Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to launch the debate at third reading of Bill .
We heard at second reading that there is strong support in this House for strengthening consumer product safety. This proposed consumer product safety legislation seeks to provide improved oversight of a broad range of products, including toys for our children, and it aims to fulfill a promise made by this government in last November's Speech from the Throne.
To begin, I would like to highlight the legislation's key points. The proposed act focuses on three areas: active prevention, targeted oversight and rapid response.
First, let us talk about active prevention. The act will introduce a general prohibition against the manufacture, importation, advertisement or sale of consumer products that pose an unreasonable danger to human health or safety.
The new legislation will allow Health Canada to address consumer products in Canada that pose an unreasonable danger to the health or safety of the public. Compliance and enforcement will be strengthened through maximum fines of up to $5 million for some of the worst offences. That is a big step up from the current maximum penalty of $1 million, and this change would put us in step with our major trading partners.
Our government plans to work closely with the industry to ensure changes are understood and properly implemented. Workshops and other information sharing opportunities will be used to promote awareness of the new legislation.
Second, Bill focuses on targeted oversight. This is especially important for products where the risks may not yet be fully understood or that pose the greatest potential hazard to the public.
The proposed act would give the the authority to order a supplier to conduct safety tests and submit results to the minister. It would also require suppliers to notify Health Canada and, in some cases, its partners through the supply chain of defects or serious product-related incidents, including near miss incidents where injury has been averted.
Finally, this proposed legislation also includes measures to allow for a speedy response to problems once they are identified.
Under the proposed new act, we want to be able to move quickly and decisively to protect the public when a problem occurs. To do so, we need the ability to order recalls of unsafe consumer products and require suppliers to maintain accurate records to enable quick tracking of products that need to be pulled.
To implement these prevention, surveillance and rapid response activities, more consumer product safety inspectors will be hired, creating a more complete safety net for all consumer products. Through Bill , our government is demonstrating its commitment to consumer product safety by proposing action that Canadians want and need.
The amended Bill we have before us today reflects the extensive analysis of the members of the Standing Committee on Health. Over the past month, the committee heard from government witnesses and 33 other witnesses representing over 24 organizations.
In total there were five separate sessions devoted to review and discussion of Bill , two of which were extended. In these sessions all voices were heard and all opinions were closely considered. The result of the committee's hard work is an amended bill that we think well reflects the underlying policy intent of the bill, as well as some other key aspects of concern to some witnesses.
There were thirteen amendments to the bill, of which six were put forth by the government and seven by the opposition. Government amendments included delivering on a commitment made by the to make it crystal clear that natural health products would not be regulated by this act.
The other government amendments were housekeeping in nature to clarify technical aspects of the bill. For instance, Bill was amended to specify that documents that a person must retain shall only be retained for six years.
The seven opposition amendments addressed two key areas: consultation and information sharing. The first group of amendments introduced provisions into Bill to ensure that the Standing Committee on Health would be consulted on foundational regulations that will be created under this new act.
The government remains committed to moving quickly with proposed regulations and believes that new regulations made under Bill will benefit from the analysis and advice from the Standing Committee on Health.
The second group of amendments demonstrates our commitment to ensuring that Canadians have the information they need. As such, the standing committee approved an amendment to Bill to explicitly state that the minister may disclose to the public information about a danger to human health or safety that a consumer product poses.
Finally, at report stage, the House agreed that Bill should be amended to include provisions for an advisory committee, which would support the implementation of the proposed Canada Consumer Products Safety Act. I thank the hon. member for for this suggestion.
The advisory committee will provide a forum for the exchange of informed views from the full range of experts, building on the skills and knowledge that already exist within the department, and it will provide valuable information on industry trends that may need to be addressed within the legislation or its supporting regulations.
As I conclude, I would like to remind my colleagues that Canada's consumer product legislation is 40 years and has fallen behind other jurisdictions and its update is overdue. By benefiting from a wide diversity of expert views, Canadians can be assured that this government is committed to building as strong and effective product safety regime as possible.
As a result, Bill will put in place modern safeguards and strong compliance enforcement mechanisms, and Canadian consumers deserve that. With Bill C-6, the government will have the tools it needs to act swiftly and decisively to help protect Canadians. We want there to be a greater incentive for companies to think safety first more than ever before.
We want to level the playing field for reputable companies by having a stronger hammer to bear against peddlers of unsafe goods.
I know all parties in the House support consumer product safety. I believe all members should therefore join me in supporting Bill .
