House of Commons Hansard #85 of the 35th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was trade.

Topics

Canadian Food Inspection Agency Act
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Bloc

Pauline Picard Drummond, QC

Madam Speaker, Bill C-60 is entitled an act to establish the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and to repeal and amend other Acts as a consequence. It sets up the Canadian Food Inspection Agency in order to consolidate and enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of federal inspection services related to food and animal and plant health as well as to increase co-operation between the federal and provincial governments in this area.

This agency will take over from the old Interdepartmental Committee on Food Regulation established in 1986. Thus there will be only one body in this area at the federal level.

The bill also sets out the responsibilities, accountability regime, organization, human and financial resources regime, powers and reporting framework of the agency. It also amends some of the enforcement provisions and penalties in federal statutes that the agency will enforce or administer, with regard to food and animal and plant health.

Simplifying the food inspection system in order to eliminate duplication, to enhance trade and improve enforcement of regulations relating to food safety is a very commendable objective. It has been set forth in the last federal budget and relatively well accepted by Quebec as well as other provincial governments.

I should mention that the auditor general, in his 1994 report, strongly recommended that the food safety assurance system be reviewed in order to deal with its numerous flaws. More specifically, he singled out the Interdepartmental Committee on Food Regulation for its lack of consistency. This committee, made up of representatives from Health Canada, Agriculture and Agri-Food, Fisheries and Oceans and Revenue Canada, has not always fulfilled its mandate of bringing specific changes to the food safety assurance system and of enhancing innovation and efficiency in relation to inspection methods.

Moreover, the committee has failed to report the results of its investigation as required in its mandate. The auditor general has also emphasized the inability of Health Canada to guarantee complete and effective enforcement. In a nutshell, the auditor general and most stakeholders think our food inspection system should be reviewed.

The goal of having in the federal government a single window for food inspection is commendable, but the way the federal government wants to go about it is totally unacceptable and is just one more example of federal intrusion into areas of provincial jurisdiction. In a way, Bill C-60 flies directly in the face of the repeatedly expressed will of Quebec to take on all its responsibilities under the Constitution.

Even if this bill did recognize the existing areas of jurisdiction, the present wording of several clauses still makes Bill C-60 a bad bill that would not meet the goals expressed therein, and it would still incur the official opposition's condemnation.

For example, the government maintains it is looking for a more efficient federal service for food, animal and plant inspection. In a system such as ours, with elected representatives, efficiency and openness often go hand in hand. When things are done behind closed doors, the interests of people behind the door are often well looked after at the expense of the public left outside.

In Bill C-60, the government had many opportunities to show it cares for openness. For example, clause 5 stipulates:

The Governor in Council shall appoint a President and an Executive Vice-President of the Agency to hold office during pleasure for a term not exceeding five years, which term may be renewed for one or more further terms.

There is no consultation, no consideration in committee, nothing of the kind. Only unilateral appointments made at the whim of the government.

Of course, the official opposition cannot support that section the way it is drafted. It would open the door to discrimination and patronage. If the federal government really wanted to be transparent, it would have ensured that these appointments could be examined by Parliament. These appointments should be submitted to the Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food at least for consideration, if not for final approval.

The same thing goes for clause 10, which deals with the advisory board and reads as follows:

(1) The Minister shall appoint an advisory board of not more than twelve members to hold office during pleasure for a term not exceeding three years, which term may be renewed for one or more further terms.

Again, it is unacceptable for a minister to act alone in appointing the members of the advisory board. Since this board is responsible for helping the minister choose the policies he has to implement, it is important that all the appointments referred to in this clause be reviewed by the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food. Therefore, the minister will not be able to yield to temptation and appoint his buddies or people who share his philosophy.

Another bit of lip service on the part of the government is co-operation with the government of Quebec and of all the other provinces. However, there is absolutely no mention of this in Bill C-60. Yet, this was a great opportunity. When appointing a board to advise the minister, the government could have guaranteed representation for Quebec, which accounts for 25 per cent of the Canadian population, and ensured that at least one member of the advisory board out of four is from Quebec so that the Quebec's point of view would be well represented on the board. Moreover, these appointments could have been approved by the provinces.

But, once more, the lip service expressed loud and long does not translate into government action. Subclause 4 of this clause provides that the minister shall appoint one of the members as chairperson of the advisory board. Again, the minister wants to

control the agency by appointing himself the chairperson of the advisory board.

Instead of letting competent people in the field who have to work with the food inspection staff choose a chairperson themselves, the minister will probably appoint one of his friends or one of his devotees who will defend his point of view at all times. This lack of transparency is apparent in the phrasing of several of Bill C-60's clauses: clause 22-corporate business plan, clause 23-annual report, clause 26-consultation, clause 32-annual audit, or any other clause concerning appointments or reports.

These actions must be examined and approved by the standing committee. Then, these appointments and changes could be submitted to the House, to all hon. members. This is not unreasonable. In a democratic system, there is never enough transparency, and prevention is better than cure.

Finally, clause 11 deals with the responsibilities of the new Canadian Food Inspection Agency. This agency would be responsible for the administration and enforcement of various existing federal statutes. So far, so good.

