Ms. Penny Priddy (Surrey North, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I think it is a one line amendment and I am sure that I can talk for some time about the amendment. Although it is a very small amendment it would have a life-saving or potentially-life threatening effect if we do not carry it forward.
As I said the other day, this is really an amendment to the Public Health Act. It is a very interesting act. It was written in 1872. I do not need to give any history on it because the last time we did anything with it was in 1872.
Here we are now 135 years later. The House was full at the time and I think everybody did support it. It was probably right after a small pox epidemic which, in those times, was very frightening and killed many family members. We should never make fun or ridicule that kind of tragedy that occurs to families when there are diseases of epidemic proportions.
When this act was written people were concerned about the illnesses they saw in their countries. People died of small pox and the plague. They were concerned about what happened within their cities or their towns. They never conceived of the fact that a disease would travel to a country or a continent that they had never seen, never heard of and were never going to see. No one would have believed that a disease could be transmitted in that kind of way.
We find ourselves, 135 years later, in a very different kind of health environment. We need to take very seriously the fact that the potential for communicable diseases to move from country to country is significantly heightened.
We only need to look at the last few years and what we have seen in Canada to be reminded of that. Anyone who was part of responding to or living in a city where the SARS epidemic was so tragically seen, will know that the responses to that particular disease were late starting and we were not able to respond in the kind of quick fashion that we all would have liked.
If I were to be biased toward British Columbia, my home province, I would say that British Columbia actually led the way in many of the innovations that came about as a result of SARS.
I have a few concerns I would like to raise. I certainly support the amendment but it seems to me that there are one or two pieces missing in it.
What it does is it adds to the Quarantine Act the reporting responsibility to be expanded to include aircraft and commercial watercraft. Anyone operating an aircraft or commercial watercraft has the responsibility to report any person who has died or any person they believe has a potentially communicable disease or any cargo they believe is suspect.
What about one of the main ways in which people and products are transported around the country and into the country, which is by truck or by rail? This does not include either people or products transferred by rail.
From living in British Columbia, I know the truck traffic, and I assume it is the same in many other provinces, that goes back and forth across our border is lined up for miles. On any holiday weekend, we can turn on our radio and hear that there is a two hour wait at the border because so many cars are lined up to come into Canada from the United States.
The fact that rail and road traffic are not included in this causes me considerable concern. We have seen several times in the last year or so an alert not to buy a produce that has come across the border because of the concern it may be contaminated. I am concerned we have not covered off all of the potential ways in which a communicable disease could be transmitted.
This is particularly important in this day and age because we discover, on an annual basis, viruses that nobody has ever heard of before. I think there was a stage when people thought they had identified most of the kinds of viruses that affected particularly people. However, we now know that those viruses transmute until we have differing versions on a pretty continuous basis. Therefore, we have to be incredibly rigorous and vigorous in our actions to protect the population of Canada against in any way being susceptible to a communicable disease.
The whole issue of quarantine reminds me of what happened before people were immunized.There may be some people in the House who remember when people had the whooping cough, or diphtheria or whatever, their whole home was quarantined. Then we developed immunizations for many of those diseases for which we previously would have been quarantined.
What now has happened, which causes me concern because it is about quarantine and communicable diseases, is we do not know what our immunization rates are really like across the country. There is no mandatory reporting by any province of their immunization rates.
I know in certain parts of my province of British Columbia immunization rates of diseases, which have been designated communicable, are dropping. Therefore, we have the potential of seeing a disease we thought we no longer had to quarantine or we thought we had an immunization for it. However, if for whatever reason fewer families choose not to immunize their children, we could very well see another bout of some communicable disease that we thought was long behind us.
For a long time people thought that tuberculosis was a communicable disease with which we no longer had to deal. That is one that was quarantined for a long time. We not only learned how to treat it, but we also learned how to immunize against it. In many parts of the country, particularly in aboriginal communities and in urban centres where people live in conditions that are less than healthy for anybody, we see an increase of tuberculosis. We thought it was behind us, now it is not.
There is no mandatory reporting of that. Surely the federal government has a national leadership role to play in having that information available so Health Canada, CIHI and all health organizations, which have a responsibility for public health threats, have an ability to see a trend. If we only look at what is happening in our own provinces, we will not know if this is some kind of trend happening across the country that requires some national leadership.
We have seen SARS, the West Nile virus and avian influenza. All those things have caused the public health community to work well together, to develop better procedures, protocols and surveillance at least in the provinces, but I still am concerned that is not a mandatory responsibility of provinces to report potentially communicable disease.
This bill would broaden the coverage of the Quarantine Act, and that is a good thing. It would also help us meet our World Health Organization obligations as a signatory to the revised international health regulations. These regulations ensure maximum security against the international spread of disease, with minimum interference with global travel, and I know that is very hard to do. However, our first responsibility is to the health and safety of Canadians, but also a much more humanistic and moral way to the health and safety of people who live anywhere in the world.
Those WHO regulations are scheduled to come into effect in June of this year. This regulation would then put us in compliance, as we would wish to be, with the World Health Organization. It will know we are doing all we can in Canada to meet that health obligation.
There will be a creation of different kinds of responsibilities for people. There will be quarantine officers, which is a good step. Previously officers were designated by the minister, as was stipulated in the act. These quarantine officers will have very specific education and responsibility to collect information, to know how it should be disseminated and, wherever possible, to get ahead of something that might happen.
We are very concerned that this tool be able to be used by the Public Health Agency of Canada. It came from the report that Dr. Naylor did after the SARS epidemic.
I remain concerned about the lack of rail and truck cargo being included in this and about the fact that other communicable diseases, which are being less immunized for, are not reported nationally. There is no national database for that and we may put a next generation of children or potentially a current generation of adults, who are not immune to what we think of as children's diseases, at risk.
While I am speaking to the issue of communicable diseases and immunization, there is also a national leadership role. There is certainly a provincial role. I understand perfectly that provincial governments deliver health care services, but there may be a national leadership role that can be played by the federal government in terms of disseminating more education information or working with public health officers in each province to ensure that standardized information is getting to all the parents.
People take their new babies for their first immunization shots. Everybody does that because it is a good thing to do. A smaller percentage take them back for their second set of immunizations. If I were to go around Parliament and ask people if all their immunizations were up to date, I expect the majority would say no. We do not know the fact that we do not stop being immunized at age four. There are immunizations that we must continue to get throughout adulthood to protect ourselves from certain kinds of diseases.
There is a national leadership role that can be taken, working with public health officers in each province who have that responsibility, to ensure that we have a more vigorous initiative of getting out standardized information not only to parents of newborns, who get very good information about immunization, but to all Canadians so they know immunization should continue through adulthood in order for them to be safe. If adults are not safe, they may put their families at risk as well.
I support the amendment. I have expressed some concerns about the fact that it could go further. I also have expressed concerns about other things we could do around communicable diseases. For example, we could have mandatory reporting. Diseases we had previously quarantined may be at risk of being quarantined again if we do not vigorously address immunization like used to do, and more so under the Quarantine Act.
Mr. Paul Szabo:
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate on Bill C-42. It is an important bill.
I have had the opportunity to be a member of the Standing Committee on Health and to work on a number of issues which relate to public health and safety. I participated on a committee with regard to HIV-AIDS. There was quite an education for all members of Parliament who had that opportunity.
As I indicated in the question that I posed to the hon. member who just spoke, recent events in Canada's history in fact are the reason Bill C-42 is now before us. The significant public health threats that I am referring to are the SARS outbreak, the West Nile virus, the avian influenza. They have prompted the medical community and policy makers to work together to respond in a better fashion to public health threats.
If we were to look at the results of the assessment of how the SARS situation was responded to, we would find there were very serious problems. Many of those problems were related specifically to the lack of preparedness. There was a lack of a number of procedures which would normally be in place, as any reasonable person would consider with regard to public health and safety matters.
When I talk about the Government of Canada of the day, I am talking more specifically about the departmental part of the government. When we talk about the Government of Canada, sometimes people look at it solely in the context of the party that currently forms the governing party. The Government of Canada is an enormous institution with enormous responsibilities involved in virtually every aspect of Canadian life.
If we were to look at some of the history, we would find that virtually every department of the Government of Canada, every bureaucracy, had a website section on SARS updates. That has to tell us something about the way the machinery of government looked at things in approaching an issue such as SARS. There were, I believe, 17 different websites that Canadians were asked to look at if they wanted an update. If it was industry, the government had an industry perspective. If it was health, obviously it was health related issues. Seventeen different websites were established in the Government of Canada.
That tells us that within the culture of the bureaucracy there seems to be a lack of continuity, a lack of cooperation and a lack of sharing of information. Continuity, cooperation and information sharing are vital in terms of national emergencies as they relate to public health and safety issues. In this case that we are debating, with regard to health issues, they are extremely important.
In responding to the SARS outbreak, the government of the day established a national advisory committee on SARS and public health. Its mandate was to provide a third party assessment of the current public health efforts and lessons learned relating to ongoing and future infectious disease control. That committee was chaired by Dr. David Naylor.
The committee made several recommendations for legislative changes to better address the risks emerging from public health threats. One of those recommendations back when that group was started in 2003 was to make amendments to the Quarantine Act. As a consequence of the SARS outbreak, it was detected that there were circumstances created in which public health and safety were not protected to the appropriate extent that one would expect.
The good news is that Dr. Naylor did his job. The bad news is that we are here in 2007, some two or three years later, and a bill of this importance is still at a very early stage in the legislative process. We have to ask ourselves why that is. Why is it that when we have an important issue it does not get priority?
In fact, there is an explanation, and it also shows what can happen when in fact we do move too quickly on a bill. What happened as a consequence of the recommendations was that a bill was brought forward. That bill was passed and received royal assent, but one of the things we found was that the bill passed by Parliament in some haste was inoperative in some respects.
As a consequence, we now have before us Bill C-42, which is going to correct the inoperative provisions and in fact bring that recommendation to fruition in terms of a complete piece of legislation that is going to better address the needs of Canadians.
The modernization of this act addresses urgent issues because the act that was passed and given royal assent was inoperative in some aspects, and the act obviously is in respect to communicable diseases in Canada and abroad.
It also represents a complementary step, one that we may want to revisit, but the reality is that there was a series of legislative initiatives to strengthen Canada's public health system. We do not have a comprehensive way of dealing with public health and safety issues. We have a series of things. We tend to chunk things down into smaller pieces.
I can make an assessment of or give an opinion on whether or not those legislative initiatives in fact represent the most efficient mode in terms of legislative productivity or effectiveness, but notwithstanding that, we do have a number of legislative initiatives to strengthen Canada's public health system, initiatives that also include the creation of the Public Health Agency of Canada and the Office of the Chief Public Health Officer.
Having been a member of the health committee and even having had private members' initiatives, I had at one point recommended the creation of something akin to the U.S. Surgeon General. I thought that we should in fact have a physician general of Canada, the reason being that over the years Health Canada has become involved in a broad range of very controversial issues and has become somewhat of a political football when it suits people's needs.
When we have activists, I think of things like the hepatitis C issue, the blood issue, and the reproductive technologies issues, where there is a political debate about the propriety of making certain legislative changes or initiatives. Health Canada as an organization has become somewhat politicized by the various activities that have gone on, not by its own choice, but certainly that has affected, I would suggest, the public's perception of Health Canada and what Health Canada represents and can do for Canadians.
I can recall visiting the U.S. Surgeon General's website on many occasions. If members were to do that, one of the things they would find is that there are sections for young people, for children and youth. There is another section for seniors, a section for women and so on. If there are health and safety issues related to a particular demographic, there is a portal to go through. It is very user friendly.