Mr. Speaker, today I rise in the House to support Bill , on which our committee worked collegially for extended hours, having heard testimony from consumer products organizations, to environmental defence organizations, to toy manufacturers and struggled through challenging issues for both consumer health and well-being and for industry.
Reducing risk to human health has been a preoccupation of people, physicians and politicians for the last 5,000 years. Virtually every major advance in public health has involved the reduction or the elimination of risk, with the result being that the world is a safer place today. It is safer from accidents and deadly or incurable diseases and safer from hazardous consumer goods.
Therefore, it is the government's duty to do all it reasonably can to accurately assess and reduce risks, such as making sure that food, medicines and other products are safe. Although government can rarely hope to reduce risks to zero, it can aim to lower them to a more acceptable level and should openly and transparently communicate risk and risk-reduction strategies to the public.
The Canadian government introduced Bill in January 2009 to ensure through regulation that risk is reduced and that Canadians have access to safer consumer products. It is important for members to understand that natural health products will not be regulated under Bill C-6, but rather, under their own regulatory framework, the natural health products regulations under the Food and Drugs Act.
Bill focuses on three key areas: working to address problems before they happen, through building and improving safety throughout the supply chain; targeting the highest risks through conducting tests upon a minister's orders; and rapid response to protect the public when a problem occurs. The bill is needed as the laws overseeing consumer safety have not been thoroughly reviewed in over 40 years, and chemicals, technology and trade have all changed significantly.
For example, we live in an increasingly chemical society. Toxic chemicals are found in everyday consumer products, including art supplies, kitchenware, personal products, pet food, toys, water bottles and many products intended for babies. It is important for members to understand that over 100,000 chemicals were on the market before the 1980s and an additional 3,000 have been developed since that time. While some hazardous chemicals such as DDT and PCBs are banned, others are still widely used despite the fact that they cause cancer, mutation, or interfere with the body's reproductive function, take a long time to break down, accumulate in the body and are toxic, and have serious and irreversible effects on humans and the environment.
When researchers test the air in our homes, the average reading for volatile organic compounds increases in areas where cleaners are stored. CBC's Marketplace showed Pledge registered over 270 parts per billion; and Clorox wipes, over 1,000 parts per billion. Anything over 500 could be a problem for people with sensitivities. Lysol disinfectant spray, however, recorded 1,200 parts per million, a thousand times higher than Clorox.
Bill is important because it would fill many regulatory gaps and give government the power to issue recalls and raise fines. Companies and their directors, officers and employees may be held criminally liable for contravention and penalized up to $5 million. Specifically the bill would prohibit the manufacture, importation, advertising and sale of a consumer product that is a danger to human health or safety, is the subject of a recall, or does not meet the regulatory requirements that apply to the product.
The bill would require that all persons who manufacture, import or sell a consumer product for commercial purposes maintain documents identifying from whom they obtained the product and to whom they sold it and provide regulators with all related information once becoming aware of an incident. These mechanisms will help ensure that products can easily be removed from store shelves when a recall is made.
Bill would also give regulators the power to order manufacturers and importers to conduct tests on a product, provide documents related to those studies, and compile any information required to confirm compliance. The bill would also give inspectors new wide-ranging powers, including the power to order a recall if they believe, on reasonable grounds, that a consumer product is a danger to human health or safety. These powers may be invoked even when there is a lack of full scientific certainty.
This is a real strength of the bill, as scientific standards for demonstrating cause and effect are extremely rigorous and often time-consuming and substantial damage to humans may result during long testing. For example, many experts strongly suspected that smoking caused lung cancer long before overwhelming proof became available. Unfortunately, hundreds of thousands of smokers died waiting for a definitive answer. Thousands of others, however, quit smoking because they suspected, as there were 7,000 articles by 1964, that tobacco probably caused lung cancer.
When a product raises threats of harm to human health, precautionary measures should be taken, even if some cause-and-effect relationships are not fully established scientifically.
The committee struggled through key questions such as should the bill phase out or ban known carcinogens and other toxic chemicals in consumer products? Science is continually evolving and experts might not always know how dangerous chemicals really are, particularly for children, who are not little adults.
In fact, children have special vulnerabilities to the toxic effects of chemicals, because they are constantly growing. They breathe more air, consume more food, and drink more water than adults in proportion to their weight. They virtually live on the floor. Everything goes into their mouths, and their basic body systems are still developing. Exposure to chemicals at critical stages in their physical and cognitive development may have severe long-term consequences for health.
