will not matter, because the products will stay on the market, the danger will be done, and it will be too late.
Sure, it is great to get tough after the fact, but what does that do for the Canadian who is exposed? What does it to for the little baby whose health is ruined for life? What does it do for a whole population whose quality of life has been jeopardized because of this attitude of buyer beware, survival of the fittest, let the market forces prevail when it comes to health and consumer products? That is the challenge we face today.
Our job today is not like the Liberals want to do, to simply give a blanket statement of approval to the Conservatives and say, “Yes, this is good, let us get it to committee. We support it but we just want to fine tune it”. The onus on us today is to really question and dig deep around what it means and what impact it will have.
What good is this legislation if the government does not put in place the resources that are required at the borders to make sure that potentially toxic products do not enter this country? What guarantees do we have from the government that it is so serious about this issue it will put in place the kind of inspection labour force that will do the job?
There was a bit of money in the last budget. By all accounts, if we put it all together and look at the requirements for Bill in terms of toys and consumer products, and Bill in terms of food and drugs, the money the government is promising to expend in this area is probably a drop in the bucket when we look at the requirements and the kind of framework that the government has presented to Canadians.
In fact, if the government is that serious about a proactive piece of legislation, then it has to have resources in the field. It has to have inspectors at the border. It has to have the determination to actually test and label and be absolutely rigorous in this field if it is to make any difference.
It is hard to mesh the tough talk from the Conservatives with their wide open, easy as it goes talk around trade. Many of the problems we are facing today have to do with governments that have failed to understand the importance of putting in place fair trade practices. Our borders have been opened up to all kinds of products about which we know very little or have done little in terms of testing and scientific research. It is time, as so many have already said, to take that seriously.
Let us look at the number of products over the last three or four years that have appeared on the market, but which should have been recalled. Since 2005 there have been 34 products that contained a lead risk, 26 products that were a risk in terms of choking, 5 products that led to head injuries, 5 that led to risk of laceration, 3 that could have meant internal damage from magnets, 3 that put people at risk of being burned, 3 that put people at risk in terms of entrapment, 2 that put people in danger in terms of puncture or impalement risk, 2 that could have caused strangulation, 2 that led to bacteria risk, and 1 a toxic chemical risk. That is an incredibly long list of products that we know about, where there has been some documentation, where consumers raised concerns and where government was forced to react.
How in the world is the government prepared to actually get a handle on this area and apply this bill to make a real difference? Is it going to put a ban on any product that consumers identify as dangerous, which has been backed up by scientific evidence? Do we have a government that is prepared to get that tough? Will it ban a product?
Let us look at the example of bisphenol A. That plastic has been around for a long time. We have been talking about it in the House for many months. There are 150 peer reviewed studies on bisphenol A which talk about the dangerous complications for people's health and well-being, about hormonal imbalance and problems in terms of young kids. There are all kinds of scientific studies showing that that plastic is toxic and dangerous to people's health and well-being. Was there a ban on the products right off the bat? No. What we got last week was a statement from the that the government might ban it, but it was going to give it 60 more days of study. The minister went on to tell parents that the government was going to ban baby bottles made out of bisphenol A but parents should not worry, they should not pull the products off their kitchen shelves, they should just avoid putting boiling water in them.
Is that a proactive approach that guarantees people's safety first? Is that health protection, or is it simply another variation of buyer beware? Consumers have to check out these products and do their own tests. They have to go down to the hardware store and get the tests that tell them whether there is lead in a product. They have to go to a lab to have products tested for other toxic chemicals. They have to take it upon themselves because the government is all talk and no action. Is that what it is all about, or is the bill really going to make a difference?
As I said at the outset, I am willing to give the benefit of the doubt to the government and I look forward to a very serious study of this bill at committee, but I can say that there are some serious problems with the bill as we look at it today. One is the question of the power to ban when products are presented as dangerous. What in the bill will require the government to take very quick, prompt action to ensure that the bad experience of one person does not have to mean a horrible experience for a whole lot of other people?
What in this bill will actually ensure that toy producers, manufacturers of products overseas are being watched closely and required to live up to certain standards? We will never under the present government have the kind of inspection requirements that are needed at the borders to make sure that every product is safe. What is the government doing to indicate to producers overseas that there are certain standards that must be met, or are we simply following a country like China that says it is up to the country receiving the products to make those determinations? How in the world can we continue to operate on that basis?
We have raised many questions over the last few months about the importation of toys in particular, because for young kids and babies, exposure to these toxics is that much more serious at the early stages of life when compared to adults who can tolerate a greater risk.
We have to be very careful if we are serious about preserving and protecting the health and well-being of Canadians. We have actually said in the House that we cannot simply stand back and act tough when big companies like Mattel suddenly decide that government means nothing when it comes to health protection. We are talking about companies that make huge profits. It is up to us and the government of the day to actually stand up and make a difference.