That same kind of user-friendliness would not be found at the Health Canada website. People have concerns about issues that come out, whether it be how they protect themselves against infectious diseases or what a quarantine means. For example, Mississauga's Trillium Hospital just had a significant outbreak of C. difficile. People died of the most serious and dangerous strain of C. difficile. What were they doing about it, people ask, and how do they find out about it?
We know that hospitals and the delivery of health services are through the provinces, but the Government of Canada has a broader responsibility because sometimes we have these breakouts of infectious diseases. It was shown that the particular cases in Mississauga were related to the very serious outbreak that took place in Quebec. Now we have found out that there has been a migration, in one way or another, from Quebec to Mississauga and in fact to northern Ontario, where some cases of this particular deadly strain of C. difficile have been found.
This, as we can imagine, would raise a lot of questions for ordinary Canadians about their safety and security. They want to know if they have to be concerned about going to those hospitals. Answers to such questions would be found at the U.S. Surgeon General's site, but we would not find the answers at Health Canada's site. As a matter of fact, we would find it very difficult to navigate that site.
If Health Canada is monitoring the debate on this bill, I would suggest that it have a very careful look at the user-friendliness of its website. In recent years there have been some serious problems with regard to contagious diseases and the kinds of things that may be transported in a number of fashions, but I am not sure that on Health Canada's public website we would find what we are doing and how we are caring for Canadians' best interests.
If that is the case, and I believe it is, then this bill is not going to really be as effective as it could be, because we do not have the linkage to deal with Canadians directly in plain and simple language to give them the assurances they are looking for.
I raise this because it is an important issue. It is very likely that these are going to be continuing occurrences. Certainly the West Nile and the avian flu are not going away. I suspect that C. difficile is not going away. I suspect that SARS, whatever it is, is not going away in terms of the possibility of it being migrated into Canada. There are things that we do have to protect ourselves.
In terms of looking at the bill in some specificity, one thing members will note is that it creates two classes of officials, environmental health officers and screening officers. These officials, along with quarantine officers, oversee the screening, assessment and, if necessary, the detention of people, vessels, goods and cargo that represent a public health risk. The presence of these officers strengthens our national preparedness, obviously, for future potential public health risks, including an influenza pandemic.
As we can see, the bill in itself is not terribly complicated, but it does have a couple of issues associated with it that make the current bill, which did receive royal assent, operable. That would be a good thing to do. It would have been a good thing to do at the beginning of Parliament, not 14 months after an election.
With all due respect, I question very seriously whether or not the government has its eye on the ball for the safety and security and priorities of Canadians, particularly when we see some of the things that are on the table. We have been jumping around all over the place. In fact, one thing we see, and which has been discussed in this place many times, is a series of justice bills, and every one of those bills is a very discrete item that has an amendment to the Criminal Code of Canada.
In past Parliaments, we have come forward with omnibus bills. There are a number of initiatives that could be amended or updated in the Criminal Code and they could have been brought forward, but politically it looks a lot better if we bring in 10 bills to do something that could be done in one, because then members can say, “Look how active we have been”.
What it does, and this is the real shame, is grind the system to a halt. The justice committee can do only so much work. It can deal with only so many bills at a time. It has to work through these bills, but many of the same witnesses will be there over and over again. I think Canadians should know that there is a little bit of game playing going on in terms of the legislative process. I am sure that we will hear more about this in the coming days.
I want to also comment on the principal provision, which is an amendment to section 34 of the current Quarantine Act. As I have indicated, the Quarantine Act had initially been part of the health protection legislative renewal package, but this new bill has to provide some technical amendments to bring into order section 34 of the Quarantine Act, which has already received royal assent.
More specifically, on section 34 of the Quarantine Act, clause 1 proposed amendments to section 34 and established the duty of operators of certain conveyances to report to authorities: (a) any reasonable grounds to suspect that persons, cargo or other things on board could cause the spreading of communicable disease listed in the schedule appended to the bill; (b) if a person on board has died; or (c) any prescribed circumstance that exists.
When we look through the rest of the bill, we see a couple of other cleanup items, which effectively relate to the reporting responsibilities of the operator of the vessel. Indeed, it basically means reporting to the point of nearest entry, but there are some circumstances. For instance, if a plane going from London to Toronto had a problem on board, it probably would land in Newfoundland, the nearest point of landing.
Interestingly enough, and some people may wonder why, there is a proviso in the bill as the legislation now stands that the reporting obligations are limited to marine and air community supports. The rationale is that approximately 94% of international flights arrive in Canada through six international airports where there are established quarantine stations and the presence of a quarantine officer. They are Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Halifax, although there are as well other airports that have such facilities.
Finally, the bill has an amendment to schedule which in fact lists the various matters that are subject to be reported under this bill. Clause 5 provides that the proposed amendment to section 34 comes into force on the day that Bill C-42, this bill, comes into force.
I believe we are going to find that there is support from all parties for this bill, but knowing that a particular bill was rushed through and had some technical problems, it bears repeating that there should be some concern that such a bill could not have been brought forward to the House in a more expeditious fashion to show the true priority that Canadians place on public safety and health.
Mr. Pierre Paquette (Joliette, BQ):
Mr. Speaker, I rise today on Bill C-42, an act to amend the Quarantine Act.
I would like first, though, to make a few comments about what my hon. colleague in the NDP has had to say about the CF-18 maintenance contracts. It is very clear to the Bloc Québécois and all Quebeckers that the Canadian aerospace industry is centered in the Montreal metropolitan area.
When Mr. Mulroney was the Prime Minister, he helped to consolidate this centre by giving it the CF-18 maintenance contract. In the Bloc’s view, this was a perfectly normal thing to do. Southern Ontario, for example, is the heart of the automobile industry.
I would like to say something about asbestos as well. It is true that asbestos is a hazardous product, but it can be used safely, especially in the form of chrysotile asbestos. I always say that it is like water. Water is essential for life, but people can also drown in it. We are able now to use chrysotile asbestos safely. The Standing Committee on International Trade recognized as much a few months ago. So far as I know, even the NDP member voted in favour. I would add that substitute products are just as hazardous to health as chrysotile asbestos.