Priority concerns for children include exposure to air pollutants, arsenic, lead, mercury, pesticides and persistent organic pollutants. Dr. Gideon Koren, a pediatrician at the Hospital for Sick Children, asks:
|| How can we, as one of the most advanced countries in the world, allow these to enter our household for small children, without the appropriate testing to see that it's safe?
In October 2008, Canada became the first country in the world to ban the import and sale of polycarbonate baby bottles containing bisphenol A, or BPA, a chemical used in the lining of canned beverages and food. The chemical mimics estrogen in the body, and researchers have found links between BPA and numerous health problems, including cancer, diabetes, heart disease and metabolic disorders. A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found BPA in the urine of over 90% of Americans tested.
Committee members also explored whether the bill should include a mandatory testing and labelling scheme, whether the government will dedicate the necessary resources to enforce the bill, and whether the bill goes far enough to protect the health of Canadians from toxic imports.
The United Steelworkers remind us that recalls and fines happen after the fact. Canada needs a strategy that repairs trade deals that have led to toxic imports crossing our border in the first place, such as in 2007, when millions of Chinese-made toys were recalled by both the EU and the U.S. The European Commission subsequently identified over 1,600 products that were considered risky.
Other important questions addressed by the committee included what is a safe chemical and a safe threshold, and can cumulative and synergistic effects of exposure be addressed?
A May 2009 study suggests that chemicals, including BPA, pesticides and phthalates, found in many cleaning, cosmetic and food products pose a real and cumulative threat to male fertility, namely feminization of boys in the womb. Prior to this study, demasculinization effects due to chemical pollutants in the environment were reported in many species of wildlife.
While exposure to a single chemical may cause no harm, the cumulative effect could be at least partly to blame for sperm counts falling, by blocking the action of testosterone in the womb.
Richard Sharpe, the researcher, reported:
|| Because it is the summation of effect of hormone-disrupting chemicals that is critical, and the number of such chemicals that humans are exposed to is considerable, this provides the strongest possible incentive to minimise human exposure to all relevant hormone disruptors, especially women planning pregnancy, as it is obvious that the higher the exposure the greater the risk.
The committee also considered the possibility of a phase-out schedule, what chemicals should be considered, how might a carcinogen be identified, and according to what lists of hazardous chemicals. Will the Globally Harmonized System of the Classification and Labelling of Chemicals, or GHS, be available in the future? Would a labelling system make sense, and if so, what products should be labelled and how should they be labelled?
The discussions were fulsome and wide-ranging. Other important questions were, what guidance, if any, does the California Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, otherwise known as Proposition 65, provide? This law requires companies to warn the public of potentially dangerous toxins in food. California has filed lawsuits seeking a range of warnings, including the mercury content of canned tuna and the presence of lead in Mexican candy.
A particular concern to industry is acrylamide, a chemical linked to cancer that forms in starchy foods cooked at high temperatures, such as french fries and potato chips.
The committee also explored what other approaches have been taken to eliminate toxic chemicals in the production process and whether substitution of safer alternatives is required. What do other jurisdictions, such as the European Union, Massachusetts, and now Ontario, have to offer?
A key commitment under the Ontario Toxics Reduction Act is to reduce Ontarians' exposures to toxic substances by requiring businesses that employ 10 or more people and involve 10,000 kilograms or more of specific substances to report and track harmful chemicals and develop pollution prevention plans. The implementation of these plans, like a successful law in Massachusetts, is voluntary.
Bill is an important step to protecting Canadians and was largely and widely supported by witnesses.
I would, however, like to stress that we cannot continue to repeat the key mistake of the past, namely responding late to early warnings as we did with benzene and PCBs.
Ever since anemia was diagnosed among young women engaged in the manufacture of bicycle tires in the 19th century, benzene was known to be a powerful bone marrow poison. Recommendations made in the U.K. and the U.S. in the 1920s for substitution of benzene with less toxic solvents went unheeded. Benzene-related diseases of the bone marrow continued to increase dramatically through the first half of the 20th century. Benzene was not withdrawn from consumer products in the U.S. until 1978, and this was done by manufacturers on a voluntary basis.
A chief medical inspector of factories wrote in 1934, “Looking back in the light of present knowledge, it is impossible not to feel that opportunities for discovery and prevention of disease were badly missed.”
Bill would significantly improve the product safety regime in Canada, which would translate into improved health and safety for Canadians. Product safety is in everyone's best interest and everyone has a role to play, Canadians, government and industry.