However, subclause 4 of this section reads as follows: "The Minister of Health is responsible for establishing policies and standards relating to the safety and nutritional quality of food sold in Canada." In this regard, the position of the Quebec government and of the official opposition is crystal clear.

I do not know how many times in the last three years I have quoted this section, which is part of the Constitution: "Under section 92, subsections 7 and 5 of the Constitution Act of 1867, and pursuant to the interpretation of many courts, health and social services are the exclusive jurisdiction of the provinces".

In closing, the Bloc Quebecois has always demanded that the federal government respect the jurisdiction of the provinces regarding health care and we intend to call upon the Liberals to withdraw from this field and to transfer to the province of Quebec all federal moneys regarding Quebec's health care. I think that the Bloc Quebecois will not support Bill C-60 in its present form.

Canadian Food Inspection Agency Act
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Bloc

Antoine Dubé Lévis, QC

Madam Speaker, first, allow me to note the lack of interest shown by the government party and the third party on this bill since the Bloc Quebevois-

Canadian Food Inspection Agency Act
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Joe Volpe Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Why do you say that? Where are the members of the Bloc? We are here.

Canadian Food Inspection Agency Act
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Bloc

Antoine Dubé Lévis, QC

Only the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health seems to be interested.

I note also that the Liberal government is proceeding in a rather unusual way. It did the same thing in the case of employment insurance, that is it resorted to the pre-examination process in order to skip second reading, which is essential in a democracy, under our parliamentary procedure, as we could have suggested amendments at this stage.

But no, once again, the government is trying to ram things through Parliament and flouts democracy. Like my colleagues, I am in favour of the establishment, by the federal government, of a single food inspection agency.

Members may find it strange that a sovereignist is supporting the establishment of a Canadian agency in the health sector. Let me explain. Between 1980 and 1985, I worked for the former Minister of Agriculture of Québec.

Canadian Food Inspection Agency Act
Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup, QC

The best.

Canadian Food Inspection Agency Act
Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

Bloc

Antoine Dubé Lévis, QC

Yes, at the time, everything was working fine in the agriculture sector. You will recall that, since 1978 at least, Quebec has been combining, various services in the agri-food sector. Quebec's agriculture department is called Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food, and is also responsible for fishing and marketing.

Being bigger, the federal government was slower to react. Finally, in 1996, almost 18 years later, it realized that it had to combine three food inspection services from three different departments. Not so long ago, Industry Canada also had its own inspection service.

We have been told that this ought to be done because it represents savings of $40 million. If the figures are right, and if we add them all together over a period of, let us say, 10 years, it means that because of its lack of efficiency and of duplication in three of its own departments, the government lost $400 million. It now recognizes that it has been inefficient for 18 years. That is unacceptable.

Yes, we want the federal government to put its house in order but, as usual, a number of clauses in this bill will make it possible, through the Department of Agriculture and other departments, for the government to infringe on provincial jurisdiction. The bill reads in part that the federal government may enter into agreements with the provinces, but I doubt that it will because most of the time it does not.

The Quebec government gave its approval to the spirit of the bill, but last summer, at a meeting of agriculture ministers, the Quebec minister, speaking for his government, said: "The premiers urge the ministers concerned to ask that the Canadian food inspection system's implementation group recommend before the end of the year ways to set up a Canadian food inspection system. That is true.

At the annual agriculture ministers' conference held in Victoria on July 3 and 4, the ministers adopted the wording proposed by the Quebec minister, which reminded the federal government that the

Quebec government intended to co-operate in eliminating overlap and duplication, but asked that Quebec's jurisdiction be respected.

Since I am familiar with agriculture, I know that Quebec has about 495 officials working in food inspection and that in the three federal departments mentioned in the bill there are at least 600 officials involved in food inspection in Quebec. I talk about Quebec because it is the province I know best.

So, there is a total of 1,100 federal and provincial employees to inspect food in Quebec. I can understand that the federal government wanted to streamline its services. But it should go a step further and respect provincial jurisdiction.

If the federal government is sincere in its willingness to work with the provinces, it should negotiate with the Quebec agriculture department a way for the provinces to apply the required standards because food products do not only travel from province to province, but also to other countries. So the federal government would set common standards that would be accepted by the provincial agriculture ministers and by the federal minister, and Quebec, which has already integrated its services and which acted a long time ago to eliminate overlap, would apply these standards.

One food inspection service, with responsibilities for municipalities with regard to the third market is the one for distribution in Montreal, Quebec City, Sherbrooke and Trois-Rivières. We have already made arrangements with these municipalities so they can enforce the regulations in restaurants because it is more easily done at the municipal level.

The federal government should do the same thing as Quebec did with its large cities and work out an integrated action plan with Quebec so we no longer have two kinds of food inspectors: type A, B and C laboratories. This system often causes confusion, and some agricultural producers, depending on the region, are affected by this conflict between two jurisdictions.

Yes, this bill is an improvement, or it would be more accurate to describe it as policy of the not so bad, because the federal government has been inefficient in the area of food inspection for at least 20 years. We hope it will be more efficient in the future, and the ideal situation would be a co-operative arrangement between the federal government and the Quebec government to eliminate overlap and create a fully integrated and coherent network.