We are now facing heavy pressure to ban chrysotile asbestos from the lobbies for substitutes for it. We need to work on developing safe uses for chrysotile asbestos. Those were my two preliminary remarks. I noticed that my friend in the NDP took advantage of these questions to raise issues that are hotly debated in Quebec these days.
I want to say something as well about the CF-18s, and then I will get to the heart of the matter. We are currently criticizing the Conservative industry minister because he refuses in the case of the C-17 contracts given to Boeing for Canadian air force planes to require Boeing to ensure that subcontracts are awarded in the greater Montreal metropolitan area in proportion to its weight in the Canadian aerospace industry, that is to say, between 50% and 60%. The federal government made the mistake of spreading the aerospace industry to Winnipeg. I know as well that since Boeing is located in the western United States—especially in Seattle—it will necessarily favour its usual subcontractors.
Various studies including the one done by Yves Bélanger of UQAM show that, if things are left as they are, only 30% of the economic benefits will go to the greater Montreal area. Once again we see a federal government that does not really have Quebec’s interests at heart and that plays on words.
Bill C-42 does not really deal with these issues, even though any discussion about Boeing, planes and aircraft does have something to do with this bill. The bill proposes adjustments and technical amendments to the Quarantine Act passed in 2005, except in the case of one section, section 31, dealing with conveyances.
I believe everyone will agree that the bill before us is rather limited in scope, but it is necessary nevertheless. Like others, I wonder why it has only come up for debate almost a year after its introduction in April 2006. As I was saying, the bill is relatively limited in scope, but it is necessary to reflect the new realities.
I can say at the outset that we, in the Bloc Québécois, support the principle of the bill although we are being extremely vigilant when it comes to areas under Quebec's jurisdiction. Quarantine has to do with health. The Bloc will continue to ensure that Quebec's jurisdiction is respected with regard to health as well as a number of other areas such as education and social solidarity. Speaking of respecting jurisdictions, I will certainly not be the federal government's thurifer.
I will remind members what a thurifer is. I know that the member for Repentigny and you, Mr. Speaker, are aware of that, but perhaps those who are watching us today have forgotten that concept. The thurifer was the cleric holding the thurible, or censer, during religious ceremonies.
Obviously, by extension, a thurifier also refers to someone who flatters. You will understand that I do not wish to play the role of flatterer for the Conservative government when I see that in the budget and in all the policies of the Conservative government they do not respect Quebec’s jurisdiction, despite their fine speeches.
Let me give some examples. In the area of family policy, in the previous budget, they created a new cheque to be paid to Quebec and Canadian families, according to federal criteria, without taking into account Quebec’s family policy, which is extremely progressive. It is not yet fully developed, but since 1998, the Government of Quebec has worked very hard. Here, they not only invaded a field that is the exclusive jurisdiction of Quebec, but, in addition, they did so without taking account of the Quebec reality.
I will give another example that we have been talking about this week during question period. There is an illogical, incomprehensible, and unfounded desire to push ahead with a pan-Canadian securities commission while telling us that it will not be a federal agency. However, when we read what it is all about in the budget, Quebec would have just one seat at the table. Therefore, the rest of Canada would decide how the commission would work, and, obviously, by that very fact, it would weaken the role played by the Montreal Exchange, in Quebec, as a North American financial centre.
That is also a field of jurisdiction that is very clearly spelled out in the constitution as belonging to Quebec. Why are they persisting? It is in the budget, it was in the update from the Minister of Finance and the people of Quebec do not want it, all parties agree, along with the business and securities communities. There is also a reality in Quebec that the Minister of Finance is ignoring, namely that we have two legal systems, the common law and the civil code. That does not exist anywhere else but in Quebec. In addition, as I have already mentioned it cannot be done on constitutional grounds.
Here is another example. In education, the government is creating a federal agency to evaluate foreign credentials. To a large extent, that is the responsibility of professional bodies. The responsibility for education rests with the governments of Quebec and the other provinces. It makes no sense to propose that. What role can the federal government play in declaring whether the credentials of doctors, lawyers, engineers, or psychologists, who belong to professions that fall under the jurisdiction of the Government of Quebec, are valid? Once again, it is the incessant pressure of the federal government—whether it is Liberal or Conservative, only the label changes—that keeps wanting to interfere in the jurisdictions of the provinces and of Quebec.
I will give another example. Page 120 of the budget plan 2007 talks about the Canada Social Transfer, which affects—as you know—not just social solidarity, but also post-secondary education. One of the proposals, one of the objectives of the federal Conservative government, which is supposedly a government that is open to a more flexible federalism, is to identify federal transfer support within the Canada Social Transfer, based on current provincial and territorial spending patterns and existing child care agreements, for each priority area: post-secondary education, social programs and support for families. What is important here is that they talk about increasing the transparency of federal support for these shared priorities. First, these are not shared priorities or shared jurisdictions and, second, the federal government has no business interfering. It transfers money and Quebec and the provinces decide what to do with that money. But no. The government wants to ensure its visibility. This visibility will be achieved at the expense of consistency and Quebec's desire to implement a post-secondary education system that is unique in North America and that responds to the needs and challenges of our society and economy.
We must dispel the myth that the Conservatives are different from the Liberals. Rest assured, we will do our best in the coming months to make that clear.
A little further, on page 130, having to do this time with labour market training, post-secondary education and labour market training being the exclusive jurisdictions of the provinces and Quebec, we read the following:
|| The government is prepared to consider providing future growth in funding for labour market programs after consultations with provinces and territories on how best to make use of new investments in labour market training and ensure reporting and accountability to Canadians.
In other words, the federal government is telling the provinces it will transfer money to our jurisdictions, will consult with us on the criteria, but we will be accountable and report to it. This in no way respects the jurisdictions of the provinces and Quebec.
This is a centralizing federalism, maybe in a velvet glove, but it is the same centralizing federalism as was practised by the Liberals under Pierre Elliott Trudeau and Jean Chrétien, and now the member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville.
