This week is another very active one in Ottawa. On Monday our Government tabled a motion to extend the House of Commons sitting hours until midnight each evening to allow for more opportunity to debate the many bills still moving through the House. At the time of writing, the motion for extended hours has so far been supported by the Liberals and opposed by the NDP.
One of the Bills up for debate this week that I have spoken in support of is Bill C-17 “Protecting Canadians from Unsafe Drugs Act”- also known as “Vanessa`s law” as a result of the untimely passing of a 15 year old girl who was prescribed the drug “Prepulsid” that subsequently caused a fatal heart attack.
Ultimately this tragedy has illustrated that Canada`s drug protection laws are out of date and in my view do not provide sufficient protections for Canadians.
As I shared in the House of Commons that under our current Food and Drug Act, if a drug poses an unacceptable risk to patient health only the drug manufacturers can initiate a recall. In other words it is up to the manufacturer to determine whether or not a health risk is serious enough to warrant a recall. Health Canada plays a secondary role. In fact, under our current laws Government cannot step in and order a manufacturer to recall a drug that is unsafe. Where our existing laws become more bizarre is that if something like a candy bar is deemed unsafe to the public- the Minister of Health can issue a recall. To summarize: the Minister of Health can issue recalls for dangerous and unsafe foods, but not for dangerous and unsafe drugs. In my view this is completely unacceptable and why I am supporting Bill C-17 that proposes to remedy this by ensuring the Minister of Health has mandatory recall power to compel a manufacturer to recall a drug if it is determined to present a serious or imminent risk of injury to Canadians. Bill C-17 also applies to medical devices and provides significantly increased fines and potential for prison time in circumstances of very serious offences. Health Canada will also retain flexibility to provide exemptions in special circumstances where unique health care considerations exist.
Another new measure approved this week that is long overdue are changes that will allow airline passengers to use portable electronic devices for the entire duration of a flight including takeoff and landings, provided the device is in non-transmitting “airplane mode”. These changes are enabled through an exemption to the Canadian Aviation Regulations and require individual airlines to apply for the exemption and implement specific measures that incorporate these changes. It is estimated airlines may require 6 months to a year to complete this process.
I would also like to thank District of West Kelowna Mayor Findlater, council and staff for extremely constructive and valuable input on Canada’s gas tax program. Last summer I was fortunate that our Prime Minister and Government caucus MPs from British Columbia accepted my invitation to meet in West Kelowna. During our meetings the leadership from West Kelowna was able to provide very specific suggestions on how gas tax funding can work better for municipalities and local government. These changes were also largely endorsed by other communities such as Summerland and Kelowna. Working with MP Ron Cannan in Ottawa on these proposals and the BC caucus has been successful as the new gas tax agreement announced last week will result in our Okanagan-Coquihalla communities having access to more funding than under the previous deal and greater flexibility and options for projects that reflect local priorities. This stands as a good example of different levels of Government working together to reduce regulatory red tape and create a more efficient and workable process.
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Dan Albas is the Member of Parliament for the riding of Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola.