Hon. Robert Thibault (West Nova, Lib.)
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise to speak to this bill. I think it is an important bill. It is a welcome action from the Government of Canada. As an opposition party, we look forward to playing our role within Parliament to improve this bill: to ask the proper questions and to hear from Canadians who may have concerns. They may or may not be supportive and may wish to suggest amendments that can be brought to the committee or to the House to ensure that this bill achieves what it attempts to do, which is to protect Canadians.
I am sure the minister will recognize, as will every member in the House, that it is easy enough to protect Canadians. We can make every commercial activity in this country so restrictive that nobody will ever get hurt, but ensuring the protection of Canadians while permitting trade and business to happen, and allowing farmers, producers and manufacturers to do their work, requires a balancing act. As we look at the implementation of this bill, we are going to have to look at whether we can achieve both of those things and make sure that in the future they continue to happen properly and that we do not go too far one way down the slippery slope.
There is a case in my riding right now with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency risking the ongoing success of a long term employer because of an issue of product safety. It is an issue of perceived product safety and how we deal with it. In this case, it has been shown that the product is quite safe, while we cannot give the same level of assurance to the products we buy off the shelf that compete with it. That creates great concern. I look forward to examining how we will do it.
As the member for Malpeque has brought out, we are dealing with two bills. I do not think we can look at these two bills in isolation. That is probably one of the reasons why the government brought forward Bills C-51 and C-52 at the same time. While in the House today we are dealing with Bill C-52, I am looking forward to dealing with Bill C-51.
Bill C-51 has been in the discussion stage for a long time. It has been in the consultation stage and there has been work with industry to bring it forward, but it is a lot less so for Bill C-52, which seems to involve more knee-jerk reactions because of problems that arose, especially in the fall. When we do things quickly or on that basis, there is always risk. As a Parliament and a committee, we are going to have to ensure that we study this properly and make the necessary modifications so that it achieves what it wants to do, which is to protect Canadians.
The principle of the bill, as I suggested, would be difficult to argue with. I think everybody would agree with it. If I were to term it in any one way, it would be to say that it makes people become responsible for their actions and puts some serious financial penalties on people who do not. If people are trying to profit from legitimate activity, they have some responsibility for that. The first responsibility would be the safety of their consumers and customers, as well as their workers and anybody who comes in contact with their products. I think everyone would agree with that principle.
We have to be careful, because here we are talking about the importer, manufacturer, retailer, distributor or whatever person possible being inspected by Health Canada, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency or the Canada Border Services Agency at any time. In my mind, under this law they would all bear the same responsibility.
What we are telling them is that they have to keep a registry and have knowledge of the chain of supply. That is easy enough to do as a distributor who brings into the country a number of products and distributes them. It is easy enough to do as a manufacturer bringing in the inputs, doing some manufacturing changes, transformation, alteration, repackaging and whatnot and putting them out on the market. Then it is easy enough.
It gets a bit more difficult for a retailer who is not part of a large chain. An independent or a smaller operation may have similar products that it buys from a few places. When it is selling from its business it might be difficult to know exactly where each and every product was sold. It might not able to track them.
I am looking forward to seeing what is meant by this and how this tracking would be applied. Are we creating a system that would be very expensive to operate, so expensive that small entrepreneurs will be forced out of the market, especially at the smaller retail level, those that we would typically call “mom and pop” operations?
We have seen it in the feed store industry already. Out of our concern for BSE and our requirements to label and track all the feeds and all the inputs into those feeds, we have come to those sorts of problems.
If we do not do this correctly, we could bring that type of a problem into where it is not warranted. I will agree that where we have risks to human health, we have to take the appropriate action. If it means that under certain conditions certain individuals or businesses should not be in possession of certain products, then that would be understandable. However, we can very easily throw the baby out with the bathwater if we do not do it properly and if we do not have the proper safeguards.
I have a bit of concern with one of the areas. I had the opportunity to raise it with the minister. I agree with the principle, and I think we all should, that there should be a power to order a recall. I think we understand that. However, if we look at the situation where we are now, we do effect those recalls by negotiations and by discussions. I have not been advised of any situation where the current practices have not worked and where an unsafe product has remained on the market because a distributor, a manufacturer or a retailer refused to remove it from the market. I do not know of any situation like that in Canada. However, it could happen, so the power to recall makes sense.