My time is coming to an end in this first round of the debate. I want to conclude by saying that there are many parts of the bill that cause questions and concerns. We will be proposing amendments. We will be looking for some positive response from the government to those amendments. We will be looking forward to working with the Conservatives to make this bill live up to its name of being very tough legislation when it comes to the health and well-being of Canadians, one that is firmly grounded in the do no harm principle as opposed to the buyer beware risk management model. I look forward to the ongoing debate and discussion.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill , the Canada consumer product safety act.
I was here earlier and I listened closely to the minister's remarks. He did go to some considerable length to make it sound like the government was taking strong action where maybe previous governments had not taken the kind of action necessary. I do think it is important that I set the record straight in that regard. It was several times that we recognized in the previous government that greater consumer protection was necessary and that there needed to be new authorities implemented in terms of the protection for consumers and consumer products and, in particular, in the area of food.
In the previous Parliament, there was the introduction of Bill which would have moved forward in a lot of those areas, taking strong measures, especially in the area of labelling, of bringing up to date quite a number of bills that required modernization and giving greater authorities for CFIA and other agencies to deal with imported product, hoaxes and threats of putting foreign products into food or threatening that on the grocery store shelves. It was really the Conservative opposition of the day that prevented that from happening.
I am glad the Conservatives have now seen the light and are bringing forward a bill that we very much believe is a step in the right direction.
I agree with many colleagues who have previously spoken that this does need to go to committee. We need to look at the details to ensure there is nothing in the fine print that we should be concerned about. As a party we will be moving this forward to committee. We see it at this stage as a step in the right direction. It is an issue that exploded after, basically, the lead scare on toys from one nation that exports those products to Canada.
In reality, we have to look at both bills. We are here to speak to Bill , but we have to look at both Bills and because they are intertwined and both have to move forward to committee.
As I indicated, we are committed as a party to improving the safety and health of Canadians. We believe this debate should occur at committee. We believe it is important to strengthen the regulatory process to ensure that Canadians have access to the safest consumer products that can be made available and to ensure that the products are labelled properly so that consumers do in fact know what they are buying.
As I indicated, we also think it is necessary for these bills to have a proper review and also necessary to ensure that witnesses on both sides of the question, people with the technical and the legislative expertise, be invited to committee to go through the bill in detail.
Currently a lot of the information about consumer products is done on a voluntary basis. I think we know that this is just not as adequate as it should be.
This new bill, then, will prohibit the sale, import, manufacture, packaging, labelling and advertising of consumer products that may pose a risk to consumers. While voluntary recalls will continue to happen, inspectors named under the act or by the minister will now be able to order the recall of a consumer product.
In the past, I have expressed in the House some concerns about the way some of the ministers in the government use their authority. I have just a note of caution. These authorities are there for a purpose, not for an ideological agenda. They are there to protect consumers and to ensure that consumers have the safest products available. They are not there for purposes other than that. I want to point that out at the beginning.
On the area of labelling, we read about it in the press almost daily now, and it relates mainly to food products. With the intertwining of the bills, I think it is important to mention this. I did have the opportunity in December and January, with a colleague, to meet consumers and the farm community on the whole issue of our regulatory system in Canada as it applies to, yes, consumer products, but certainly and mainly to food products that are on grocery store shelves.
One area that Canadian farmers are really concerned about is that a double standard applies to them. They face a tougher regulatory regime than do their competitors, yet their competitors' products end up on Canadian grocery store shelves in competition to those of our farmers, who face that tougher regulatory regime.
Canadian farmers face double standards from their own government regulations by taking on costs to meet high food safety and environmental standards only to watch imports that do not meet the same standards price them out of the supermarkets. There are a lot of examples in that regard.
We have to ensure that with this bill coming in, and with tougher regulations and more inspections, Canadians who are meeting these standards are not disadvantaged. We cannot allow that to happen. I will use a couple of examples that I know well from the agricultural arena.
For the health of Canadians, Canada has established rules to eliminate feeds using specified risk materials from cattle in order to eradicate BSE, yet the United States has not imposed those same rules, and Canadians continue to import and consume those beef products from the United States. We cannot allow that situation to continue.
Gencor, a plant in western Ontario, closed about five or six weeks ago. It was killing 700 older cows a week. The reason it closed was that its cost regime for removing specified risk materials put it at a disadvantage with U.S. plants. It went out of business, with the loss of 120 jobs and a processing plant for Canadian product.
With these new regulations on consumer protection and under Bill on food protection and labelling, et cetera, we have to ensure that at the end of the day our industry is not put at a disadvantage. We have to be on a level playing field with the United States.
As well in the farm sector, although this bill does not specifically relate to the Pest Management Regulatory Agency, the bill does relate to Health Canada. It has authority over the PMRA, which is responsible for pesticides in this country. Some pesticides are banned in Canada because they are deemed unsafe for the health of farm workers applying the product, yet Canada allows imports using these pesticides because they meet Canadian food residue limits.
