Mr. Speaker, we are now moving from the world food crisis to something that I believe is equally important for the House to address, which is consumer product safety.
We all have a responsibility to protect and promote the health and well-being of all Canadians, but there are some circumstances where the system we have today has not met that need.
Bill , if I may just highlight the summary, modernizes the regulatory regime for consumer products in Canada and creates prohibitions with respect to the manufacturing, importing, selling, advertising, packaging and labelling of consumer products, including those that are a danger to human health and safety. The bill will make it easier to identify whether a consumer product is a danger and more effectively prevents or addresses the danger.
The Liberals will be supporting the bill at second reading to go to committee. There are some very serious questions that need to be addressed, which cannot be fully handled at second reading because we do not have the opportunity to have the opinion of the expert, the stakeholder and a broad range of people. I suspect that the committee, should the bill pass at second reading, will have a very lively debate and hearings on the issues related to consumer product safety.
I reviewed the minister's speech when he introduced the bill. He noted that the vast majority of suppliers that make, import, distribute and sell consumer products take safety very seriously. He also noted that it is basically because these businesses value their reputations. I suspect that is a logical conclusion.
However, problems can and do occur, and Canadians will recall that there were a number of incidences. One which I even raised in the House with the minister at the time had to do with high levels of lead in the paints on children's toys. Those were, I believe, coming from China, if I recall the details.
The fact remains that there are problems that can and do occur, and there have been a number of them. The bill is timely and appropriate for Parliament to look at, particularly since the Hazardous Products Act has not been thoroughly reviewed in some 40 years.
Issues are changing. Technology is changing. We have a responsibility to ensure that the regulatory framework that we have is in a position to prevent and detect, so we can protect the health and safety of Canadians.
As I indicated, there will be some questions regarding the bill. One of those would be with regard to the issue of introducing the power to effect a recall of products. That does not exist right now under the current legislation. This is done on a voluntary basis.
Members and the public will know that there are numerous examples of where companies voluntarily recall their products because they have identified a problem through incidents that have occurred that have been brought to their attention and that indicate that there is a prevalence which is unacceptable. If they value their reputation, obviously there are companies which will want to remediate the problems quickly so that they do not have any other significant impact on their ability to provide goods, services or otherwise conduct their business.
The concern about the power to recall is that it may turn out that this would be used excessively by inspectors. That becomes a problem if there are complaints. Depending on the criteria and the assessment process, there may in fact be a situation where the pendulum swings very far to the other side, to the extent that there are some unintended consequences to businesses, maybe some harm to a business simply because recalls are becoming more prevalent.
There is a significant move toward the American way, a litigious society. People are going to start going to the courts. There is the potential for lawsuits in the future rather than to negotiate a recall or action by the private sector that is currently done.
The point is whether or not there has to be some clarification about when the power can be used and some of the options we may want to consider. These are important areas that the committee would be able to explore with expert witnesses. The committee would be able to call specific witnesses to find out what is happening not only in other jurisdictions but in similar circumstances with other legislation with regard to remediating or dealing with a problem area.
The second area that would require some discussion at the health committee has to do with staffing requirements to deal with this new power of product recall. I have had an opportunity to look at Bill , at least up to the section where it requires regulation, and I am going to speak about those in a moment.
The way the bill is currently structured, it will require the collaboration of border security agencies, Health Canada inspectors, as well as CFIA inspectors. Of these three groups, the one that is currently least able to deal with this on the inspection side is Health Canada. It has the lowest number of inspectors and the bill puts a lot of responsibility on Health Canada.
The first committee I was ever on was the health committee. I have had substantial involvement with Health Canada, whether it be on tobacco labelling, aboriginal health issues, or reproductive technologies. Bill C-13, the reproductive technologies bill, I think took about three years of our lives and, incidentally, the regulations that were required under Bill C-13 still have not been fully prepared, implemented and promulgated. The regulations in that bill on which we spent so much time still have not been fully implemented. I will speak a little more about regulations in a second.
There certainly is that issue of staff. Those are two of the items that should be dealt with regarding the committee consideration should this bill pass at second reading, which I believe it will.
It is easy to protect the health and well-being of Canadians and to ensure safety if we are prepared to go to the nth degree and establish all of the checks and balances and procedures using all of the tools that Parliament could authorize Health Canada to put into place. However, if we take it to its logical extreme, we get into a situation where the commercial activity has been impeded and all of a sudden a business cannot provide the goods and services it normally would because of the regulatory environment.
A very serious issue for parliamentarians to consider not only with this bill but with many others is whether or not there will be the unintended consequence of impeding economic activity by increasing a regulatory regime that is not justified by the issue we are trying to deal with. It is never black and white. It is never a matter of touching one thing to take care of another. We have to look beyond that and find out what the consequential implications may be.
The issue here is whether or not we are moving into a new regime of policing the commercial activity to the extent that it will impose a regulatory regime. We do not know what that is right now and we do not know the extent to which it is going to be used. As a matter of fact, we will not know that until after the bill goes through all stages and receives royal assent because that is the way things are happening.
However, committees can, as the health committee did with the reproductive technologies bill, say that no regulations shall be promulgated unless they are sent to the health committee for review and comment in advance. Unfortunately, in the case of the reproductive technologies bill, the committee had no authority specifically in the bill or from the minister to make any changes to the regulations. The committee could only review and comment, and that is a problem.
If regulations are enabled by the legislation, but the detail gives us something different that we did not understand to be the case, Parliament has no tools whatsoever to deal with what I would call, and maybe it is strong language, draconian regulations. There may be some unintended consequences, such as an impact on legitimate businesses by increasing the burden of the regulations, the responsibility of the businesses to know what those regulations are, to monitor them and to ensure that their businesses are compliant. It is a very significant cost to business to understand and to know the law.
We are dealing with an area which, from a lay perspective, Canadians will certainly want to ensure that Parliament and the Government of Canada have taken appropriate steps to provide for the safety of consumer products. There are certainly a number of areas in which there will be some concern by the stakeholders who will be impacted by this bill.
