Here's a head-scratcher. The federal government gives itself new powers to deal with unsafe consumer products but then cuts the number of safety tests it does by more than half.
I know. It makes no sense to me, either.
Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq tabled figures in the Commons this week that showed her department carried out 269 tests in their product-safety labs in 2011-12, compared with 627 two years earlier, Postmedia News reported.
Annual inspections also dropped to fewer than 5,000, compared with more than 12,050 in 2009-10. The average number of inspections per inspector dropped to an estimated 60 from 121.
The Conservative government's new Consumer Product Safety Act came into effect in June 2011, giving Aglukkaq the power to remove dangerous consumer products from store shelves without delay, Postmedia reported.
The minister, who provided the data in response to a question by NDP consumer-protection critic Glen Thibeault, said the department's new tracking system does not currently allow for counting the exact number of inspections. But she also explained that with the new law coming into force, "inspectors have focused on outreach to industry to raise awareness of their obligations under the Act."
The law now also requires companies to report serious incidents involving their products to Health Canada within two days of learning about them. Industry reported 1,344 incidents in 2011-12 but the department could not say Wednesday how many resulted in a product recall, Postmedia said.
Thibeault called the revelations disappointing.
"So here we've got this great Act, we worked hard getting into place to help protect consumers, and they're doing less and less with it," he told Postmedia. "That is quite sad when you think about what we were talking about at the time. We were talking about cadmium in kids' toys.
"It's not a big deterrent for those companies to have any reason to stop. The inspections are down, the tests that we're carrying out are down and we rarely lay any fines. Canada has to do a better job at protecting our consumers and that's what this bill was supposed to do."
The new law doesn't apply to prescription drugs, foods and natural health products, but a public-sector union warns about trouble there too.
Health Canada's Products and Food Branch, within the Natural Health Products Directorate that is part of the Bureau of Product Review and Assessment is among the units being hit by a second round of staff cuts in the department this year.
"They are scientists tasked with reviewing and regulating natural health products destined for the Canadian marketplace," the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada said Thursday in a news release.
"Is it really wise to cut back on these positions just to save a few dollars?" asked institute president Gary Corbett. "Natural health products are gaining in popularity and consumers need to know that they are safe.
"Historically, little attention was paid to these types of products by regulators but that has recently begun to change. It's difficult to understand the government's strategy. On the one hand it wants stricter monitoring of this product category, but on the other it's ready to let go the people whose job it is to protect the health of Canadians."
The union said 56 Health Canada professionals were told Thursday their positions would be "affected" by cuts to programs and services. It said a total of 5,250 of its members have received a workforce adjustment notice since the government tabled its 2012 budget.