Here is what we have. We do not allow the use of this pesticide or herbicide because it may have an impact on workers. Therefore, even though it may be a cheaper product, a producer is not allowed to use it in this country because of its impact, as I say, on workers. Yet we will allow the product produced with that herbicide and by foreign workers onto our grocery store shelves, and again our farmers are not competitive.
I make this point. As Canadians consume these imported products, Canada is no longer protecting the safety of farm workers. We are simply exporting the problem to foreign workers in exchange for cheaper foods and undermining the potential of Canadian farmers. It is another example of how Canadians are disadvantaged. They are important measures, yes, and they are measures that need to be taken in terms of workers. We should not be exporting--we can, I guess, but we should not be--our moral responsibility to other countries and disadvantaging our own in the process.
What I am saying is that Canada cannot have it both ways. Imported products that do not meet or do not even have to meet Canada's domestic production standards undermine Canada's high domestic standards for food safety. Canadian farmers are not only competing in a regulatory system that impedes them in the international markets, but they are operating in a regulatory environment that gives their international competitors the advantage in domestic markets.
I have to make that point, because with these new bills and these new regulatory authorities, with greater authority for the minister, all of which are important, we have to ensure consumer product safety but we also have to ensure that Canadian producers and, indeed, Canadian importers are not disadvantaged as a result.
The last point I would make is one that we have heard a lot about recently. In fact, the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food is holding hearings in this area. The , along with the and the , mentioned this issue when they announced the introduction of these bills. It is the whole issue of product of Canada labelling.
I raised this question earlier with the . The fact of the matter is that one can buy product of Canada olives in Canada. One can buy product of Canada grapefruit juice. One can buy product of Canada orange juice. I do not know of anywhere in this country where we grow olives. I do not know of too many grapefruits or oranges being grown in Canada, so why would such a package on a grocery store shelf read “product of Canada” when those products are being sold here?
The fact is that the definition is wrong. When Canadian consumers go to the grocery store shelf, they should feel confident that what they are buying is indeed a product of Canada. Under the current definition, that is not the case. The current definition is that 51% of the total package costs occurred in Canada. It really has nothing to do with what is in the package.
That has to change. As the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food, we are looking at it. It has to change and relate to the product that is in the package itself, because I firmly believe that if Canadians are given the choice, they will veer toward buying the product that is indeed produced by Canadians, knowing the kind of regulatory and environmental regime we are under and knowing that it is supporting other Canadians in their economic activities.
Certainly I want to emphasize to the minister and to the government as a whole the absolute urgency of dealing with product of Canada labelling. It is a very serious matter. It has to be dealt with in a comprehensive way.
There has been some suggestion that we could go to voluntary labelling as well and that may be a possibility. The bottom line is that Canadians need a strong regime to define what indeed is a product of Canada and what is not.
We do see Bill and Bill as important in that they modernize our regulatory regime for consumer products in Canada. The government has to go further than what is currently stated in these bills. We must get a definition of product of Canada. The bottom line is that there has to be truth in labelling. That is what consumers want and it does not matter whether it is a widget, a computer, an apple, an orange or a piece of steak. People want absolute certainty that there is truth in the labelling on what they are buying. There has to be a regulatory and enforcement regime around that to make it stick.
Our party is committed to improving the safety and health of Canadians. We have attempted to do that in the past. As I mentioned earlier, there was some opposition from members in the Conservative government. We support measures which strengthen the regulatory process to ensure that Canadians do have access to the safest consumer products.
We look forward to reviewing the details in the legislation at committee to ensure that it is as accountable, transparent and effective as possible for Canadians. We do see this as a step forward. We look forward to the discussions in committee, some of the technical briefings, and some of the witnesses who will come forward with information that will be useful to all of us in the House to ensure that at the end of the day this is the best legislation possible for the interests of Canadians and for Canada as a whole.
Mr. Speaker, I am happy to have the opportunity to speak to Bill . My colleague from the Bloc Québécois who is our critic for health issues made a speech earlier today. She confirmed that the Bloc Québécois approved the principle of the bill since the Bloc had already asked the government to make its safety rules concerning dangerous products more stringent to prohibit the fabrication, promotion and marketing of any product that present an unacceptable risk to health. I will come back to that.
Unfortunately, we know that some people succeed in selling toys, food and other products containing dangerous substances. They end up in Canadian markets, on our grocery shelves, and in our children's hands. That should not happen in 2008. One can understand that a few, rare cases may happen, but it seems that the problem has now reached alarming proportions.
The Bloc also called on the government to require manufacturers to inspect their products and show they do not pose a danger to consumers. This burden of proof did not exist—and still does not exist, because the bill has not yet been passed—but it is change we called for some time ago.
I should point out that consumer groups reacted fairly positively to the announcement of this bill, but remain cautious. We always say that no government should be given a blank cheque, especially not this one. We do not know what is going on behind the scenes, and it is always disturbing when we do not know all the ins and outs of a bill. One thing is certain: we can give the government the benefit of the doubt for the time being. Consumers remain cautious, as I said, just as we do.