I did not have a copy of the bill readily available so I printed out a copy. The bill itself is at least 48 pages long, but I was scanning it and I came to the part dealing with regulations. This is something that I raised previously in the debate on Bill . Under “Regulations”, clause 38(1) of Bill says that the governor in council may make regulations for carrying out the purposes or provisions of the act. It does not say it will, or has to, or shall. It says may. I have always questioned that.
In this regard, because there is the potential that we are expanding the responsibilities of the border services agency, Health Canada and CFIA, all of a sudden the regulatory activity, and the cost and coordination of it, is going to create a significant demand of human resources and a significant risk in some respects to impeding or slowing down the current velocity of commercial activity, particularly with regard to imports.
There will also be differences in standards around the world. Certain products sold to Canadians have components made in various jurisdictions, but there is a final producer who puts them all together. Where the legal obligation and the rights and responsibilities lie also become very interesting questions to deal with.
It is important to remind members that the purpose of the bill is to protect the public by addressing and preventing dangers posed to human health and safety by consumer products that are circulated within Canada and those that are imported. As I indicated, we have products that are imported as finished products, but also components which go into other products. The bill covers everything that we should be concerned about in terms of public safety.
The current consumer product safety system functions on a voluntary basis, as I indicated. If a product is dangerous or poses a health risk, the corporation can issue a recall. This bill would prohibit the sale, import, manufacture, packaging, labelling, and advertising of consumer products that may pose a risk to consumers. While voluntary recalls would continue to happen, inspectors named under the act or by the minister would be able to order a recall of a consumer product.
I must admit that when I hear about a product recall in the media, I have often wondered how much it really costs. I have often wondered how much of that cost is effectively passed on to the consumer. Public safety is certainly an issue, but in terms of adding to the economic cost of a product increases more in recalls that may not be totally warranted and may be adding to the cost of the consumer product as well. Obviously due diligence should be used in exercising this extraordinary power.
The bill would also create a tracing mechanism. It would force corporations, manufacturers and importers to keep all documents containing information needed to identify the origin of the product and where it was distributed. This would ensure that when a recall was made, the products would be easily removed from the store shelves. Knowing the origin of the product would help to enforce the act and would prevent further occurrences. These provisions make some sense.
The bill would also substantially increase the fines and penalties, something that this House has dealt with significantly in a number of ministries not just through the amendments to the criminal justice act, but I can think of other ministries where fines or penalties are proposed.
Deterrence is an important aspect of the dialogue. At committee I am going to be looking for an assessment of whether or not the proposed increases in the fines and penalties when a product is deemed unsafe would have the intended effect based on the experience of other jurisdictions, other countries, or the experts who are proposing them, if there is not any research on that particular aspect.
The bill would also allow the minister to seek an injunction when an act is being committed or to prevent someone from committing an act that contravenes the bill. There is an enabling provision in the bill regarding the minister.
Inspectors would be given extraordinary powers to search and seize. They could effectively search any place they believe is involved in manufacturing, importing, packaging, storing, advertising, selling, labelling, testing or transporting consumer goods. A warrant would only be necessary in cases where an inspector wished to search the dwelling.
This is very serious. When there is that kind of list of broad-sweeping regulatory powers, we want to be absolutely sure it is not going a little too far.
This is a very difficult bill. It is a very long bill for us to assess and on which to give informed opinions on some of its aspects at second reading, but I will look very carefully, as I am sure all members will, to the proceedings at the health committee to find out what the facts are. Hopefully we will have better consumer protection for Canadians.
Mr. Speaker, today, I rise to speak at second reading on , the bill introduced by the . The first thing I would like to say is, “finally”. Finally, there will be legislation governing hazardous products. In a way, we do not have Parliament to thank for this bill, but the Auditor General of Canada, who sounded the alarm on this issue in November 2006 in a fairly substantial report.
However, there is no one in this House who has not heard about dangerous toys in the past several years, especially with the significant rise in imports from countries whose environmental standards are not necessarily as high as Quebec's or Canada's. This is the downside of globalization. There are some very positive aspects of globalization and market expansion. But although in the past we were concerned about protecting our domestic market, today we have to make sure we are properly protected against products from other countries.
In the Auditor General's November 2006 report, one chapter, entitled “Allocating Funds to Regulatory Programs”, clearly indicated that product safety program managers cannot fulfill their mandate, for several reasons. Let us look at this report in a bit more detail.
First of all, consumer products such as cradles, tents and carpets are very concrete things that children and families use. Cosmetics, deodorants and soaps are also part of our daily lives. There are also workplace hazardous materials information systems, which provide information on corrosive materials, for example, and protection against radiation from chemicals and clinical and consumer products, such as X-rays, laser beams and sun lamps. Lastly, there are new substances such as fabric dyes and fuel additives. These are very concrete things that were not adequately covered, according to the Auditor General.
Moreover, product safety program managers, the officials responsible for running the program, believe that many of the activities related to regulation do not allow them to discharge their responsibilities adequately. These conclusions are based on an internal study of what is needed in terms of resources allocated to the program, documents concerning resource allocation and interviews conducted during the Auditor General's audit.
Clearly, an effort needed to be made. It is unfortunate that the government took so long to react, but at least we have this bill now. We hope that it will be passed quickly, but only after the committee has studied it, because the committee might improve it. At least the people will get the message that we want to provide adequate basic regulation.
We have already had several warnings, such as when some toys were found to have high lead levels. A week or two ago, a product that was in almost all water bottles that people bought to use while exercising or going about their daily activities was suddenly banned. There are more and more of these kinds of products in the things we use every day that are not subject to enough regulatory control. This bill should help fix that problem.
Currently, Canada does not require manufacturers of dangerous products—such as the cosmetics, cradles, tents and carpets mentioned earlier—that fall under its jurisdiction to test their products or prove that they are not a danger to consumer health and safety. Before this bill was introduced, the government had no way to intervene. As you can see, it is high time we moved forward on this.