A relevant lesson from history is that animal slaughterhouse wastes were recycled into animal feed since the beginning of the 20th century. In the mid-1970s the U.S. department of agriculture decided that carcasses of sheep afflicted with the disease scrapie should not be used in animal or human foods. Tragically, the U.K. government decided that its industry should be left to decide how its equipment should be operated. It was not until 1996 that processing standards were introduced.
In the United States government oversight and relatively inexpensive restrictions may have prevented the mad cow epidemic. In the United Kingdom industry self-policing provided ideal conditions for the development of the progressive fatal disease that affects the brain.
How many chemicals are therefore currently on the Canadian Environmental Protection Act's environmental registry? How many of these have been comprehensively tested for any risks to ecosystems and people? What is the projected timeline for testing untested chemicals?
Members should think about what chemicals they are exposed to each and every day, from washing their hands to brushing their teeth to shampooing their hair to eating their breakfast cereal. What timeline for testing for toxicity, longevity in the environment and bio-accumulation in our bodies is acceptable?
Going forward, the question that begs to be asked is this. What world do we want 25 years from now, in 2034? It is my fervent hope that Bill is the beginning of a dialogue with Canadians with regard to what chemicals we are exposed.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank and congratulate all members of the Standing Committee on Health, on which I sit, for all their work on this bill.
I believe this is proof that, when we have a good bill, one that is well drafted and one we can work on, when the amendments proposed by the opposition are adopted by the majority, and when the committee operates under good discipline, all of these elements move things along even more quickly and solid common sense always prevails. That is what has led to the bill we have before us which will have the support of the Bloc Québécois, the NDP, the Liberal Party and the government, or so I understand. That same solid common sense is what makes me a sovereignist.
Getting back to Bill , according to an Auditor General's report, the government had known since at least 2006 that the current legislation, the legislation amended by Bill C-6, did not protect the public properly.
It was not until the incident in the summer of 2007, when toys containing lead were recalled, that the government indicated its intention to amend this legislation. Three months later, it made the official announcement of its action plan to ensure food and consumer product safety.
At that time, the Bloc Québécois had called on the minister to tighten up safety requirements for dangerous products so the manufacturing, promotion and marketing of any product that might present an unacceptable risk or be harmful to health could be banned.
We also called upon Ottawa to put the burden on manufacturers to inspect their products and prove that they are not hazardous to consumer health and safety. This is included in the amended Bill C-6.
We also insisted that the approach taken by the government should not put the industry wholly in charge of the safety of consumer products, thereby leaving the public's health in their hands.
One of the amendments I proposed called for beefed-up financial and human resources in order to ensure there would be enough inspectors to enforce the law that Bill will eventually become.
This bill is a good one and is based on fine principles. We all agree with this bill in principle. However, the problem we come up against every time is the number of inspectors. The Bloc Québécois often raised this issue in committee, because if we implement this bill without having the necessary inspectors or the financial and human resources that are needed, it could quickly become useless.
The Bloc Québécois succeeded in getting an amendment through calling for beefed-up human and financial resources so that the law is properly enforced.
We cannot leave it up to the industry to regulate and manage itself. That could create problems. It is not that we assume that any industry is acting in bad faith, but a company could unfortunately make a mistake in its data or in its research on toys, food or something else.
We want to ensure that the government makes good on a promise it has made many times but unfortunately never kept. It was to ensure that it had enough inspectors.
In committee, we heard from Mr. Burns, vice-president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada. He told us essentially the same thing: if we do not have enough inspectors to enforce the law, the bill will do absolutely nothing.
The Auditor General had also pointed out that Health Canada did not have enough inspectors to do the work properly. Her findings were consistent with what Mr. Burns said and the questions I repeatedly asked in committee.
Even though the bill requires that companies ensure that products are harmless, the government will have to ensure that there are enough inspectors, as I said.
We support Bill as amended. I would like to provide some background. This bill is the old Bill , which was tabled on April 8, 2008, and passed at second reading in May 2008. It is part of the food and consumer safety action plan, which the Conservative government announced on December 17, 2007. Budget 2008 allocated $113 million over two years to implement the plan. We have yet to see what kind of structure will be put in place and whether more people will be hired to ensure consumer product safety.
Currently, the federal government's primary legislative instrument regulating consumer product safety is the Hazardous Products Act, which was enacted in 1969. Over the past 40 years, technology and inspection systems have advanced tremendously in the industry, Health Canada and the federal government. The new Bill has come not a moment too soon and may in fact be a little too late. The government could have done a course correction a long time ago. Unfortunately, frequent elections have killed various bills, including Bill , which was at second reading.