That is why we will refer this bill to the committee, so that we can hear testimony and examine everything this bill encompasses, just like the related bill, Bill . We will look at the regulations to see how serious the government is in its approach.
Geneviève Reid of the consumer group Option consommateurs stated that it is a step in the right direction, provided there are resources to back it up, the regulations are solid and there is good communication with the public. She was quoted in La Presse on April 9, 2008, after the government announced that it was going to introduce these bills.
As for the obligation for companies to declare any major incident involving one of their products, Ms. Reid says that there will also need to be an incident register where consumers can report incidents. It makes a difference if there is such a mechanism for consumers who have bought items containing dangerous substances or foods unfit for human consumption that have made those consumers ill. People need an easily accessible way to let the government know that there was a problem with a product.
Clearly, this information will not necessarily be released immediately. The necessary checks will be made to determine whether this product did in fact pose a problem. If consumers are involved in the process, the result could be even more information about certain incidents that might happen.
I do not question the relevancy of the bill. With all those recalls in recent months and years, whether they involve toys or food, there is reason to be concerned. It was time the government did something about this issue.
Earlier, I had a discussion with the hon. member for , because we both sit on the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food. We are very concerned about food recalls. These recalls always target food that comes from other countries. This was the case with spinach, cantaloupe, carrot juice, pear juice, and pork that came from abroad and contained melamine.
It was not intended for human consumption, at least I hope, but animal feed was contaminated. As regards this specific issue, there is still a void in the legislation. No one is responsible for ensuring that we feed safe food to our pets.
The result is that some pets have died. And we know how people are attached to their animals. Personally, I have always lived with a cat. I have always had a cat since I was born. I still have a female cat that is almost 15 years old now. I feed her well and she weighs 17 pounds. She is a little overweight.
All this to say that pet owners expressed their concerns when that happened. I would like the government to take note of it, so that we can fill this void in the legislation when we have the opportunity to examine these things in committee, whether it is through this bill, or another one.
Food safety has been seriously challenged in recent years. In a few moments, I will share some numbers with those who are listening. As I was saying earlier, during questions and comments, whenever officials from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency appear before the committee, we always ask them questions about food inspection, not only once it is in Canada, but also at the border, and even abroad.
Earlier, the reciprocity in standards was mentioned. That is important. Some pesticides, insecticides and other chemicals used in producing the fruits and vegetables we eat are forbidden for use in Canada. In some cases, it is a good thing. There are too many products that have been used without their safety being truly established. Measures are being taken to make sure that some products are used under surveillance and some products are prohibited.
Unfortunately, some products come from China, India and even the United States. I do not want to single out only developing countries. The United States also made the political and social choice to authorize the use of some pesticides and some chemical products. That is their decision.
In Canada, we do not allow these products. Unfortunately, foods grown in those countries can get through all testing and end up in our stores. That is an issue we raise every time the Canadian Food Inspection Agency appears before us. We are told that the issue is under scrutiny and that the products sold here are up to our standards and that inspections are done.
However, we know that there is a lack of inspectors. The hon. member for was right when he said earlier that every time there are talks about increasing the number of inspections and inspectors and raising the budget the agency has to do the job, we must not make the farm producers pay for it. It is the government's responsibility to make sure that all food and other products entering Canada are safe.
We too often see that foods produced using pesticides that are forbidden in Canada can find their way into our grocery stores.
Earlier, I spoke about the lack of inspectors. I wonder if Bill solves this problem. They say they want to increase the number of inspectors or improve the chances of having an inspection. However, upon reading the bill, I have serious doubts about the government's willingness to actually conduct more inspections.
Knowing that we import goods from China, India or even the United States—they come from all over—and the source of a product, why do the inspectors not go there to see what is happening? In terms of the environment, you do not need to watch TV for long or read about what is happening to know that in China, for example, environmental standards are quite lax. Personally, I would not even drink the water used to grow these products, these fruits and vegetables. Some concerns expressed by consumers are certainly understandable. We could do an on-site check of what is used to grow crops. It would be an advantage to have more inspectors to do that.
Therefore, it is not the relevance of the bill that concerns me, but the lack of resources allocated to the front lines. It is one thing to increase fines for guilty parties, but the priority should be given to inspections and reciprocity of health standards. We spoke about reciprocity earlier. It goes without saying that our beef producers, for example, have to deal with unfair competition. We know that, in the United States, beef producers are not required to dispose of specified risk materials, as are our beef producers, who presently absorb the costs. That is a serious problem.
Earlier today we debated Bill on biofuels. We think there may be an interesting opportunity for biodiesel, but nothing is officially in place yet. It is not yet possible for our producers to make money with specified risk materials. Right now these represent an additional expense for them. Consequently there is unfair competition from American producers. We need to examine reciprocity.
I also wonder about the Conservatives' lack of judgment with respect to the safety of toys and foods.
Hon. Jean-Pierre Blackburn: Oh, oh!