Consumers do not have any real protection against incidents like the forced recall of thousands of toys made in China or the discovery of toxic, prohibited substances in tubes of toothpaste from South Africa. Those are very concrete examples. After the incident is over, after there are very negative and unfortunate consequences, including death, is not the time to monitor these operations. We must move as much as possible towards zero tolerance in this area, in order to minimize these incidents.
In our society, if we can afford to spend so much money on defence, for example, we should have the money for proper monitoring of these kinds of measures.
In our society, it is rather absurd that we have no legislation to monitor these substances, although we seem to find the money to take military action overseas, offensive action that, in my opinion, is unjustified and must end. Enough of that comparison, however. It is obvious that major improvements are needed.
Furthermore, in the summer of 2007, thousands of toys made in China were recalled by manufacturers because they contained lead. The Bloc Québécois urged the minister to take immediate action. It proposed tightening all hazardous products safety requirements in order to ban the production, promotion and marketing of any product that could present an unacceptable danger to health.
It only makes sense. That is what we were calling for. It took several months, nearly several years after the Auditor General's recommendations, before anything was done. And here we are today, considering this bill.
We also called on Ottawa to make manufacturers responsible for inspecting their products and proving that they pose no danger to the health and safety of consumers. Clearly, a manufacturer of products of this nature should ensure their quality and be accountable.
Last December, after four months of inaction, the government finally said it would introduce a bill—sometime in early 2008—to change its strategy for regulating product safety. That is the bill we have before us.
The Conservatives' inaction in this federal jurisdiction has caused growing concern among many Quebec and Canadian parents about health and safety issues when buying toys.
The bill is now before us. What will it do? The purpose of Bill is to tighten the safety requirements for dangerous products by creating prohibitions with respect to the manufacturing, importing, selling, advertising, packaging and labelling of consumer products, including those that are a danger to human health or safety.
Holding manufacturers and importers accountable is another very important aspect. The mechanism for tracing the person responsible in the chain of production has to be as clear as possible. Manufacturers and importers must ensure compliance of their products and report to the minister.
This problem seems to be more prevalent in the food industry, where wholesalers make large purchases from countries all around the world. It becomes very difficult to determine who was responsible for importing a dangerous product that was not properly inspected. There needs to be proper monitoring to avoid mistakes.
Under the bill, the government will be able to require safety reports on all supply sources and all components of a product. These safety reports are like a traceability system to be used in the event of a product recall. Merchants must keep records of the purchase and sale of products and the minister must be informed within two days of an incident involving the product or country concerned. Clearly they were starting from scratch.
These important elements are currently missing. It is hard to understand how products ended up circulating freely in our consumer system without any monitoring, except that we had satisfactory domestic rules. Now that we are part of the global market, these rules need to be reinforced and the people who manufacture goods have to know there will be consequences if their products do not do comply with standards.
In fact, the government could demand the withdrawal—or recall—of products that may prove harmful to consumers. At present, this occurs on a voluntary basis. There have been cases where manufacturers, acting voluntarily, took their time in providing replacements or decided that it was not urgent enough. Now, there is the possibility of imposing the recall of products and that is a step forward.
On conviction on indictment, the penalty would be a fine of not more than $5 million and imprisonment for two years. On summary conviction, a first offence would result in a fine of not more than $250,000 and imprisonment for a term of not more than six months. A subsequent offence would be punishable by a fine of not more than $500,000 and imprisonment of not more than 18 months. We are sending a very clear message that the fun and games are over. We will no longer tolerate the type of behaviour exhibited in the past. We wish to ensure that there is adequate protection.
Naturally, there is a difference between passing a bill, allowing its entry into force and ensuring that there are sufficient resources to implement it. In the past, we did not get the job done.
This can be seen with the inspectors. It can also be seen in the field when inspections are carried out, when speaking to those who do inspections at customs. There was a great deal of criticism about the lack of regulations and legal tools, but there was also not enough money and too few inspectors to achieve the objective.
The bill clearly states that there is a need for the resources. We have seen the government estimates for the budget. However, we will have to quickly evaluate all components to determine if the amounts are sufficient. Otherwise, it could have the opposite effect of what was initially expected if we create a law, impose regulations with possible fines and then, in the end, no one is monitoring it. It would be a little bit like having a system for traffic fines but no one was ensuring that a driver who broke the speed limit was fined. The driver needs to know that there is a system and that there are adequate controls. For that, sufficient resources are needed.
Officials with the product safety program have asked for funding. Program managers have indicated that their inability to discharge their responsibilities could have repercussions on the health and safety of Canadians, such as exposing consumers to dangerous, non-compliant products. Unfortunately, we have already seen this happen.
There is also the possibility that the government could be held responsible for certain repercussions. The government is responsible for providing adequate regulation. We cannot just say that companies are responsible for regulating themselves. We can see that attitudes about this are changing. Years ago, it was about voluntary recalls, but now, the government can demand a mandatory recall. At the other end, we have to ensure that the government discharges its responsibilities.
In November 2006, the Auditor General's report revealed that the Government of Canada knew that consumers were exposed to risk because of lack of funding for the program. It took the government a long time to act on that, which makes us wonder about the government's level of interest and competence with respect to its own files. That gives people real cause for concern. We hope that passing this bill will help allay people's concerns. We need concrete examples to show that we are achieving results.
The government's repeated failure to act gives us good reason to be very vigilant about this. For example, on August 2, 2007, Fisher Price issued a voluntary recall of some of its products—including figurines and toys sold separately—manufactured by foreign suppliers between April 19 and July 6, 2007. The products listed may have been painted with paint containing too much lead. Lead is toxic when ingested by young children and can have undesirable effects on health.
This kind of thing does happen, and we want to prevent it from happening in the future. We are seeing an international movement toward doing something about this. The United States took steps that are very similar to what we are doing here in the federal Parliament. For example, 413 different products were recalled last year in the United States, and 231 of them, more than half, were toys. In the United States, 84% of toys sold are made in China. In Europe, the European Commission proposed making toys safer by prohibiting the use of carcinogens in manufacturing them and by increasing monitoring. That measure will not come into effect until the end of 2008. The entire western world seems to be moving forward with measures like these because we have had serious warnings. It is high time we took action with these measures.