Part I of the Hazardous Products Act deals with regulated consumer products or those prohibited from being advertised, sold or imported into Canada. Some 30 products and categories of products are regulated, including toys, chemical products and about 25 other prohibited products, such as baby walkers, lawn darts with elongated tips, and products containing toxic materials, such as jequirity beans, which contain a resin-like toxin. The manufacture, import and sale of these products may also be regulated and restricted by other laws.
Bill repeals Part I of the Hazardous Products Act and replaces it with:
|| At present, in the event that a consumer product that is not regulated or prohibited poses a health or safety risk, it is up to industry to voluntarily issue and manage a product recall. The federal government’s authority in this regard is limited to issuing a public warning and, in the event that it is deemed necessary, subsequently taking steps to regulate or prohibit the product under the HPA.
Bill appears to tighten up the safety requirements for hazardous products. It creates prohibitions with respect to the manufacturing, importing, selling, advertising, packaging and labelling of consumer products, including those that are a danger to human safety. It also makes manufacturers and importers accountable, and requires them to ensure that their product is not a danger to human health and safety.
However, although clauses 7 and 8 are more strict concerning the responsibilities of manufacturers, importers and anyone selling similar consumer products, clause 6 refers to requirements set out in the regulations. Clause 6 states:
|| No person shall manufacture, import, advertise or sell a consumer product that does not meet the requirements set out in the regulations.
So, just how some of the requirements for consumer products will be tightened up will be stipulated in the regulations, but the committee will not have any details.
Still, we believe that the government is acting in good faith, and as proof we have the creation of an advisory committee on labelling, for example. It is now in the hands of the government, which plans on discussing with the opposition parties how the issues of labelling and potentially hazardous products will be referred to the committee. We are putting our faith in the government on this. It is very rare, but in the case of the advisory committee on Bill , we are going to give them a chance.
The bill defines an “article” as a consumer product, which is a product, including its components, parts or accessories that may reasonably be expected to be used for non-commercial purposes, including for domestic, recreational and sports purposes. This definition naturally also includes its packaging, any object used to manufacture, import, package, sell, label, test or transport a consumer product or advertise it, or the documents pertaining to these activities or any consumer product.
The bill contains five measures to reverse the burden of proof regarding safety. First, let us examine the safety of consumer products. At present, there is no constraint whatsoever imposed upon manufacturers or importers. They do not have to demonstrate that their products pose no danger or threat to consumer safety. Bill proposes to reverse this burden of proof and to impose it on manufacturers in future, under the supervision of federal inspectors from Health Canada and other departments.
The bill suggests that manufacturers and importers of consumer products will be required to test their products for safety on a regular basis and, significantly, to disclose the results of these tests. As I mentioned earlier, we cannot allow only the manufacturers to examine these tests. Far be it from me to doubt their good faith, but independent government inspectors should conduct surprise tests from time to time. It is extremely important to me that we ensure that the studies are conducted properly and that there are no irregularities in these reports. I would have to say that, in the committee proceedings, based on what I heard and the questions I asked of Option consommateurs representatives—who were very well received and kindly answered our questions—and businesses or groups of businesses, having surprise inspections did not pose a problem. Many companies encouraged us to do so and to have enough inspectors, as did Mr. Burns, the vice-president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada.
Inspectors need to be given greater authority. As I have already indicated, the Auditor General stated in a report that 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 or a licensing amendment. These inspectors will be the means to enforce this bill's most important provisions. However, such an increase of duties and responsibilities can raise a certain number of concerns and questions, which is why we hope to pass an amendment to ensure more human and financial resources
Bill also gives the minister new powers concerning recalls. At this time, health authorities do not have the power to recall consumer products found to be dangerous. Recalls are issued on a voluntary basis by manufacturers and importers themselves. Bill C-6 corrects the inadequacy in the current legislation. That is why we want this bill to pass quickly, since at this time, industries recall products on a voluntary basis, and that goes for toys and all other consumer products. We must ensure that the minister has the means to recall products herself, instead of simply leaving it in the hands of the companies.
Bill would give the minister the power to recall any products that are defective or endanger consumer safety. However, the regulations will stipulate the requirements and the conditions under which the minister can act.