Mr. André Bellavance: The reacted and that is understandable. I will explain to him why I said there was a lack of judgment. The government has known since 2006 that the act did not adequately protect Canadians. When the new government took power in 2006—it was brand new for almost two years—it knew from the Auditor General's report that the act was lax. We have had all of these recalls and all of these products have entered the country under this act. All the government did was react. It took a long time. As for calling it a lack of judgment, the Minister of Labour and Minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec can take a look at his dictionary, but he cannot deny what I am saying.
The Auditor General pointed out that Health Canada was short on inspectors. How can the Conservative government justify its lax attitude since 2006, when this is a matter of health and safety for Canadians, and particularly for children, when we are talking about contaminated toys? This government likes to use its announcements as a marketing tool, targeting very specific audiences.
We saw the visiting the Salvation Army surrounded by gifts during the holidays to say that the government would now be focusing on toys. For more than a year, the Auditor General had been sounding the alarm. It makes for a good photo op, but perhaps the government should stop bragging about solving the problem, when it took far too long to do so. Clearly the problem is still not solved, but a step has been made in the right direction. The fact that it took so long was one of the problems. The Prime Minister announced that he intended to amend the legislation in September 2007. Why did he wait so long? That question remains unanswered. And because of this, consumers now feel much more insecure.
Bill was tabled one and a half years after the Auditor General's warning in November 2006. The report notes:
8.21 Product safety program managers considered many of their regulatory activities to be insufficient to meet their regulatory responsibilities. We found these opinions were confirmed in an internal study of the program's resource needs, documents relating to resource allocation, and in interviews conducted as part of our audit.
The report also notes:
8.22 The product safety program has requested additional funding, but it received very little funds for special initiatives in 2005–06 to address the shortfalls presented above. Program managers indicated that their inability to carry out these responsibilities could have consequences for the health and safety of Canadians and Quebeckers, of course, [the member's emphasis] such as exposure by consumers to non-compliant hazardous products. There is also a risk of liability to the Crown.
Thus, it took the government over a year to announce even its intention to do something, and a year and a half to introduce the bill we are discussing here today in the House.
How can the government justify this laxity? It was probably too worried about its four or five priorities with a quick election in mind. Everyone knows what the government did. As the Bloc Québécois agriculture critic, I can say that agriculture was not one of its priorities. It set a few priorities and really laid the groundwork for a very quick election, and when there was no election, it did not know what to do and no longer had any priorities. I do not understand why this was not a priority. I mentioned agriculture earlier, but there are many others. That was obviously one of them. Public health and safety should be one of this government's priorities, just as they should be a priority for Parliament as a whole.
And it is not as if there were no warnings. I was talking to the earlier about a lack of judgment. It goes without saying that the government needed to take action when so many toys were recalled. Why the government did not act more quickly is totally beyond me. There were recalls by Fisher-Price and Mattel. In August 2007, Mattel recalled 18.6 million toys made in China. Members certainly remember that saga. The most deplorable thing in this case was that, in order to maintain a good relationship with its Chinese supplier, Mattel apologized to that company for the prejudice this may have caused. Had I been in Mattel's shoes, I would have apologized to the consumers who ended up buying toys contaminated with lead paint. There was too much lead in the paint used on these toys.
What do children do with these toys? They handle them and put them in their mouths. When that happens, it can obviously become a problem if the paint used on the toy contained a dangerous substance. There is no problem with a child putting a toy in his or her mouth if that toy is safe. However, a danger was discovered and I think Mattel should have shown more compassion toward its customers by apologizing to them. I can certainly say that if it turns out that diseases are linked to the use of these toys, the company will not only have to apologize, it will also have to pay. So, as I was saying, the most frequent problem is the presence of too much lead in the paint.
Although I have criticized the fact that the government took a lot of time before introducing this bill in the House of Commons and although the Bloc Québécois had to make repeated requests before the government finally took action, Bill is a step in the right direction. We will see what the government's intentions are in committee.
One of the positive points that I wish to emphasize is the obligation to document the product's history. The traceability of the product, if you will. In Quebec, Agri-Traçabilité Québec allows us to track our meat from the farm to the table. Thanks to that agency, Quebec is far more advanced than the rest of Canada. We should follow Quebec's example in these things, because it is important for the safety of consumers. I spoke earlier of the pork products imported from abroad in which melamine was found. Thanks to Agri-Traçabilité Quebec, that would not happen in Quebec.
Previously, the hon. member for spoke of country of origin labelling. Some products we can find on the shelves that are marked “Product of Canada” are not made in Canada at all, like olives. He spoke of grapefruit juice and we could also mention orange juice. There are many similar products. There are even some pickles, which could have originated in Canada, but the only Canadian parts are the jar, the lid and the vinegar; the pickles themselves come from India. We should not be able to put a “Product of Canada” label on such products.
I would like to end on some positive points. The manufacturer or importer will have to inform the government of any incident that should arise, in Canada or elsewhere. As I mentioned previously, inspectors will have greater powers to intervene. We will also need to adequately fund those measures and ensure we have the necessary staff to carry out the inspections properly.
