It’s hard to pin down where Yukon politicians stand on Bill C-51, that promises to regulate natural health products.
Across Canada, politicians have been getting an earful from constituents about the controversial bill. Many fear the proposed legislation will limit the availability and increase the price of vitamins and herbal supplements.
A recent public meeting was called to discuss the issue, and ways to stop it. The meeting was hosted by New Democrat Olivia Chow, a Toronto MP and wife of party leader Jack Layton, at Hellaby Hall.
Those at the meeting decided to enlist Yukon MP Larry Bagnell’s support to vote against the bill in Parliament.
Problem was, people didn’t know where he stood on the bill.
One man said Bagnell, while at a community barbecue, had vowed to oppose the bill.
Another man, attending the same barbecue, thought Bagnell supported an amended bill.
Both were right.
“Basically there are positives and negatives about the bill,” said Bagnell on Tuesday.
“There are changes that have to be made. In fact, all the parties want amendments to it.”
His explanation hinged on arcane parliamentary procedures.
The Liberal Party won’t vote for the bill unless it goes to parliamentary committee before second reading, said Bagnell.
Normally, bills go to committee for adjustments and minor amendments after second reading.
However, substantial changes cannot be made to the bill after it is given second reading.
So, instead, Bagnell wants the legislation significantly tweaked before that.
“We’ll see when they table the bill again — are they going to do what we said and take the bill to committee or are they going to try to force it through?”
If the Conservative government forces it through, Bagnell and the Liberal Party will vote the bill down.
There have been many concerns about the bill since the Conservative government introduced it in April.
Bill C-51 proposes to create changes to the Food and Drug Act for the first time in 50 years.
These would include tougher standards on pharmaceutical companies.
However, vitamins, minerals, herbal products, homeopathic medicines and other natural health products will also be included in the new legislation, all lumped under the drug category.
Some fear that because of this, as much as 75 per cent of natural health products could be deemed illegal if the bill is passed by Parliament.
“There should be consultations with First Nations related to any effects it may have on their gathering and use of traditional medicine,” said Bagnell.
“Certainly they should consult with anyone that has an interest in these products.”
Natural health product distributors are also troubled by the enforcement regime.
The bill gives large powers to government inspectors who are able to confiscate products and hold them indefinitely.
“Another concern I have is that because they have this power of inspection, it’s a huge cost to the taxpayer, going around and inspecting every shop,” said Bagnell.
“So I want to make sure it doesn’t lead to excessive inspection just to avoid having litigation against the federal government.
“They may take it to the extreme, which would be a nuisance to the pharmacies and the people selling the various natural products.”
Many opponents of Bill C-51 say that natural health products deserve their own act, separate from food and drugs.
“There are amendments proposed for the fall that would do exactly that — it would make a separate category for natural health products,” said Bagnell.
“They’re actually being proposed by the Conservatives, which means they shouldn’t have trouble getting through.”
A separate act would mean that amendments would be subject to parliamentary review.
In Bill C-51, natural health products are controlled through regulations, which can easily be changed by the health minister.
This ensures you don’t have to change the act every time you want to make a small administrative change, said Bagnell.
“My concern is that the items that are left to regulation in this act are only minor administrative changes and that major changes go before Parliament.”
“We agree with the modification that the government proposed, but we still have serious concerns about the bill,” said Yukon Green Party candidate John Streicker.
“It gives government broad-reaching powers to regulate the sale of vitamins, supplements and other natural health products without the review of Parliament.”
Also, the bill hands too much power and reach to product inspectors, he said.
“A lot is at stake here and we need to get this right.”
Darrell Pasloski, the Yukon’s Conservative Party candidate, who is also the owner of two local Shoppers Drug Marts, could not be reached for comment.