Prime Minister Stephen Harper says his Conservative government's overhaul of Canada's outdated product safety laws shows it won't tolerate unsafe drugs and consumer goods.

"These measures represent an extraordinarily tough approach to consumer health and safety," Harper told a news conference in Ottawa on Tuesday.

For the minority of companies that don't take consumer safety seriously, "Be warned -- you will face severe punishment if you wilfully expose Canadians to danger," he said.

In noting the range of stories about consumer product safety--or lack thereof--over the past year, Harper said, "Product safety in Canada needs to be more rigorous."

He said several key pieces of legislation haven't been updated in decades, despite the fact products are flowing into Canada from factories all over the world.

"We need to set and enforce state-of-the-art safety standards on domestic and imported goods," he said.

Harper said Tuesday's move follows on the Food and Consumer Safety Action Plan his government released last December, when product recalls reached crisis proportions.

Health Minister Tony Clement said the government is tabling a new Canada Consumer Product Safety Act plus making substantial amendments to the Food and Drugs Act.

The minister said the legislation and regulations will:

  • Allow Health Canada to be more proactive in informing industry about its obligations;
  • Develop stringent manufacturing standards for consumer products;
  • Educate industry, importers and sellers about their respective obligations;
  • Require industry to report any injuries, near misses or product defects; and
  • Enhance government authority to order corrective measures, including the power of mandatory product recall -- something previously restricted to food products

"All of these things will occur and they'll help sift out some of the bad guys," Clement told CTV's Mike Duffy Live.

For the first time, he said, the government will take an approach to product safety that is both proactive and reactive at the same time.

"We're saying we want to be actively involved in the prevention so we're going to put an onus on the manufacturer to make sure his product is safe before he sells it," Clement told CTV's Mike Duffy Live.

"We're going to increase the fines, increase the inspections, increase the number of inspectors and we're going to make sure when it comes to the safety of our drugs that there's a mandatory reporting of adverse reactions so that we get the information a lot more quickly and are able to protect Canadian patients better."

More staff will be hired to help the department carry out these new responsibilities. They will carry out more surveillance on products already in the marketplace, he said.

"For the most egregious offenders, our government is increasing the maximum fine for unsafe consumer products from $1 million to $5 million per offence," Clement said.

The revamped drug law will require health care institutions to report adverse drug reactions, he said.

For drugs, fines will shoot up from $5,000 to $5 million and beyond, he said.

Emile Therrien, former president of the Canada Safety Council, said the new initiatives will only be effective if the government follows through on its pledge to dedicate the necessary resources and enforce the rules.

"You (must) put the people in place to make it go, and to make absolutely sure that the enforcement process will be in place to make sure those companies that do not comply with the legislation are punished, and punished severely, because we're talking about threats to the public safety and the public health of Canadians," Therrien told CTV Newsnet.

He said the legislation appears to be a step in the right direction and said drugs, especially, must be subject to stringent testing, since people's lives often hang in the balance.

"People really depend on these drugs and they really depend on the people who prescribe and test these drugs and I think it's absolutely critical we do the right thing. In my opinion it's very, very difficult to fast-track this type of process."

The expected bill comes after a number of high profile recalls in the past two years.

Toy company Mattel recalled more than 21 million of its toys last summer. There were concerns about children's health from lead paint and small magnets in some products.

Pet owners were also shaken in 2007 by a recall at Menu Foods after concerns that it had sold pet food containing melamine.

There were 90 recalls in Canada in 2007, nearly triple the amount in 2006, which saw only 32 recalls.