Mr. Speaker, it is with great interest that I rise to speak to Bill . For at least a year and a half, the Bloc Québécois has asked the minister to reinforce its hazardous products safety requirements in order to ban the production, promotion and marketing of any product that could present an unacceptable danger to health.
We are not only talking about health, or about situations where people get sick all of a sudden; we are also talking about long term effects, and that is what is pernicious. The legislation should be able to find a way to trace poisoning cases back on a long-term basis. I would even go as far as to say that the legislation should be able to trace back mental health problems that people could have developed after contact with certain products. This information is not always easy to find. This is why we would like to improve this bill because some of its provisions seem somewhat simplistic.
Obviously, we realize that this bill comes along after the legislation the Americans just passed. When the United States passes a law, Canada finally decides to legislate on the matter.
The government has known since 2006, since the Auditor General's report, that the legislation did not properly protect the public. This is not something new, and my colleague pointed that out earlier. I am emphasizing this because they would have us believe that they just realized that the public needs to be protected. The Bloc Québécois has been calling for this for a long time now.
We would also like Ottawa to give manufacturers the burden of inspecting products and demonstrating that they will not compromise consumer health and safety. I am talking about imported products, because the discussion with the hon. member for earlier was very interesting. He was saying that Canadians are not asked to do inspections or pay for them because they would no longer be competitive.
However, when it comes to products imported from Asian countries—China and India in particular—producers of those products, and not the government, should have to prove that their product is acceptable. I am all for the government paying for the inspectors, but it should not have to pay for the tests to protect the public.
We know that some products are entering the Canadian market. These are products we have not had the privilege of consuming before because they came from abroad. I am thinking of commercial and residential paints in particular. Apparently, there is a whole movement by companies who are getting ready to import paint. Certain paint can be very harmful to one's health. Here in Canada, we have taken very important measures with respect to VOCs, volatile organic compounds, and also with respect to all the products that bind paints.
Naturally this makes paint more expensive. Therefore, if we produce paint here that respects our standards, foreign paint also has to respect our standards.
Will we protect people from this paint before it ends up our shelves, or will we do so once the paint has ended up on our shelves and people have proof that this paint is dangerous?
In my opinion, Bill should be clear enough on the fact that the imported products must be proven to be suitable and compliant with our health standards.
These health standards are not always very high in Canada. I am thinking in particular of lead and radiation coming from radioactive materials. Our standards, which are not very high, are not even being met. As was said earlier, standards are high in agriculture, but for other products, they are not. Therefore, we should review the quality of our standards.
I would stress that what I want to know is if we should let the products come in and then, determine whether they are acceptable or not, or if we should stop them from entering the country.
In Japan, a very well organized country, inspectors are sent to the point of origin of the product. If the product does not meet the Japanese standards, it does not leave the port and is not even taken aboard the ship. It is very important to understand that it is much easier to have inspectors applying our standards in foreign countries than to let the goods come in and then make sure they are properly inspected. Yet, presently this is how inspections are carried out: we let meat, vegetables and fruits come in.
I used to know someone at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Sometimes, it is difficult to inspect a large quantity of vegetables or meat once it has arrived, because these products are distributed very quickly across Canada, even before inspectors have time to see them.
It would be much easier to use a system similar to the Japanese one, that is to inspect, approve and seal the products, and then let them enter the country. This method would ensure that the products arriving in Canada meet the standards. If we fail to do this, there is a much greater risk that unacceptable products could be distributed across the country.
So, it is important that we improve this bill. It is also important that we preserve the spirit of the law at its highest degree of effectiveness. This means that we should not simply think about having more inspectors to implement the legislation. The implementation of the act is just one step in the process. Afterwards, we must have more inspectors to preserve the legislation's high degree of effectiveness. Sending inspectors abroad, at the departure point of the products, could significantly help maintain the high effectiveness of Bill , which is currently before us.
There is a similar problem with pesticides. It was mentioned earlier. My riding produces a lot of apples, but it is not the only one. It is also the case for the ridings of other NDP members. Currently, the United States is sending us a lot of its apples, because its producers use organic pesticides that are accepted by Canada, as long as they are mentioned on the apples, and these pesticides are cheaper than the ones that we use here. However, the pesticides used in the United States and accepted once they are mentioned on the apples are not approved here in Canada as pesticides that can be used by apple growers.
So, we should not think that Bill alone will ensure a very high degree of safety and competitiveness. It is absolutely necessary that our producers be on a level playing field with producers abroad who export their products here. So, this issue will have to be examined very carefully. The legislation will have to make a distinction between imported and local products.
A cosmetic—cosmetics are indeed included in the bill—made in Canada must be inspected before it is put on the shelves. However, we cannot wait until production is completed. On the other hand, if that product comes from abroad, production will be completed. That is why I am insisting that we must absolutely inspect products on the premises, before they are shipped.