Job training falls under the jurisdiction of Quebec. The federal government has to recognize this in a number of areas, even though it has retained some components that we would like to see transferred to Quebec, such as the youth component.
This document, the Budget Plan 2007, is riddled with intrusions into areas that are under Quebec's jurisdiction.
As I said, we have to be vigilant, even regarding the Quarantine Act. Certainly in this case we are dealing with amendments that, while they are not cosmetic, are not fundamental. As well, as I also said, the Quarantine Act has existed for an extremely long time—I will be coming back to this—and it needs to be modernized.
We are well aware of the fact that today, just as before and perhaps more than before, because of the means of transportation that have been developed, infectious diseases like SARS and West Nile virus do not stop at borders. The means of transportation can be a ship, a truck or an aircraft. As we know, an aircraft does not just mean an airplane; it can also be a helicopter, or a hot air balloon. And an aircraft can in fact transport contagious diseases. Because of that, we will be supporting the bill in principle.
The adjustments that are proposed in Bill C-42 relate mainly to section 34, as I said earlier, dealing with operators of watercraft and aircraft, but are not limited to them. These amendments are largely technical, and meant to give effect to section 34.
In fact, as I said, when the bill that preceded the Quarantine Act received royal assent, on May 13, 2005, this section 34 was not included. Now, Bill C-42 has been introduced to revive it.
As I said, this act goes back a very long time. In fact, the first Quarantine Act dates from 1872. At that time, of course, when people travelled long distances they mainly travelled by ship, and so the Quarantine Act originally emphasized the marine aspect of travel, and it still does to some extent. This is the heritage that we still see in the present act.
Since we are aware that these days, most travelling is done by airplane, and a lot is by truck, the Quarantine Act and all legislation have to be amended to reflect this fact. I would note that at the time, quarantine was carried out by isolating a ship and the people who had been carried aboard it, along with animals, plants and all goods on board. They were isolated for 40 days—whence the word “quarantine”—to ensure that people coming from countries where there were contagious diseases were not carrying the virus for those diseases.
The proposed legislation would help protect the people of Canada and Quebec from the importation of dangerous and contagious diseases and prevent the spread of these diseases beyond Canada's borders, because the proposed legislation applies to arriving and departing conveyances. It is interesting to note that all the legislation was to have been amended, as I said, to take into account the fact that air transport is much more important than marine transport, or even land transport, in particular for the movement of people. The plan was to amend a whole series of laws to protect the health of Canadians. For example, the Food and Drugs Act, the Hazardous Products Act, and the Radiation Emitting Devices Act were to be replaced by a new Canada Health Protection Act.
There was a terrible breakout of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, in 2003, which hit Toronto particularly hard. The government wanted to act quickly to deal with the most urgent matter. At that point, in 2003, it wanted to amend the Quarantine Act. In 2005, following a process, an amendment was made, but adjustments were still needed. These can be found in Bill C-42.
As I was saying, the bill’s purpose is to complete and update it in order to give effect to section 34, which establishes a requirement for operators of certain kinds of conveyances to inform quarantine officers about any risk or suspected risk that diseases are being spread on their conveyance. This is an extremely important responsibility. Sections 63 and 71 as well as the schedule have also been amended to bring them into line with this new section 34.
Generally speaking, the bill repeals the Quarantine Act and replaces it with legislation intended to prevent the introduction and spreading of contagious diseases. It applies to people and conveyances that enter Canada or are preparing to leave it. As I said, the intent is both to protect us against the outside world and to protect the outside world against any epidemics there might be in one part or another of Canada or Quebec.
The bill provides for certain measures such as screening, health assessment and medical examination of travellers to detect the presence of contagious diseases. It provides as well for certain measures to be taken to prevent the spread of such diseases, such as referral to public health authorities, detention, treatment and disinfestation.
The bill also provides for the inspection and decontamination of conveyances and cargo to ensure that they are not a source of communicable diseases. It determines as well the kinds of inspections that will apply—I admit that this is a bit macabre—to the importing and exporting of human organs and remains, although this too is reality.
In addition, the bill allows personal information to be collected and communicated if necessary to prevent the spread of a communicable disease. Finally, it authorizes the minister to issue orders in case of a public health emergency and to require that certain measures be taken to ensure that the law is enforced.
This in short is the Quarantine Act. What we are discussing, though, is section 34 and the provisions in Bill C-42 that apply to section 34. The current section reads as follows:
|| Before arriving in Canada, the operator of a conveyance used in a business of carrying persons or cargo, or of any prescribed conveyance, shall report to the authority designated under paragraph 63(b) situated at the nearest entry point any reasonable grounds to suspect that any person, cargo or other thing on board the conveyance could cause the spreading of a communicable disease listed in the schedule; a person on board the conveyance has died; or any prescribed circumstances exist.
That is the report on arrival in Canada.
Subsection 34(2) concerns the report of operators departing from Canada:
|| Before departing from Canada through a departure point, the operator shall report to the authority designated under paragraph 63(b) situated at the departure point any circumstance referred to in paragraphs (1)(a) to (c) that exists.
As I said, this applies when the operator suspects that part of the merchandise or anything else on board the conveyance may spread a communicable disease.
What will be changed here is the fact that the operator must inform a quarantine officer as soon as possible. The current act says: “the authority designated under paragraph 63(b)”. This bill creates a responsibility and identifies the person responsible. Subsection 34(2) of the act will also be amended as follows:
|| As soon as possible before a conveyance arrives at its destination in Canada, the operator shall inform a quarantine officer or cause a quarantine officer to be informed of any reasonable grounds to suspect that
Those are the facts I listed.
Subclause 34(3) reads as follows:
|| As soon as possible before a conveyance departs from Canada through a departure point, the operator shall inform a quarantine officer or cause a quarantine officer to be informed of any circumstance referred to in paragraphs (2)(a) to (c) that exists.
I will conclude with subclause 34(4):
|| No operator contravenes subsection (2) if it is not possible for the operator to inform a quarantine officer or cause a quarantine officer to be informed before the conveyance’s arrival at its destination in Canada, as long as the operator does so on the conveyance’s arrival at that destination.