Stricter punitive measures will also provide a greater deterrence. The fines imposed on manufacturers were usually around $5,000. Now, with Bill , an offence could lead to a fine of up to $5 million and the guilty party could face up to two years in prison.
Issuing a $5,000 fine to a company that might make millions or billions of dollars a year is rather laughable, especially when we are talking about safety, and we could jeopardize the safety or even the lives of the youngest members of society: our children.
We have already seen extremely hazardous products with lead toys. A simple $5,000 fine means nothing to these large and multinational companies. I think that it is an excellent idea to make the fines higher.
With a fine of $5 million and the possibility of imprisonment, at least companies will pay much more attention during their research, to ensure that products will not cause problems, as well as during recalls.
Bill proposes the creation of a system for preparing and maintaining documents, similar to a product traceability system. The bill states:
|| 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, and
||ii) in the case of any other person, the name and address of the person from whom they obtained the product or to whom they sold it, or both, as applicable.
||(b) the prescribed documents.
|| (2) The person shall keep the documents at their place of business in Canada or at any prescribed place and shall, on written request, provide the Minister with them.
|| (3) The Minister may, subject to any terms and conditions that he or she may specify, exempt a person from the requirement to keep documents in Canada if the Minister considers it unnecessary or impractical for the person to keep them in Canada.
This requirement to keep the product provenance documents for a set period as determined by our studies in committee will make it possible to quickly trace merchants who are in possession of the product, as well as its origin. What is more, should an incident arise concerning this product, in Canada or anywhere else in the world, the manufacturer or importer has an obligation to notify the minister.
Returning to the text of the bill:
|| 14(2) A person who manufactures, imports or sells a consumer product for commercial purposes shall provide the Minister and, if applicable, the person from whom they received the consumer product with all the information in their control regarding any incident related to the product within two days after the day on which they become aware of the incident.
I am getting the two minute signal, but I could have gone on for hours. I will just say quickly that we examined similar legislation on the international level. We checked with companies in committee. So we did a good job.
I would like to congratulate the chair of our committee for her extraordinary job of keeping us on track. Not that the members of the Liberal Party, the Bloc Québécois and the NDP are an unruly lot, far from it. She did, however, do an excellent job of making sure everything moved quickly and in an orderly manner. Once again, my congratulations to her on that.
I also wanted to point out that we have worked extremely hard, we listened to both consumers and businesses, and I believe we have here an excellent bill, which, as amended, will receive the assent of the entire House.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have this opportunity to speak at third reading on a very important bill that has seen a very thorough process throughout the House.
I would like to thank my colleagues from the Bloc Québécois for their work on the amendments. I would also like to point out that all the parties were able to work together on this very important bill. It has truly been a process of cooperation and we have made many important changes to this bill.
Bill has been identified as a key concern over a number of parliamentary sessions and a number of governments. Promises were made to change the Hazardous Products Act and other related legislation to bring them up to the 21st century, so that we would be truly in line with consumers' thinking about what is appropriate when it comes to consumer safety and health protection. This legislation has been a long time coming.
This legislation is not perfect. We wish it had much more in terms of teeth and much more emphasis on the precautionary principle. We in the NDP believe that the most significant thing government can do in this day and age is to bring in legislation that follows the do no harm principle, that ensures that all products, whether children's toys or household cleaners or consumer gadgets, are safe beyond a reasonable doubt.
That is quite different than the risk management model which says consumers should be warned that a product is not necessarily safe, and if they run into problems and that information is brought forward to government, it might deal with it.
The bill moves a bit toward the precautionary principle but only with baby steps. It could have gone a lot further. The precautionary principle stops in the whereas' of the bill.
I am not going to dismiss this legislation because we in the NDP are going to support it. We are going to support it because we think it is important, it is long overdue, and we have made some changes to make it better. Unfortunately, we did not get all of our changes.
Many of the groups that worked so hard on the bill were disappointed. I am thinking in particular of the Environmental Defence, the David Suzuki Foundation, and the Canadian Cancer Society, three groups that worked tirelessly on the bill and worked with all members of health committee. These groups informed us, taught us, proposed amendments, made suggestions, and educated us. We learned a great deal from them. I am very grateful for the major role that they played throughout the legislative process.
In the end we were forced to concede to changes that were fairly small in nature, but significant at least in terms of finding some way down the road to protect Canadians, even if they do no harm principle was not firmly entrenched in every aspect of the bill.
We did that by ensuring, and this is where I want to take some credit on behalf of the New Democratic Party caucus, an amendment in the bill that requires the bill, once it is passed, to come back to both the House of Commons and the Senate for scrutiny in terms of regulations.