Europe is planning to ban chemicals, carcinogens, mutagens and toxins that affect reproduction from toys made for children under the age of 14. They are lowering allowable limits for other substances such as lead and mercury and have prohibited about forty allergenic perfumes. The EU wants to broaden the rules to prevent the risk of ingesting small parts and also wants to tackle toys contained in food—because of the danger of choking—and ban toys that could be ingested along with food.
The legislation in the United States, Europe and perhaps other countries in the world may have information or other elements that could be incorporated in the bill at committee stage. Based on the testimony we hear, we may be able to improve the principle of the bill, the general framework—which in and of itself is fine—through appropriate amendments to ensure its effectiveness. This is an area where we have no right to fail. It is essential that this legislation, which will surely be in place for many years, produce the desired results. Unfortunately, if in two, three or four years we still have cases of lead poisoning in children, or any other similar negative outcome, it will most likely be because we did not study this bill closely enough and give it enough teeth.
The committee will have to keep that in mind.
One new thing in the bill has to do with preparing and maintaining documents.
|| 13. (1) Any person who manufactures, imports, advertises, sells or tests a consumer product for commercial purposes shall prepare and maintain:
||(a) documents that indicate:
||(i) in the case of a retailer, the name and address of the person from whom they obtained the product and the location where—and the period during which—they sold the product—
We often hear about additional documentation, about the paperwork required by governments, but it is clearly necessary sometimes.
Some people may rant about government requirements always being there to trip up businesses and create more restrictions. But in this case, experience calls on us to implement these things, and we must ensure that we have everything we need.
The bill warns that if things are not done right and documented properly, there could be a penalty. Requiring people to document a product's history makes it possible to quickly track down a product's origin as well as the stores that have the product in stock.
I already spoke about increasing fines. The bill's preamble has a definition that is very similar to the precautionary principle.
|| Whereas the Parliament of Canada recognizes that a lack of full scientific certainty is not to be used as a reason for postponing measures that prevent adverse effects on human health if those effects could be serious or irreversible;
According to this version of the bill, toy manufacturers cannot claim that there is no clear, certain, scientific evidence that the toy is dangerous. It will be possible to say that there is sufficient doubt to ban the product or require that appropriate corrective action be taken. This is a good thing. It would be useful to apply the precautionary principle in a number of bills in different sectors.
For this situation, it is important to give more power and money to inspectors so that they can do their jobs properly.
In conclusion, the government knew as far back as 2006 that the law did not adequately protect the public. Still, the government waited until now to introduce this bill. The Bloc Québécois has long called on the minister to tighten hazardous product safety requirements in order to ban the production, promotion and marketing of any product that could present an unacceptable danger to health. We will be extremely vigilant, to make sure the bill achieves that goal, not only in principle, but in practice.
We also demanded that Ottawa require manufacturers to inspect their own products and show that they do not pose a danger to consumer health and safety. The legislative approach in the bill answers the Bloc's requests. We will wait for the regulations and examine them to see whether they produce the desired results.
In my opinion, we owe the Auditor General our thanks for producing a report on this issue, because it helped move things forward more quickly. In fact, we heard from businesses and families that the Auditor General's report had spurred the government to finally take action.
Even though the bill requires that companies make sure their products are harmless, the government will have to ensure that there are enough inspectors to implement the legislation.
In conclusion, in our society, the federal government finds money to do many things and has invested in numerous areas that are not its responsibility. The government needs to make sure it invests enough money in this area to exercise adequate control.
The Bloc Québécois supports this bill and hopes that it will be amended and strengthened further. As I said in my introduction, “finally”. I repeat, “finally”. Let us hope that parents, children, families and consumers in general will feel safer about the products they purchase. It will be a challenge to continue to feel safe about new products, especially those coming from all the other countries of the world thanks to globalization.
Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to speak to Bill , the Canadian consumer product safety act. I will touch on some points that others have briefly mentioned.
The bill would modernize consumer protection in Canada and deals with prohibitions related to manufacturing, importing, selling advertising, packaging and labelling consumer products, including those that are a danger to human health and safety. This would make it easier to identify safe products.
On the surface, everyone would agree with that particular philosophy. However, the devil is in the detail and we need to talk about the details of a fairly complex act. I look forward to hearing some of the government members who have not yet spoken to the bill.
This area has not been revised since 1969. However, as the previous member from the Bloc mentioned, a number of crises have occurred and the government needed to act.
Before I begin my remarks, I must disagree with a comment made by an NDP member when he said that he could not find products labelled “made in Canada”. Sometimes there is the opposite problem. In agriculture, in particular, we can buy a bottle of olives that says “product of Canada” but olives are not grown here. The big problem in the agricultural industry and other industries is that, depending on the number of components, it appears to Canadians that they are buying something that was fully produced in Canada when it was not. Separate from this initiative, we need to take a close look at labelling to ensure that Canadian agriculture and business are protected by labelling.
A number of problems with products have occurred recently in Canada that are good examples of the necessity for this act. We had the toothpaste from South Africa that contained substances that were a danger to human health. We also had Fisher-Price products containing materials that were dangerous and toxic to children. Mattel, the American toy manufacturer, had to recall several million toys in the U.S. that were made in China. Some of the toys contained too much lead, such as the Barbie dolls and Geo Tracks toys. Fortunately, all these products have been recalled because they were dangerous to children.
The Auditor General looked into this in 2006 and pointed out all the problems with Health Canada and its ability to control dangerous products. She said that many of the managers of the product safety program were unable to fill their mandate because they lacked the tools. She said that they did not have enough human resources, that the resources they had were not used very well, and that the legislation was not very effective in protecting Canadians. The government has known about this since 2006.