It is clear that these amendments will clarify the obligations of watercraft and aircraft operators before entering or leaving Canada. As I said earlier, the Bloc Québécois will support these amendments.
Mr. Pierre Paquette:
Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his question.
I think this is extremely important, and it is the source of a major misunderstanding between Quebeckers and Canadians.
I travelled all across Canada when the Standing Committee on Finance was holding hearings as part of the pre-budget consultations. Everywhere I went in the rest of Canada, someone suggested to us that a federal department of education be created, with national standards. And every time, I felt that my colleagues from the rest of Canada thought this was an excellent idea. If the federal government were to take charge of this and ensure that the provinces were spending based on the real priorities, they would be very comfortable with this.
We are always presented with the example of Mike Harris or Ralph Klein, who spent the money allocated for social programs on other things.
In Quebec, we know our citizens can be trusted to judge their governments' accomplishments. In fact, we saw this on Monday with health care. Mr. Charest had made commitments that he did not honour, and he was severely punished for it.
The federal government often uses real problems to push centralizing solutions. For example, we are told that diseases do not stop at provincial borders, and that is true.
In Quebec, we are prepared, obviously based on our priorities, our choices and our way of doing things, to share our expertise with the other Canadian provinces and with the entire planet, and to look elsewhere for expertise that might be useful to us. However, we do not want to be told how to manage our hospital system by Ottawa, because Ottawa does not manage a single hospital, apart from veterans hospitals and those for aboriginal people, with the less than glowing success we have seen.
The same is true for education. This is a particularly sensitive subject in Quebec because education is how the values and identity of Quebeckers are transmitted. On that point, it has in fact been recognized that there is a nation, a territory, a land base—Quebec, the nation of Quebec, which includes all Quebeckers, regardless of where they come from. But it is important to us to be able to transmit the values of the Quebec nation, and the French language, which is the common public language of our nation, and our specific history, and our culture, from generation to generation, with the contributions made by the people who come to us from all over the world, and to be able to do this through the education system.
However that is not how the federal government sees it. To the federal government, Quebec culture is a regional component of Canadian culture. There is no future in this, just as there is no future in a Canada-wide vision of education. In fact, our institutions, like the CEGEPS, do not exist anywhere else in Canada. Another example is in health care, as I said, where we have the local community service centres. They have now been merged with other entities, but they were innovations created by Quebeckers. This began with grassroots health clinics, and the government thought this was a good idea.
To conclude, our child care system, for example, is not a public system; it is a social economy system that was established by parents to meet the needs, in particular, of--
Mr. André Bellavance (Richmond—Arthabaska, BQ):
Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate the hon. member for Joliette on another eloquent speech, and I am pleased to rise after him to address Bill C-42, An Act to amend the Quarantine Act. As my colleague mentioned, the Bloc Québécois supports the principle of this bill, since diseases know no boundaries. Still, we have to remain very vigilant regarding jurisdictions. As we know, health is Quebec's exclusive jurisdiction. The member for Joliette made a very compelling presentation on that, and there is no need for me to dwell on this issue, but I will nevertheless get back to it later on in my speech.
So, as a party, we agree with the principle of this bill. I should remind the House and those who are watching us about the purpose of the amendments in this bill. This enactment repeals the Quarantine Act and replaces it with another act to prevent the introduction and spread of communicable diseases. It is applicable to persons and conveyances arriving in or in the process of departing Canada. It provides measures for the screening, health assessment and medical examination of travellers to determine if they have communicable diseases. It also provides measures for preventing the spread of communicable diseases, including referral to the public health authorities, detention, treatment and disinfestation. It also provides for the inspection and cleansing of conveyances and cargo to ensure that they are not a source of communicable diseases. As we can see, the provisions of this act, which goes back many years—and I will get back to this a little later on—have been tightened up somewhat.
It provides for controls on the import and export of cadavers, body parts and human remains. Earlier, my colleague said that it is not pleasant talking about it, but we must realize that a family may wish to repatriate the body of a person who has died abroad. If this person died in the jungle, or in a country such as China, no matter where or how they died, we must determine how they died and ensure that illnesses are not being transported along with the remains.
It also provides for the collection and disclosure of personal information if it is necessary to prevent the spread of a communicable disease. We must remain very vigilant here also, just as in the case of jurisdictions. We must ensure that this will not happen for all manner of reasons because it would be too easy to disclose personal information. However, in certain cases, to prevent the spread of communicable diseases and to protect public health, these provisions will have to be applied, but only if necessary.
The bill enables the minister to make regulations in the event of a health emergency and to order that measures be taken to ensure compliance with the act. In brief, that is where we are going with Bill C-42.
Earlier, I was speaking about the history of the Quarantine Act, adopted in 1872. Naturally it should be updated because, as we know, at that time most travel was by ship, especially the longest trips. People also got around by horse, on foot, by canoe and so forth, but transatlantic travel at the time, for example, was all by ship. Naturally, travel was slower. We are talking about weeks and weeks of travel. Today, the same distance can be covered in a matter of hours by plane. Even if we do travel by ship, it does not take as long as in those days. This is also obvious.
Consequently, the spread of communicable diseases was often more localized. It took longer for diseases to spread. There was less movement of people and goods, and it was much slower than today. The invention of air transportation completely changed our way of travelling. Travel is now much more frequent and quicker as well. The movement of people and goods from one area to another has increased considerably. That is the difference between our era and the era in which the act was written, about 1872.
Thus, updating the Quarantine Act is totally appropriate. We all agree on this.
Canada, Quebec and the provinces are not immune to the outbreak of diseases.
In 2003, the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) really hit us. This is a painful memory, but we must still remind people about it. There were victims. Reports that were released after this tragedy clearly indicated that improvements had to be made at borders and all across the country to deal with the threats to public safety.