There will be a chance to provide some kind of oversight once the government begins to find ways to implement a legislative initiative that is so vital and so important in terms of the health and well-being of Canadians.
We are also pleased to support an amendment proposed by the Liberals which would add an advisory committee to the gambit of tools available to the government. With the assistance of the government, members of the committee, and the whole House, we saw that the amendment was included with a royal recommendation and is now part of the bill. That was another indication of co-operative work on the part of all of us.
That means there will be a body of experts who will devote themselves to furthering the broad principles of the bill and will try to apply the precautionary principle, the do no harm principle, in more ways than is apparent at present.
The bill has certainly been noted for many significant reasons. It has very substantive recall provisions with significant punishments attached. I do not want to underestimate the significance of those provisions.
Over the last number of years we on this side of the House have raised numerous concerns with the present government and the Liberal government before it about unsafe products on the market.
For years we have been dealing with lead in children's toys and phyllates in plastics that are put in the mouths of babies and children, which are toxic, dangerous and cause very serious life-threatening debilitating problems.
We are pleased that the government has provided for a way to ensure that once we have identified serious problems, action can be taken. I think we will all agree that the problem with this bill is that it is not readily apparent how action will be taken and products that are problematic in the first place are identified.
We did not get an amendment in this legislation that lists hazardous products. We did not get, as the Environmental Defence, the David Suzuki Foundation and the Canadian Cancer Society wanted, a provision in this bill that would ensure that all products with hazardous substances would be listed in this legislation, and they would be labelled accordingly.
In that way there would be some certainty for all Canadians that even if the government did not take steps to ban a product, remove a product, or recall a product, at least consumers would know what substances were in that particular product. If they believed that there was enough science to be of concern for usage of that product, then they could at least take personal responsibility.
That was a very important contribution to the process throughout this bill. All of the organizations I have mentioned, time and time again, pointed out just how important it would be for us to take those lists of carcinogens and hormone-disrupting and endocrine-disrupting substances, toxins and chemicals and list them, and have them denoted and labelled, including the labelling of all products.
We did not get those amendments, and there was certainly major disappointment. Now, our job is to ensure that the government lives up to its commitment to say that if we can prove that something is a problem in terms of health and safety then the government will take action. Well, we will hold it to that, and we will try every step of the way to remind it of those obligations.
I hope that through the advisory committee and through the reporting back to this House, we will have some extra checks in place.
Suffice it to say, this bill falls short of where some of the international community is at with respect to very dangerous chemicals and substances. The European Union has in fact taken the steps of listing all such carcinogens, hormone disrupters, and dangerous chemicals and toxins, and is moving toward a phased-in process of labelling.
That is something this country cannot avoid. In the long run we will have to do the same. It is too bad because this bill should have been the ultimate, having waited for 40 or 50 or 60 years, in improving the Hazardous Products Act. This should have been the moment when we actually did a perfect job and produced legislation that was the best in the world. We fall short of that objective and we will now have to play some catch up.
I want members to know that I believe the obligation will be on this House and all members of Parliament to push that envelope, to advance that agenda. We have to make sure that in the end we have in fact delineated all such toxic substances and provided consumers with the information that they need to make responsible decisions.
We have to follow the right to know principle. There is no way around it in this complex world with so many dangerous substances and so much technological development. With such rapid change all around us, at the bare minimum we have to at least ensure that consumers are made aware of the necessary information.
It came as a shock to us to have some witnesses come before our committee and say that this would be too complicated, too much, that consumers would be overloaded, not able to choose, and would end up making the wrong decisions and would be too confused.
As we said back to those witnesses, consumers are on top of the ball. They are certainly advanced in terms of understanding and are looking to government to provide them with the information so they can make responsible decisions.
Consumers are looking for safe food, drugs, water, products, toys, pharmaceuticals and medical interventions. They expect the government to ensure that all of the products we have to take and need for our health and well-being are safe beyond a reasonable doubt.
I must say that we did accomplish something that was important in terms of the natural health community. Early on, the forces in this community, those people who produce, manufacture or use natural health products, rose up and said that they felt that there was no place in this legislation for those products. They said that we had to differentiate between consumer products and natural health products. The government listened and we certainly pressured it to do so. It agreed to amend the bill so that nothing about the bill would have any bearing on natural health products.
