Health Canada kills off paper in pesticide registration

Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) has developed what it calls the world’s first Web-based service for undertaking pesticide regulatory transactions.

The PMRA Electronic Regulatory System, called e-PRS, aims to change the agency’s paper-based system to an electronic

one and influence the way the world regulates pesticides.

The Canadian government can claim to be the first in this arena — at least on a federal level — based on comparisons with other members of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, said Micheline Zdunich, senior project officer for PMRA.

“”Whether it’s the USEPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency), or Australia, or the EU, this is certainly the first business-to-government Web-based portal to be able to conduct these transactions,”” said Zdunich.

In recent weeks, she said, her agency has received delegations from some of these regulatory groups interested in learning more about Canada’s acheivements.

The portal, created with the help of Montreal-based systems integrator CGI Group Inc., will allow pesticide companies to conduct secure transactions when submitting applications and to provide essential health and environmental information to the PMRA more quickly using the Internet and Canada’s Government Online secure channel service.

Under the new system, firms now have to enroll in the e-PRS program “”and demonstrate to us that they are capable, legally allowed, to hold a pesticide registration,”” explained Zdunich.

Zdunich said once they enroll, the system determines whether they are qualified to do business with PMRA, at which point companies can activate their account by going through the Canadian government’s Secure Channel, a portfolio of services that forms the foundation of the Government On-line (GOL) initiative.

Following that, pesticide organizations are able to go online and submit to PMRA electronic scientific data that’s required before using a pesticide in Canada, said Zdunich.

The old system had its drawbacks, Zdunich explains. “”We used to receive truckloads of paper….A given submission could be anywhere from one full, complete, let’s say, cubicle full of data. Now it can just come in on CD or disk or over this pipe.””

Although PMRA has stuck to “”solid, but basic, tools”” to build its portal, Zdunich said, the failure to find a security solution within the government or via industry that would protect stakeholder data held up progress. This is why the launch of the government’s Secure Channel service has been “”critical for us,”” she explained.

“”This whole project was an exercise in managing technical hurdles,”” continued Zdunich. She said PMRA had problems dealing with the development environment of CGI as well as its own. To make matters worse, the secure channel was being upgraded over the past six months and impacted PMRA’s application, Zdunich added.

Zdunich said the project, which has overcome technical imperfections, was conceived seven years ago when the agency began wrestling with pressures around new products going online, “”the complexity of the science”” and limited resources.

“”But the bottom line is now we have a new legislation that’s coming in to force (an updated version of the Pest Control Products Act), and we have increasing demands to be more transparent with the public as well.””

Although it’s taken several years to roll out the portal, “”every one or two years we’ve rolled out a major component of this project,”” she said, noting, for example, the agency completed its internal document management capability in 2001/02.

The portal cost $2 million to build, going over budget by 10 per cent to 15 per cent due to difficulties integrating the government’s Secure Channel.

The completion of the electronic pesticide regulatory system comes several months after the Auditor General of Canada delivered a critical report on the country’s Government On-Line project, which was described as missing deadlines, having an unknown price tag and being unspecific about department plans.

Chris Bishop, president of Public Sector Research in Oakville, Ont., is uncertain how the completion of the online pesticide regulatory system stacks up against the government’s other electronic initiatives in terms of sticking to budget and deadlines.

“”Many, many projects have met their targeted dates. There’s none that I know of that are struggling,”” he said, adding that the field work for the Auditor-General’s report was conducted 18 months ago. “”The key, important ones have had the resources necessary to get the job done.

“”I mean, if you look at Canada Revenue Agency, if you look at Statistics Canada, if you look at Human Resources Canada — I mean those guys have delivered lots and lots of e-enabled applications that work very well.””

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