Bill includes safety requirements for dangerous products. It almost prohibits manufacturing some of them. I talked about importing, but there is also the selling, advertising, labelling and packaging of consumer products. Of course this impacts on labelling costs, which will be very significant, but we will know whether the product is imported, or manufactured here.
The 51% we were talking about earlier may no longer apply. Apparently, the packaging for Van Houtte coffees—not that I am naming names—constitutes 51%. It says “Made in Canada”, but it is coffee. As far as I know, Canada does not produce coffee, but because packaging represents 51% of the price of the coffee, it says “Made in Canada”. If people can put “Made in Canada” on products that are mostly made elsewhere, we will never be able to implement Bill because its priority is ensuring that imported products comply with Canadian standards. There is some work to be done on this bill. I am sure that the members who are going to be working on this in committee will come up with a special label to identify imported products and Canadian-made products more clearly.
Naturally, nobody believes that recalls are the solution. As I was saying earlier, it has to happen before the products even get here. The system has been too lenient. When toys were found to be dangerous, they were recalled. But they had already made it to the market. People had bought them and taken them home. Bill simply has to make it impossible for such items or materials to be distributed.
I would like to revisit my paint example. It will be difficult to determine whether four litres of paint—which is still known as a gallon—is imported or not, especially if the packaging is made here and is a well-known brand. Right now, Sico, a Quebec-based company, has to comply with American standards on volatile organic compounds before its products leave Quebec. I think that Bill should demand exactly the same thing of products being imported here.
We are talking about consumer products, particularly things as unusual and varied as cribs, tents and carpets. They are currently allowed to enter with no standards in place. There are no standards for tents. Does everyone know that there are no standards for tents, apart from flammability? Someone could suffocate in a tent. A tent could fall on top of you. They pose all sorts of dangers, but we are not protected by legislation. When it comes to products of this nature, all standards should be stricter and show greater concern for users.
The same is true for carpets. There are very few standards concerning carpets. Manufacturers are allowed to use nearly any chemical to prevent dust from settling or to preserve the colour. These are some of the products people breathe in unawares, when they are sitting at home, watching television. People can gradually develop illnesses that are hard to diagnose but that result from products made from just about anything, because of this laxity.
I am using carpets as an example, but I could also be talking about certain kinds of flooring that are currently being imported, such as plastic flooring. One rule of thumb nearly always holds true: when a product has a strong odour, it is toxic to some extent. Pick up the plastic flooring that is imported and sold in stores. If it was subjected to rigorous tests, it would be refused because it is toxic.
Thus, this would cover a wide range of products. Consider, for example, batteries used in toys or flashlights. We received some in Canada that exploded.
Such a battery exploding can burn the eyes of a child with the chemical products it contains and greatly affect not only the physical health but also the mental health of that child.
In fact, adults would react the same way. Recently, people bought imported rifles—always from the same country—and at the first, fourth or fifth shot, the rifles blew up. One can imagine the trauma for a person not used to handling firearms.
This bill is therefore very broad in scope and must be based on standards which will have to be stricter than the present ones.
The bill also deals with protection against the radiation coming from clinical or consumer products, such as X-rays or laser beams. As incredible as it may seem, cheap watches are still imported with dials emitting dangerous radioactivity. Even some cars from Asia have luminous dials which emit radiation harmful to human health. They can cause cancer. It can be particularly damaging for taxi drivers whose car is be equipped with such a dial, since they are always exposed to it.
This is harmful and it will be difficult to control. A little test upon entry into the country will not suffice. People will have to perform many more tests. Our standards will have to apply to everything produced outside of the country and they will often have to be made stricter.
We are not the first to adopt such legislation. Earlier I spoke about Japan, a country that is more advanced than ours in terms of domestic standards for all goods purchased from other countries.
As I mentioned before, the United States has just adopted regulations, in cooperation with the Consumer Product Safety Commission, that respond to the serious problems caused by these products. It is a veritable plague given that the U.S. imports 80%—if not more—of its toys, as does Canada. Dangerous toys are becoming a plague. On Radio-Canada, I heard some people talking about whether it was possible to find toys made in Canada. The woman answered no, that she had none in her store even though she carries a large selection of toys.
Europe is also addressing this issue. It will be important for the committee to look at what is being done in Japan. It is easier to see what is happening in the United States because we are much closer. However, what about Europe? The EU has proposed making standards more stringent and lowering allowable limits for other substances such as lead and mercury. It has prohibited about forty allergenic perfumes, perfumes not made of natural essences. We permit higher levels of lead and mercury in our products than Europe does. Europe has taken a stand and we should follow suit soon.
I would like the precautionary principle to apply to Bill and to truly serve as our guide to improving it. At the same time, we should examine our standards, which are sometimes lacking. We absolutely have to do this if we wish to protect all our citizens. Neo-liberal globalization is a new phenomenon that we did not have to reckon with previously.
We are proud to participate in this bill and we hope to be truly able to provide more money and more locations for inspectors to do a good job.