The World Health Organization also got involved because of the outbreak of SARS world wide. In Canada, we must put restrictions on everything that is related to these communicable diseases, but this is unfortunately not the case in all other countries. If all countries do not have measures that are as restrictive as ours, we must be even more vigilant and rigorous to deal with the fallout. I think particularly of China, which flatly denied the existence of SARS on its territory and the fact that there were victims. It took a ridiculous amount of time before China finally admitted that it had had cases of SARS. This does not help at all to maintain public health on its territory. Unfortunately, diseases always manage to spread to other countries.
Avian influenza also poses a threat. In Quebec, the health care and agricultural communities have taken steps to address this threat. I would remind the House that Quebec's department of agriculture, fisheries and food, in cooperation with Quebec's poultry producers' federation, has implemented quota and containment measures for poultry. Obviously, this is not always easy for certain producers. It causes problems for those who are accustomed to raising their poultry outdoors. However, public health and our collective well-being prompted authorities to act before any harm is caused. Quebec has been lucky so far. It is called prevention. All of Quebec's authorities—whether in health care, agriculture or other affected sectors—are working hard to ensure the protection of public health.
“Preparing for an influenza pandemic and other public health risks remains a priority. The enactment of the new Quarantine Act represents a huge step forward in this task”. This is what Dr. David Butler-Jones, Chief Public Health Officer, said on the matter. Dr. Butler-Jones is quite right. We were almost backward, since the act had not been updated in so long. It was time to take action.
The West Nile virus constitutes another threat. Other infectious diseases could emerge and strike us. This is why it has become so crucial that we enforce public health measures at our exit and entry points.
The update to the Quarantine Act provides for the screening of travellers by customs officials or detection devices. It also provides for the referral of travellers to a quarantine officer who may conduct an initial health assessment, order a medical examination, vaccination or other prophylactic measures, order travellers to report to a local public health authority, or detain any person who refuses a medical examination, vaccination, and so on. It also ensures the inspection of conveyances such as airlines and cargo ships, and orders decontamination, disinfection, and so on. Finally, it provides that passengers and conveyances may be detained until there is no longer a risk to public health.
The new powers also include diverting an aircraft to another landing site, establishing a quarantine station at any place in Canada and preventing the entry into Canada of persons or cargo from certain countries to prevent the introduction and spread of diseases. We have truly adapted to the new reality. We hear a lot about economic globalization, but the fact that people—and goods—travel more and more and that all borders are now open has significantly increased the level of risk with regard to the spread of diseases.
There is no need to panic and to become completely paranoid. Nevertheless, this kind of legislation helps us put in place the tools we need to protect public health, as I have been saying from the outset.
As my colleague from Joliette mentioned earlier, Bill C-42 gives effect to a specific section, namely section 34, which sets out the obligations that apply to the operators of certain conveyances in terms of informing quarantine officers of known or suspected risks of disease spreading on board their conveyances. This means ships, aircraft, trains, all motor vehicles, trailers and containers entering or leaving the country.
Obviously, if we want to protect ourselves, it must be understood that we do not want to spread to other countries diseases that may be present in our country. I am thinking of our neighbours to the south and any other country that could be affected. Our international reputation would certainly be tarnished if, for lack of due diligence, we allowed a disease to spread from our country to other countries.
The legislation stipulates that the operator must report anything unusual to the quarantine officer as soon as possible. The wording of section 34 stipulates, among other things, that an operator of a conveyance must report to the quarantine officer if he has any reasonable grounds to suspect that any person, cargo or other thing on board the conveyance could cause the spreading of a communicable disease, listed in a schedule of the legislation, explaining which type of disease is involved, or if a person on board the conveyance has died.
As I was saying earlier, as far as cadavers are concerned, when someone dies there is not necessarily a doctor on board or someone who can perform an autopsy quickly enough to determine the cause of death. We have to be certain that the person did not die from a disease that could be contagious and then, having come across our border, infect not just the passengers in the conveyance, but anyone that might come in contact with the cadaver, etc. Diseases do spread and that is where the danger lies.
Section 34 clarifies the obligations of the operators of ships and airplane pilots, namely upon their arrival and during their departure.
As my colleague from Joliette did so well, I want to remind this House that health is a jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces. That is why, although we are in favour of the bill in principle—because disease knows no boundaries—we will be very careful to ensure that this new legislation does not go against Quebec's legislation on public health. We understand that Canada must also comply with the World Health Organization's International Health Regulations by June. There is a deadline. If Canada meets its obligations while respecting Quebec's legislation, we will continue to support Bill C-42.
Ms. Nicole Demers (Laval, BQ):
Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin my remarks by mentioning the beautiful light that shines on this side of the House. This is not a coincidence. The sky is blue and God is a sovereignist. We are going to take advantage of this light to enlighten our colleagues, the members opposite, who form the government. I hope they will be wise enough to listen.
I could not help but smile when I saw that this legislation was coming back here to be amended. Let us not forget that, at the beginning of this session, a bill was rammed through the House, namely Bill C-2. We felt that this issue had not been debated long enough to ensure that this legislation would provide measures that could be implemented, and that it would be responsible and meaningful for our fellow citizens, whom we represent here.
Today, I see that we have to go back to Bill C-12, which was passed in 2005, when I was still a new member in this House. In fact, this bill was my first experience with the legislation here. I had to learn how to debate it in the Standing Committee on Health, along with my colleague, the member for Hochelaga, who was then our party critic on health issues. Even at that time we had serious reservations about the provisions that the government wanted to include in the bill, because we often felt that they were too intrusive or not logical enough to allow for concrete, easy and effective implementation.
We have to be very cautious and serious when we talk about infectious and communicable diseases, about viruses and bacteria that proliferate. We have to take our role seriously. At the time, we deplored the fact that people would be accountable to an authority designated by the Minister of Health, because we felt that this was a somewhat complex process that would prevent the bill from being an effective piece of legislation.