Obviously, there have been problems with a number of products in Canada, and later in my speech I will talk about some more products, but there is also the issue of human resources. A number of members in the committee have raised the concern that it is fine to put in all sorts of new regulations and have inspections at every level of the process but if there are no inspectors and no funds to do that it does not change anything. There will be a lot of questions asked as to how the government plans to implement this because it has not really provided that detail yet.
In relation to inspectors, we want to ensure they are not overridden because they caused a problem. In the case of nuclear safety, an inspector found there was something wrong and the government simply proposed legislation to overrule the chief inspector and, in fact, eventually fired her. Therefore, that regime would not work if that is the type of attitude the government would bring to this bill.
A lot of regulations are involved. I am not against regulations but the bill I was talking about earlier today, Bill , would have allowed the government to legislate certain things by regulations.
I have a constituent in my riding, Tony, who often approaches me and says that Canada is very dangerous because it rules by regulations, unlike Europe where everything has to be done by law. Regulations of course can be done by governor in council. Fortunately, we do have a committee, chaired by a very able chair right now from Scarborough, on the scrutiny of regulations, that has parliamentary overview in that respect, but it does not make policy decisions and regulations can be made out of public oversight as far as policies go.
That is why in relation to all the bills we are discussing today and any bills that have regulations, members would like to see what the government is planning, what the general plans are related to those regulations and when they are coming. If the whole bill, like the last one, depends on regulations, then once again nothing will happen if they are not coming forward. They can have such a dramatic effect, as we talked about in the last bill related to a world food shortage. Members of Parliament would really like to know what those regulations are.
In this particular bill there are a number of things that will be decided by regulation. Certainly in committee, I am sure the three opposition parties will be asking the minister and government officials more questions about that. This will give them a head's up to be prepared in committee to explain the implementation of this, because it is a fairly complex and lengthy bill, and has a number of resources attached to it but there is no outline in the plan. I think it is $113 million, but there is no outlined plan on how those resources would be used.
Would it be deployed on inspection resources? As I was saying earlier, this certainly needs a number of new resources to allow this bill to have any effect. How much money is there for that? I am sure the officials will be able to give us more information on that.
This bill would also reverse the burden of proof and impose that on the manufacturers, and of course it should be the duty of manufacturers to make sure that what they produce is safe for Canadians. I do not think anyone would disagree with that and I look forward to the agriculture committee to hearing from the Canadian Manufacturers Association on these types of conditions.
The legislation will also force manufacturers and importers of consumer products to test the safety of products regularly, and most importantly to disclose the test results. Once again, if dealt with effectively and efficiently, this will increase consumer protection for Canadians while still allowing the products to be available.
It is a bit of a question or a concern though, and once again we will want to see how the plan will work. A positive aspect of the bill is that it deals with inspections through the entire chain of production: advertising, shipping, assembly, labelling, and putting the product out. There are all these different stages and they have to be traceable. They must be documented. Of course, I hope there is not too much bureaucracy there for the business, but all this has to be documented and it is good that these stages can be traced.
We will have to discuss this more at committee, but my question is, how will there be a level playing field between Canadian products and products from overseas?
This would not always be the case, and often is not the case, but if all the components of a particular product were made in Canada and all the stages occurred in Canada, then it would be much easier for us to inspect and regulate that process. However, in this internationally competitive world, where everything is crossing borders and components are crossing borders with just in time production, there are all sorts of components and processes that are not in Canada.
How does the government plan to ensure that those parts of the processes can be dealt with so that the products that are coming from overseas have the same type of scrutiny as the ones in Canada at the various levels? If that is not possible, because of individual sovereignties, would there be inspections coming into the country with an increased enhancement in that respect? I would like an outline of how that would all work.
Another item that the bill allows is increased fines. I do not think anyone would disagree with that. I think $5,000 was the limit before and that could just be considered as a cost of doing business. Some huge manufacturers could accept that as just a cost of business, just a charge that they have to pay. Now the fines have been increased up to $5 million and two years in jail. If they are putting lives of Canadians at risk, putting the health of Canadians or their children at risk, obviously we want severe penalties for that.
These types of deterrents in other countries are higher at this point, until the bill passes, if it is to pass. They are higher in many places other than Canada. Deterrents in the United States and the European Union are much tougher. In Europe the fines can be as high as 5% of the company's annual revenue. At this time the United States imposes fines that go as high as several million dollars.
There will also be safety reports regarding all supply sources and components of a product. The system has all the features of a traceability system. Once again, I think this is good and important as long as it does not get into the hands of overzealous officials who were to make it a huge impediment to the business surviving.
We want to be able to trace it. If a product is determined to be dangerous and the company were then to go out of business because it was a shady-type of company, maybe organized crime, a gang, or an organized type of operation, that brought in a whole bunch of cheap, dangerous products and then just vanished, then the government would have these traceability documents. It would be able to do the effective recall and find out where the products are. In fact, with the voluntary recalls that are occurring, how are we to know that everything has been recalled? If we have the traceability elements, then we know where the product is, so we know it has all been recalled.
I have just a couple of examples about the cost of making these conditions and why it has to be effective and efficient. We have an issue right now with fertilizer retailers in Canada. Fertilizers can be dangerous, they can be explosive. Fortunately, there are very good regulations, some that the industry is imposing on itself which is excellent, to ensure safety. Of course, to put in these provisions, these increase huge prices for farmers and retailers. We have a program in the Canadian ports to put those provisions in to help to pay for those. We could also have similar government provisions to help put in the provisions to protect fertilizers and those types of chemicals. I encourage the government to review that issue.
Another example we have in my riding pertains to an international product coming in from the United States related to housing. It needs the Canadian safety standards approval, which is good. It should be done thoroughly, efficiently and effectively. In the north we only have a several month building season, and this is during a housing crisis where people are without homes. If it is not done in a timely fashion, if it is not done quickly and effectively, as I hope it will be in this particular case, this could result in people being left homeless for another year until construction could start.