Mr. Speaker, sadly, there is only a few minutes left for me to point out the concerns I have with . I will cut to the chase and build on the comments of my colleague from the Bloc Québecois, who pointed out, quite rightly, that the root of our problem today can be found in the laissez-faire capitalism associated with free trade, which has led to further and further deregulation and, in fact, a reluctance for governments to regulate in the sense that it would have and should have to protect citizens of our country.
I note the Hazardous Products Act was put in effect in 1968 and has been virtually unchanged since then. That was a period of time when we made things in Canada. We were not worried about the import situation quite as much. We could control, modulate and regulate the input into the products. When it had the stamp “made in Canada” on it, we could assume it was probably fairly safe.
We have yielded that control now. The globalization of capital has made that irrelevant. In fact, we are condemned when we raise these issues. We are told that we are trying to put up non-tariff barriers to trade whenever we say that we should at least harmonize our standards, so the expectations are that we are not being poisoned by our trading partners.
However, my colleague is right. We are poisoning another generation of children in our zeal, in our enthusiasm to close down the last manufacturing plant in Canada and export every last job. We are in such a hurry to do this that we are not even being careful enough to ensure it does not have health consequences to the point where we are pickling the innards of our kids with some toxic super-chemicals that they are being bombarded with in this post-war era.
The petrochemical industry has gone nuts in our country and in the world in the post-war years. Mark my words, in the very near future one in two Canadians will die of cancer. It never used to be that way. Fifty per cent of all the people will die of cancer when my kids are my age. That is absurd. That means we have done something terribly wrong.
If anybody watched Wendy Mesley's show on television, the very sensitive investigative journalism done about her personal struggle with breast cancer and the questions that were not asked about what happened when we ingested chemical A and chemical B and it turned into chemical C inside our internal organs, those are the questions that are not being asked. We are being far too casual.
The one thing we are being extraordinarily casual about is the biggest industrial killer the world has ever known, which is asbestos. Canada not only allows the import of asbestos, it is the world's second largest exporter of the world's greatest industrial killer. Asbestos kills more people than all other industrial toxins combined, but yet in Canada not only exports it with great and wanton abandon, it heavily subsidizes the production and export of asbestos.
We can be critical of allowing toys coming in from China with asbestos and lead in them. When I said that there were toys with asbestos coming in to Canada, the stood and said that I was exaggerating, that the government would never tolerate it. A few short weeks later we found toys with asbestos in them, 5% tremolite asbestos in the CSI fingerprint game, which was such a popular seller last Christmas.
We are so cavalier about asbestos, we are not only mining it, producing it, selling it, exporting it, we are importing it as well. I believe the government is afraid to condemn the use of asbestos because it does not want to offend the province of Quebec, from where asbestos comes, the last remaining asbestos mine in the country.
The asbestos mines that I worked in are all closed. They were closed by natural market forces. Nobody will buy this toxin any more unless, for some magic reason, it is the benign asbestos that they mine in that province when all of a sudden it is subsidized and its export is promoted.
We send Canadian Department of Justice lawyers around the country like globe-trotting propagandists for the asbestos industry to find new markets and new places to pollute with Canadian asbestos.
We are just as guilty of that but we are not taking the steps to protect our own people from the import of toxins because, unlike Europe and the United States, Canada does not even have the power to issue a mandatory recall of a product. The United States can. In California and in a number of states they clearly take their hazardous materials more seriously. In a properly functioning public health protection system, when a problem comes to light about a product on the market there should be an obligation on the part of the government to inform consumers and remove it from the market. However, under this new law, the government may do this but there is nothing to require it to do this. It is still optional. The word “may” is used throughout.
Bill is inadequate on a number of levels, one of which I was just illustrating. I believe it should require the government to take positive action when it comes to light that a product on the market is harmful.
In the current context of the bill, if the government is made aware of a toxic chemical in a children's toy there would be no legal requirement for it to even make people aware of it. In the case of the asbestos in the CSI fingerprint toy, it was denying it. It would not even suggest that asbestos was bad for us. I made the government aware of it but there was no attempt by the government to recall the toy. We had a press conference downstairs in the 130-S room. To this day, the government has done nothing about it because for it to say that the asbestos in that children's toy is bad, it would need to admit that the asbestos it is subsidizing and exporting around the world is bad for people. It would be caught and hoisted on its own petard, as it were.
There is no legal requirement in the bill for the government to make people aware of a bad product and I think that is wrong. I suppose there would be political consequences if we exposed the government, which I did in the CSI thing, but it is hard because, as we know, after the fact accountability relies on the government getting caught.
Similarly, the minister would have the power to order companies to conduct studies to ensure that a product is safe but nothing in the proposed law would ensure that products are regularly tested for toxicity. This is the subject of another bill, Bill , in my name, a pesticide bill where we believe there should be a reverse onus on the companies that want to sell pesticides, herbicides and fungicides and that it should not really be up to us, or even the Government of Canada, to prove beyond a doubt that the product is absolutely safe. It should be the company that must prove the chemical is safe before it is sold. There is no such obligation now. The company can sell anything and only if someone does all the te