When I saw the bill and saw that there was a move to amend this section, that is, section 34, I thought to myself, “Two years later, people are finally seeing that, once again, the Bloc Québécois was right.” Naturally, it was members of the Bloc Québécois who were the first to oppose that part of the legislation, which called for an authority designated by the minister. We did so because we believed that the bill encroached too much on provincial jurisdictions, especially in the area of health.
In Quebec, our department of public health is very effective and takes great care to protect us against all communicable and infectious diseases. I know that this is not necessarily the case everywhere. A hospital in Vegreville had to close its doors this week. Also, in Loyds, hundreds of patients had to be informed that they had probably contracted HIV or hepatitis, because the doctor had not reported, as one must, these diseases to public health authorities.
It is not enough to simply enact legislation. That legislation must be respected, obeyed and enforced, and we must be able to use that legislation effectively to protect ourselves against what we could call barbarian invasions. Any mention of tuberculosis, west Nile virus or SARS is sure to arouse fear. I would remind the House that the original Quarantine Act was drafted around 1872, if I understood my hon. colleague from Richmond—Arthabaska correctly.
We know that diseases crossed borders with the influx of pioneers who came here to start a life for themselves and become proud citizens of what was then Lower Canada and Upper Canada, in other words, the Quebec and Canada of today.
Infectious diseases did not stop crossing our borders just because we passed this legislation in 1872. In the early 1900s, around 1910 or 1918, right here in Hull, on the other side of the river, a very serious Spanish influenza outbreak killed many people. It decimated entire families. We still see traces of those families today in the names of the hon. members sitting in this House and the people nearby, who live in Hull, in Gatineau. These people probably have in their lineage, among their ancestors, people who died from the Spanish flu. At the time, even though the legislation existed, we did not have the means to enforce or apply it.
As far as such epidemics are concerned, we have to think about all these soldiers we send abroad. Often we pay more attention to what is going on over there in terms of equipment, tools and armament, and not pay much attention to what they might be bringing back with them when they come home. This can be very dangerous for them. These days, a number of women take part in these missions. Many of them come back and can also spread infectious diseases to their families and children because they did not receive the necessary care when they were abroad on a peacekeeping mission or, unfortunately, at war.
It is not enough to have laws, we also need the political will to apply them. We have to start resolving the problems in our own backyard. We currently have tuberculosis epidemics in a number of our first nations communities. It is unthinkable that in 2007 there are still people suffering from tuberculosis. That is the direct responsibility of the federal government. It is a responsibility that it neglects far too often and which it has not respected because the epidemic is spreading, not stopping.
In Kashechewan, people may be forced to leave their homes and to be relocated because their water is not potable. However, they cannot do it today because there is no money. If we have billions of dollars to invest in arms, we should at least have a few million to invest in providing safe, healthy housing where individuals can live with dignity and respect. At present, this is not the case. It is much easier to adopt a laissez-faire attitude. Hundreds, even thousands of individuals will suffer from these illnesses, including tuberculosis and other diseases. They will contract them because of unhealthy living conditions. Nothing is being done about that.
The previous government ratified the Kelowna accord. We all voted in this House to honour that accord. However, the government decided otherwise and is not making any further commitments. That is most unfortunate.
First nations communities, Inuit communities, all these communities find it difficult to carve out a place for themselves in our society. It is difficult for them to have access to adequate health care, appropriate education, and affordable, healthy, safe housing. It is difficult for them, but they have been abandoned even though it is our first responsibility to help them. We abandon them, we do not invest in these societies. Why? Why is there constant encroachment, to the tune of millions of dollars, on provincial responsibilities and jurisdictions when we do not even take care of our own responsibilities?
I do not understand. And yet, some small countries who have very little do much more for their citizens. I regularly visit Cuba, because I love the island and the people. Someone will say to me that they do not have a great deal of freedom, but I sometimes wonder which one of us has more freedom. I know that they have first class health care. All Cubans can study as much and as long as they wish. Education is free. Later, the government assigns the doctors it has trained to various countries to work for humanitarian causes. These doctors are very well trained.
Whenever I go to Cuba, I am never afraid of getting sick. I know I will be taken care of. When we went to Taiwan last fall, my travelling companion got a toothache on Taiwan's national holiday. The person I was with had a toothache. We had to go to a hospital because there are no dental clinics. At the hospital, two doctors took care of us. In under 10 minutes, my companion was in a chair and personnel had administered a sedative and something to take away the pain, and all of this happened on Taiwan's national holiday. Of course, thousands of people live there and their hospitals do not have all the equipment we have here. But their government chooses to invest in human resources to provide a standard of care and services that we rarely find here.
That service standard is rare here largely because of our provincial governments. Why do our respective governments not have enough money? Because previous federal governments cut transfer payments. Beginning in 1994, cuts to provincial transfer payments, including payments to Quebec, resulted in the sorry state of our health care systems today compared to those of some small countries that have much less than we do, but that care about their citizens' health.
We support the principle underlying this bill. We are not against it. Obviously, we cannot be against what is right, but today, as we study this bill, we must ask ourselves a question. Will this bill provide enough money to train quarantine officers? Will enough money be invested in training customs agents and all of the front-line staff who meet people at the border?
That was one of the concerns expressed by the Standing Committee on Health in 2004-05. We were not certain that all steps would be taken in order to enforce Bill C-12. After two years, we see that enforcing it is very difficult indeed, and that it was not really being enforced because there were flaws in the bill. In the years to come, we will likely find other flaws in the bill, given that the Standing Committee on Health had considerable reservations about approving the bill, which was adopted on division.
If we all minded our own business, there would likely be fewer bills of this kind to review. For example, despite what the government thinks, Bill C-2 was adopted very quickly, and a number of its sections are still not in force.
Why are we asked to debate bills that seem so important to the government, only to then have it dismiss everything we determined, everything we decided, everything we wanted to be able to give to our citizens as members of Parliament here in this House? We wonder why.
I do not know. I only hope that, in the future, we will be more careful. If it is true that Bill C-42 is crucial to the proper enforcement of Bill C-12, through the amendment of section 34, it is also true that there are several other sections of the bill that should be reviewed. In enforcing—