Above all in our considerations, and I do not think anyone would disagree, we have to make absolutely sure that products are safe for our children. Some of the examples I will give later on are related to children. Children are not always underfoot of their parents, and they do things that adults would not necessarily do, like chewing everything under the sun, or putting everything in their mouths. We have to ensure that things are absolutely safe for children, and that this law will be used to that particular effect.
There are millions of products on the market produced in Canada or imported. In modern times the manufacturers would not want to produce anything that is dangerous. Nevertheless, products do slip through the cracks or there is the rare criminal element or a person who is not caring. Therefore, there are products that show a need for this bill.
Since 2005 there have been 34 products that contained lead risk, 26 products were a risk in terms of choking, 5 products led to head injuries, 5 that led to the 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, 2 that could have caused strangulations, 2 that led to bacterial risk, and 1 toxic chemical risk. That is why it is important that we put the bill in place and that it is done in a realistic and effective manner.
The bill is somewhat intertwined with Bill which we will be discussing next. I will be bringing comments forward in more detail when we get to Bill C-51, but we have given some feedback about the onerousness of the controls in these bills. That is something we will be looking at in committee.
A couple of my constituents have sent me emails that they think these bills are targetting at substantially reducing or putting huge barriers on natural health products; that they give almost police state-like powers to the government; that they have huge fines; that there can be seizing authority without warrant which is actually in Bill ; that the government wants to bypass Parliament approval, which is what I was talking about earlier with regard to regulation; that it can seize one's property, charge storing and shipping charges; and that it can do these things by entering one's property without warrant and so on.
I will be bringing forward those concerns from my constituents. They will be more related to Bill but these bills are connected.
Similarly, other feedback I have received is from a corporation called Truehope which has products related to people with mental illness. Once again, it wants to raise the alarm related to gross changes to the Food and Drugs Act as outlined in Bill and as referenced in Bill . I will not go into all the details, but I have them available if someone would like to read them. These are things that should be discussed at committee.
I also want to give some input on the bill from the Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada. This organization is certainly in support of the bill but it wants it amended to remove the proposed statutory exemption for tobacco companies. It states:
|| The era of special deals for tobacco companies is I hope long behind us. Yet this bill proposes a unique concession for tobacco manufacturers, one which would not be extended to any other manufacturing sector.
The Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada certainly wants this amendment put in the bill and we hope it will be called as a witness and we can explore that particular item. I hope the members of the health committee will ask the government officials when they appear before the committee with the minister as to the purpose of that exemption.
In closing, I would like to summarize three of my issues that need to be dealt with. One is the type of inspection and the number of inspections. The second is how we are going to protect the various chain of processes for products that come from overseas. The last issue is that right now, with the system of voluntary recalls, the government negotiates and the products are voluntarily recalled, and that has never been a problem.
I do not have a problem with the government having this authority, in that it should be able to act quickly, but often when people have the power to do something and do not do it they will be taken to court and will be involved in all sorts of litigation. I would not want inspectors constantly doing recalls for protection.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to participate in this long overdue debate on Bill regarding the safety of consumer products.
I say it is long overdue because it is an issue that has been front and centre for many Canadians and for families right across the country. We have seen many high profile recalls of products in Canada. That has very much worried Canadians and they have been calling for government action.
Ninety consumer products, many used by children, were recalled just last year, and there are already 37 more this year. These are products that were on the market, that consumers were purchasing, such as toys, for example, that children were playing with. They were circulating in our economy, in our homes and within our families and had to be recalled after the fact.
Many of these products were not made in Canada. Many of them were imported. Certainly many were identified as originating in China, where increasingly our manufactured products are coming from.
The current Hazardous Products Act, which dates back all the way to 1969, certainly has not been effective in identifying and removing dangerous products from our homes and communities. In the majority of cases, it has left Canadians dependent on product alerts and recalls by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission instead of Health Canada.
In 2005-06 more than 40% of the recalls were U.S. initiated. In other words, they were alerts and recalls that were coming from south of the border rather than from our own government through our own regulations protecting Canadians here in Canada.
In fact, the recalls here in Canada have been company initiated recalls. It has been the companies themselves, based on incidents of harm to consumers, that have prompted those companies to recall their products. Of course, they would want to recall their products to protect themselves from legal action when they are actually harming the consumers who are using their product.
I think many consumers believe that the government is recalling products on their behalf, but that has not been the case. These have been manufacturers' recalls. The best that Health Canada has done is post these company initiated recalls on its website.
Consumers believe they are protected by laws in this country, that we are a developed country. We have had parliamentarians at all levels of government debating and passing laws for decades and for centuries. Consumers believe they are protected when they purchase food and consumer goods, yet the reality is that they are not necessarily protected.
That is particularly true with imported products, because there are certain standards for the manufacture of goods here in Canada. However, when goods are imported from Asia, Europe or wherever, there is no mechanism for ensuring that those goods meet the regulations and the standards that we have set here in Canada.
I will give a good example, which is that of lead. Lead has been banned from use in consumer products in Canada. One would like to think that if one is buying a toddler a toy at a neighbourhood store, the toddler will be protected from exposure to lead.
We no longer paint our houses with lead paint. We no longer make our toys with lead contaminated products. Yet products that are available for purchase in Canadian stores and have been imported from other countries have been found to be contaminated with lead.
My kids played with the Thomas the Tank Engine, a very popular children's figure. There are many toys made in the image of it, yet, Thomas the Tank Engine trains imported from China have been found to be contaminated with lead paint.
Clearly, consumers have not been protected and the laws designed to protect consumers have not been enforced when it comes to consumer products, especially, imported consumer products.
We have called for tougher regulations, tougher laws, when it comes to consumer products. In fact, I had a news conference in Ottawa not too long ago. I joined an Ottawa area family and we used lead testers to test the toys of the young children in that family. A toy we purchased, which is available in Canadian stores, was contaminated with lead paint, which was easily identifiable with the lead testing device we brought with us. I think for the reporters at the news conference, and through them Canadians at home, it was a very chilling experience to find a very commonly available toy, with which a toddler would quite easily play, could damage a child significantly because it was contaminated with lead.