However, it did raise an interesting dilemma for the government. It showed that we have a third regulatory mechanism by which we deal with natural health products in this country that is failing. Small businesses that produce and sell these natural health products are coming to the government on a constant basis, demanding some action to improve the process and reduce the backlog.
The government itself has suggested that there is a deadline of 2010 by which all consumer and natural health products must be through the process, receive their DIN number, and be licensed or else sent back for further research. As things now stand, there are something like 36,000 applications before the government and no sign of that diminishing. Never mind the backlog. With the number of applications that have come in on a daily basis, a significant number have not been dealt with and have been added to the backlog.
The problem is only getting worse. Many of the groups, including the Canadian Health Food Association, have called on the government to start to get a handle on this and live up to its promise to end the backlog and to say whether or not this 2010 deadline means anything. If the government is not anywhere close to meeting its obligations to deal with all products by that time, they would prefer that the deadline be changed.
They would prefer more cooperative work to be done between the natural health food industry, retailers, consumers and the government to ensure that proper regulatory measures are taken to approve products and not simply to deal with the backlog by getting rid of and denying applications, which seems to be the pattern.
The government seems to be saying that it is going to deal with the backlog and it is doing it by denying more applications than not. It thereby reduces the backlog in a most unfortunate way, without the science, evidence of effectiveness or the true test of whether or not any of these products are falsified or not accurate in terms of their description and identification.
That is a problem that emerged from these discussions. It must be dealt with and it must be dealt with before the government even begins to think about reintroducing Bill , which had amendments to the Food and Drug Act. We know the uproar that happened last year and the year before about natural health products. We know that there were hundreds and thousands of letters, emails, meetings, faxes, individuals speaking up, rallies and demonstrations about the government's inappropriate approach with respect to natural health products.
The message for the government is to get its act together on this because it is only going to come back and be haunted if it does not. We have to find a way to treat natural health products as a separate category, not as a food, drug or consumer product, but as a unique product that is important for Canadians and contributes a great deal to the health and well-being of Canadians.
I have said enough on that. Let me now go to the question of a government that introduces legislation that says it is concerned about consumer products and safety and yet, at the same time, cuts back in its latest budget a heck of a lot of money that is supposed to ensure a national office for workplace hazardous materials information systems, otherwise known as WHMIS.
This is an important office, which ensures there is a centre in government, a focal point for assessing and providing information around health and safety in terms of materials that are dealt with in the workplace and ensuring that all workers are given the benefit of information about hazardous materials they work with, that there is active international right-to-know legislation before them, that there is a global classification system that includes all the previously identified dangerous chemicals, not leaving some out because of pressure from the industry.
This cutback amounts to about $2.6 million over two years. The Canadian Labour Congress and other national labour organizations have clearly indicated that this cutback will eliminate the national office. It will totally cut back the focal point within Health Canada to ensure that WHMIS has an active national office. It is a serious cutback and it flies in the face of all the government's talk about wanting the best possible legislation for ensuring consumer safety and protection for all Canadians, no matter where they work or what kinds of jobs they are doing for our economy.
I urge the government to reconsider that cutback and to sit down with some of the trade unions and labour movements and talk about what is needed to ensure workplace health and safety and to ensure that there is active right-to-know legislation and a regulatory process in this country. Otherwise, we will have done a great disservice to workers. We will have denied their right to work in safe conditions and ensure the risks they take are minimized as much as possible.
In response to a question I asked in the House, the government announced last week that it was finally going to eliminate all lead and phthalate products beyond certain trace levels from the market. We applaud that move, but that has come about 12 years after we started raising this issue.
In almost the first year that I was elected as a member of Parliament to this place, we started raising the question of phthalates. I remember holding press conferences with samples of baby toys, teething rings, rubber ducks, plastic knapsacks and umbrellas, which kids put in their mouths, that are made of phthalates and that were then demonstrated to be dangerous in terms of the health and well-being of babies and children.
Some 12 years later, we finally have a government that is acting. Good for it for finally doing so, but what the heck took so long? Why did it take so long with lead as well? I raise these issues because if that is the pattern, it does not bode well for the application of Bill , the very legislation we are dealing with at this moment. It very much depends on the will of government, the intentions of politicians and the acceptance of scientific data.
The government continues to drag its feet and ignore the science, as it is doing right now with bisphenol A. It bans bisphenol A when it comes to baby bottles but not other products. A lot more must be done to ensure that substances are identified so that products can be banned if they are dangerous beyond a reasonable doubt, so that Canadians can live with the notion that everything on the market is safe beyond a reasonable doubt.