Sometimes if we give a minister or a department the power to do something, over time it evolves into an obligation to do things, because people test it in the courts or suggest that if that operation had not been done and the minister had effected his power to recall in such and such a case, then we would not have had this operation. Then what happens is that the next time there is a case that looks remotely similar, the minister's inspectors, to protect the Canadian public, as they should, effect or force a recall. That is the risk.
I am not saying that this is what would happen in this instance or in this case, but I would want to be sure that our first actions at all times are negotiations, that they are on the lines of where they are going now, where the inspectors of Health Canada or CFIA are working with the importer or the manufacturer on the Canadian side to see if there is a way to do it without effecting a recall. What happens is that quite often we are able to resolve the situation without human risk, without risk and without bankrupting Canadian corporations. If we effect or force a recall, we could create undue market fears, loss of shelf space for companies and those types of activities, which could become very dangerous. Those are things we absolutely want to avoid.
Let us remember also that we do not have the same sort of power over the people our Canadian manufacturers, distributors, entrepreneurs or importers are competing against, because the regimes in the domestic markets of our competitors might not be the same. I think we have to remember that.
We also have to look at the way it would be administered. Would we be doing this in a way that maximizes the use of the current bureaucracy? Or would we have to replicate everything else and therefore make it more complicated? Are we going to have an importer working with multiple departments to do the same process? Would we have some coordination?
When the finance committee looked at counterfeit products coming into the country, we saw that the Canada Border Services Agency was unable to inspect these products because it was understaffed. There is no way it can do an active inspection so it needs some sort of system that triggers a look at certain imports, stocks or lots. If we expand the requirements without creating a coordinated administration of it, we run the risk of having an overly bureaucratic process.
We have said over and again that we want smart regulations in this country, that we want to streamline red tape and administration processes. This is an excellent opportunity to do it from the onset as we are establishing a new program.
On the question of the penalties being higher, I do not think anybody would argue with that. I think it is a good idea but what people question is whether this has any effect because the penalties are never applied. As there are never charges under the current system, would it be meaningful to increase the penalties? I would suggest that it would be but we need to look at why they are not applied now and whether there are other ways, other than the court process, that we can use.
I was very pleased to see that in the bill the administrative sanction route is being considered where the minister and his inspectors would be able to apply monetary and administrative sanctions on the importer or manufacturer outside the court process a lot faster and more efficiently. I think that is a good idea.
The other thing is the use of injunctions rather than having to charge an entrepreneur, that an injunction can be applied for in court to cease an import, the distribution or certain manufacturing processes or procedures. I think it is a lot better way to go than having to charge and having a long, drawn out court battle that is unsure in all cases and certainly would lead, not necessarily to the protection of an individual's well-being, but certainly would have a negative impact on our capacity to compete.
The question on the effect on competitiveness is important. In that respect, I would like to see the bill dealt with not only by the Standing Committee on Health but also by the industry committee. I have a feeling that at the health committee we will be able to accommodate the people who want to give us that perspective.
How do we implement these principles and not reduce the competitiveness of Canadian business? I think that is what we should be seeking. Our first responsibility is the protection of human health and we cannot for any reason abdicate on that responsibility but we must look to do it in a way that protects our competitiveness in our domestic market, as well as in our exports. I am looking forward at the committee to be able to do these things.
I am pleased that the bill has been brought forward for debate and I believe our party will be supporting the bill going to committee. I look forward to having these discussions at committee, seeing the specifics of the bill, seeing how the implementation will happen and having the opportunity to present amendments at the committee or in the House. I hope officials of the Government of Canada will be prepared to indicate to the committee the order and types of regulations that are called for and what they would look.
We do take a bit of a leap of faith in the House of Commons as members of Parliament when we give powers to the minister or to the government to enact regulations to affect the intent of a bill that is passed by the House because we do not see those regulations again. They are done, in most cases, by order in council and, in very few cases, are they ever brought before Parliament again, either directly or through one of these committees. I think it would be quite useful if government officials could give us an indication or an idea of the type of regulations that will be required in this case.
I look forward to having a more fulsome discussion of the matter at committee.
Topic: Government Orders
Subtopic: Canada Consumer Product Safety Act