First, my colleagues have called, very fundamentally, for the government to be empowered to order the recall of dangerous products. It seems like a very basic obligation on the part of the government. I think most Canadians believe their government is already empowered to do that, but it is not. We have also called for an increase in the authority of government to require information and action from manufacturers and importers. When goods are imported into Canada, because they are not manufactured here and they may not meet the standards required for domestically produced products, there should be an additional obligation on manufacturers to offer information about the content of those products. There should be mandatory reporting by manufacturers and importers of incidents involving death or injury from a product's use and violators should be heavily penalized.
While we will be examining Bill in more detail, it seems many of these goals have been addressed by the bill, and we see that as a positive thing. However, other areas of the bill do concern us, and I will spend a couple of minutes going over them.
I want to return to the issue concerning the safety of imported goods. Sixty-five per cent of Canadian consumer goods are imported into Canada and Bill lacks a comprehensive system to ensure that these goods, when they are brought into Canada, are safe. It is not simply a question of allowing the goods into the community and waiting to see who gets sick or injured by these products. It is about putting some obligation on the manufacturers of these products, or at least the retailers of these products, to ensure that before these products reach consumers, they are safe. We need a better system for identifying risks. To react after the fact is to put too many Canadians at risk.
There is an approach used in occupational health and safety, which is control at the source. In other words, one wants to do the maximum to prevent injury, illness or death by controlling a hazard at the source rather than at the person or individual who could be affected. This is needed with respect to the importation of consumer goods.
We have seen many imported consumer goods with counterfeited CSA approved labels. It is another reason why we need to ensure that when goods are imported, they do not just have a counterfeited label but that they are CSA approved and that they pose no risk to consumers.
In Bill there is too much discretion for inspectors. While they have been empowered with a greater authority, many of their actions are optional, even when they believe human health to be at risk. The government is not required to inform consumers of safety issues that have been identified. This needs to be tightened up. Amendments need to be made to the bill to remove that discretion. If an inspector believes a consumer is risk, how can the inspector in good conscience allow the risk to continue?
My colleague from , who is the NDP health critic, is very eloquent in speaking against a buyer beware approach when it comes to our health. She advocates, instead, a do no harm principle. We believe Canadians elect their government to ensure that when it comes to their health and safety, that we do no harm. This should certainly govern the approach of the inspectors who are implementing the rules for our safety.
Also, more resources are needed to enforce the bill. If we look at the inspection process, more resources need to be made available to ensure the inspection and enforcement process is not just something written on paper, but that we have the resources to make the enforcement a reality. It does take resources. It takes people and people power to carry out the inspections. We need to ensure we are not just reacting, but that we are preventing problems before they occur.
We know certain hazards have a disproportionate impact on women. Bisphenol A for example, the plastic baby bottle material, is a hormone disrupter affecting reproduction later in life. There are health implications, primarily for women, and other safety differentials of products based on gender. This is not mentioned in the bill and it needs to be considered. Women are disproportionately impacted by the health effects of not only consumer products, but health products as well. This has been an issue of debate and discussion under another government bill, Bill .
Another aspect not addressed at all are the issues of product origin and manufacturing jobs. The government has ignored the manufacturing crisis across Canada. It is especially devastating in the province of Ontario, my home province. Hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs are going out the door. As I said earlier, there has been a flood of imported products. We have seen a growing number of product recalls, a growing danger to public safety and a growing disregard for the public welfare of Canadians.
Canadians should really think about the cost benefit analysis of allowing much of our production to go offshore to other countries and then face the growing risk of unsafe consumer products here in Canada. Is the cost benefit analysis a risk benefit analysis that we are prepared to accept? Does it not make more sense to support and help our manufacturing sector through the crisis it is currently experiencing and to do our best to ensure we continue to manufacture products in Canada rather than throwing open our market to the world, increasing the likelihood that products will be imported into Canada that pose health and safety risks?
Just this week a plant closed in Listowel, Ontario. The Campbell Soup company has, for decades, processed what Canadians do so well, which is create food. This was yet another example of raw agricultural materials, which have been produced in Canada very effectively, that through the manufacturing process added value. We were able to use those manufactured products to supply our own market and export abroad. Now, with the closure of that plant, we will have to find a source for the processing of those agricultural products elsewhere. Again, there is always the danger that with imported products, we are courting a greater public risk.
We cannot have enough inspectors to inspect every product that is or could be imported into our country. Therefore, we abandon our manufacturing sector at our peril as consumers and at the peril of our children because we do not have control over the quality of those products, whether it is consumer goods, toys, food, or whatever.
The manufacturing process is not something that happens elsewhere, something that other people do and that has no impact on our daily lives. It is about the products we use, the food we eat, the pharmaceutical products we use in our health care system and it has a great effect on our daily lives.
While I appreciate the bill is a response to the public outcry about the lack of government action and the hazardous products that have been recalled voluntarily by manufacturers, it is one small step and it certainly is not the answer to the crisis we face because of the loss of our manufacturing sector.
I know there have been other initiatives, such as private members' bills, and attempts by other members of Parliament over the last several years, prior to my being elected as a member of Parliament, to try to bring in legislation to tighten up the laws around consumer products. All have failed and we have been left with archaic legislation dating from 1969. Canadians believe action is long overdue.
I have received a letter from Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada, which has raised with me the issue of the exemption of tobacco manufacturers and cigarettes under this law. Its belief is that all products should be covered under the bill, should it become law. That is another aspect that we need to look at.
The government has prided itself on getting tough on crime. I know there are many vulnerable people in my community in Toronto who are disproportionately negatively affected with some of that tough talk, but I would like to see the government get tough on the crime of losing our manufacturing jobs, allowing Canadians to be subjected to hazardous products, and to back up that tough talk with tough action.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to join the debate today on Bill . As you are no doubt aware, I had the pleasure of serving on the Standing Committee on Health for some time and this subject has been on the committee’s agenda for a very long time. Quebeckers, like Canadians, are very concerned about the products that come into the country and are consumed by residents of Quebec and Canada without any assurance that these products are not harmful and that they will not cause health problems.
We have seen in the past three or four years that Health Canada has recalled many products. Unfortunately, very often that is done very late because Health Canada did not have enough inspectors or enough laboratories to conduct the necessary testing, as the Auditor General has reported. As a result, many products were not subject to testing and wound up on the shelves of various stores, either food markets, superstores or shops where one finds toys, other objects and even products such as toothpaste. These products have been identified as being very dangerous to health. We have also seen products for babies that are very dangerous. They could even harm their reproductive capacity in the future. With the declining birthrate that we are experiencing, we certainly should ensure that our children are also able have children. We must ensure that the products used to bathe children and make them beautiful are not dangerous or toxic.
The Bloc Québécois believes it is important that this bill be referred to the Standing Committee on Health so that the different measures can be examined in depth. For a long time, we have been asking the government to strengthen the requirements, to conduct more thorough and more stringent testing to ensure that the products we consume are quality products. There are still serious gaps in the bill. That is why we agree that the bill must be referred to committee so those shortcomings, at least, can be corrected.
It is very unusual for a bill to give special status to some company, manufacturer or particular product. Bill , though, gives special status to manufacturers of tobacco products. They have had special status for a very long time, even though the costs of tobacco consumption are very well known, especially for the young people in our society, who are smoking more and more. We know too that the manufacturers have developed roundabout ways of attracting young people to tobacco. They sell individually packaged cigarillos tasting of banana, oranges, vanilla and chocolate. We have a real problem on our hands when tobacco products are being individually packaged to develop a dependency in young people.
A number of provinces have put a stop to smoking in public places, restaurants, parliaments, schools, school grounds, and hospitals. Smoking is being stamped out everywhere because it is a danger to human health. Tobacco is one of the products that cause the most deaths per year. I know very well because I myself am an inveterate smoker who is having a hard time quitting.
I know how addictive tobacco is and how hard it is to stop. But the bill before us exempts tobacco. Tobacco will not be regulated under it and will not be affected. How is that possible? If we really want to protect the health of Quebeckers and Canadians and take a hard look at the harmful effects of various products on our health, we should also legislate against tobacco products. How can we possibly not do it? This is one of the things we are most concerned about in this bill.
It is not the only one though. As my colleague said just a little while ago, we do not have enough inspectors to meet the increased needs under the bill to ensure that all consumer products imported into Canada are checked. There will not be enough inspectors, even if the bill says that companies will now have to keep a record of all the consumer complaints they receive and the problems found with products, as well as all the times that products have to be recalled. We will therefore have more information about products.
People who manufacture, import, sell or test products will now be required to have documents that will give us detailed information about the retailer so we can know the person from whom they obtained the product and the location where, and the period during which, they sold the product. Those persons will also have to have the prescribed documents, and keep the documents at their place of business in Canada or at any other prescribed place and, on written request, provide the Minister with those documents. The Minister could, subject to any terms and conditions that the Minister may specify, exempt a person from the requirement to keep those documents if the Minister considers it unnecessary or impractical for the person to keep them. We are probably talking about genuinely important bundles of documents.
The requirement that documents about the history of a product be kept will certainly allow for better traceability in respect of the various products that may be harmful to consumers here. We agree with this. There are several other aspects of this bill that we agree with, but as I said, we will have to study several points very carefully. The general public did not feel that they were involved in the development of this bill, either in the drafting or in the way consultations were conducted before it was prepared.
People are sending us letters and memos to let us know they are not satisfied with the way the consultations were held because there was no consultation, properly speaking. This summer a number of toys containing lead were recalled, as were several products that were harmful to health.
Recently, we saw what happened with bisphenol A. I am very sorry about this because a number of businesses have come right to the Hill here and given us these lovely clear plastic bottles we could use to carry our water, without knowing that those bottles might contain bisphenol A. Companies do not procure products because they are not operating out of goodwill, they do it from lack of knowledge and information. Health Canada should be capable of providing that information.
The only way we can be sure that we have a bill that truly meets the needs of Quebeckers and Canadians is by making sure that all of the people affected by the issues that this bill is meant to address, and not merely a few people, are consulted.
We will certainly be making sure that we do our work in committee responsibly, as always, and that we ask the Minister and his representatives the necessary questions so we can be satisfied that the bill will contain everything that is needed to respond to our concerns.
And we will certainly also be putting the subject of tobacco back on the table to see whether there is not something that can be done to include that substance, like any other toxic product, in the products that we want to see better identified and against which we want to be better protected. We know that if we do nothing to ensure that tobacco products are strictly regulated, there are people who may still be harmed by those products.
My main concern is for children, who were affected so much by recalls last summer and fall and this past winter and will continue to be affected, because recalls are still being made. These recalls involve mainly products from foreign companies we know little about and have not assessed. As the Auditor General put it so well, there were not enough Health Canada inspectors to do the work they had to do.
Mattel had to recall thousands upon thousands of toys. This is very disturbing, and it is very worrisome for parents, who buy Christmas gifts for their children or gifts for babies to make them as comfortable as possible, when they do not know whether they can have confidence that the product will not make their child sick, because unfortunately Health Canada has not assessed these products.
Certainly, when the bill goes to the Standing Committee on Health, our representatives on that committee—including the member for , who is doing an excellent job—who know a great deal about the situation, will do whatever they can to amend the bill so that it really does what the public wants it to do.
For example, the heavier fines provided for in the bill are a good idea. It is important that companies pay much heavier fines when they fail to comply with the standards in effect. The precautionary principle the government wants to include in the bill is also very important. Compliance with the bill, which contains a statement about the precautionary principle in its preamble, will be very positive for all consumers.
The bill also gives more power and more tools to inspectors. More inspectors with more power will ensure that consumer products are healthier and less harmful. We will also ask a number of groups to testify and tell us what they would like to see in the bill.