Canadian Food Inspection Agency Act
Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to the bill establishing the Canadian Food Inspection Agency for a number of reasons. The first is that it is a fine example of the good faith shown by Quebec's sovereignists in their belief in the importance of having a free and open economic association in Canada for the future.

With the federal government, we have a situation where three departments, Health Canada, Agriculture Canada and Fisheries and Oceans, have, for many years now, in the course of their activities, been stepping on each other's feet. We also have horror stories to tell, which, I hope, will no longer be the case with the new legislation. In any event, let us hope that these changes will help to improve matters. I will give you an example.

It concerns a farmer in my riding, a producer of pure-bred sheep, who, last year, was the victim of a completely inexplicable change in behaviour from the Canadian bureaucracy.

In the past, when there were signs of illness in his flock, or in the flock of any other producer, the exposed animals were put down, and the producer was compensated accordingly.

Last year, the regulation was changed, and we spent a long time looking for an explanation. Now, the affected animals are placed in quarantine. That is all very fine and well when you have large flocks, like they do out west, where there are some very large operations. But, when you are looking at small operations, such as in Quebec right now, this jeopardizes the producer's reputation and it does so for several years. There could have been an error at a given time, but small operations must not be shut down and, because of one error, producers prevented from continuing to operate. This was an example of too many cooks spoiling the broth. Certain policies do not necessarily apply in the same way, say as between Quebec and western Canada, but it could be the Maritimes. It could be different between large and small centres. We must continue to have latitude.

Therefore, we are in favour, if the food inspection issue can be simplified, and if there can be harmonization so that our operations can be as competitive as possible

The other horror story I would like to tell you is about a small abattoir in my riding, which slaughters a number of different types of animal. It has been systematically hit hard by the department, almost picked on, with a demand that it comply overnight, or nearly, with exactly the same standards as a multinational meat packing plant would have to meet. This causes problems, for it can mean the death of small businesses. Solutions to problems of this kind must be found.

So, if creation of a federal food inspection agency enables us to do away with these picky standards, and to have more appropriate behaviour by inspectors, as well as fewer rules to make problems for organizations, all the better.

There is no question of doing away with food safety standards. Everyone agrees that we need topnotch safety standards, which are exactly what is required for consumer satisfaction, but at the same

time, we must not place businesses in situations that cannot be remedied in the short term. They must be given time to make adjustments, and the type of market they are in also needs to be take into account, so as to not necessarily apply the same standards to a multinational as to a small business.

This is where Bill C-60 falls down. It is a bill which will return management of food inspection once again into the hands of people who are not necessarily experts in the field-which seems to be a trend with this government. There is a good deal of latitude concerning partisan appointments to the board which will administer the act, and corrections are therefore required in this aspect of it.

Indeed, we intend to work on this. I would like to quote the position taken by the Quebec government at a conference of the ministers concerned by the creation of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Quebec, in a show of good faith, said the following: "The Premier urges the ministers concerned to ask that the Canadian food inspection system's implementation group recommend ways to set up a Canadian food inspection system that respects the jurisdictions of all governments". So this was an honest gesture.

In other words, we were saying: At last you are streamlining your operations by having only one agency instead of three. So if you do that properly and respect the jurisdictions of all governments as reflected in a future agreement, we are showing our good faith and are prepared to sit down at the table with representatives of the federal, provincial and territorial governments.

Interestingly, this attitude is inspired by the European Union model, a kind of common legislative basis. If it works, it will be an example of how partnership, for instance, could work between a sovereign Quebec and Canada. It could be a very interesting exercise, and we have already had an example of this-although Diane Francis and the Financial Post may not agree-in the dairy production sector, where Canada's major dairy provinces, with the exception of British Columbia, have created an open market. Irrespective of the status of the Quebec government, there would be this open market, which would continue to develop now and in the future, so that the system would work effectively.

The same option is on the table now. When we say that the sovereignists want to help build a satisfactory economic market in Canada, this is a concrete example.

So we agree with creating only one agency, provided it respects the jurisdictions of each sector. I think that if the federal government does its streamlining but on the other hand continues to infringe on Quebec's jurisdictions, we will not have solved a thing. It will then be up to the federal government to deal with this. However, if creating the agency helps to clarify the situation, if it helps make our businesses more competitive and allows for the fact that the local slaughterhouse in Saint-Pascal-de-Kamouraska cannot be expected to meet the same stringent standards one would apply to a multinational, it could be an interesting development.

But in that case, it will be necessary to respect the various jurisdictions. If the federal government says it is wall to wall from Vancouver to Halifax and the same standards apply everywhere, we will be stuck with the same problems. However, if the government streamlines its operations by creating an agency that will respect the jurisdictions of all concerned and apply standards that are satisfactory to this province within the provincial context, we may get some interesting results.

In concluding, to achieve this the federal government will have to eliminate the partisan aspect of the way it appoints the people who will manage the system.

The commission which will be responsible for management will probably be strongly influenced by the position of the government. People appointed by a province and, within the agency, people coming from a province but appointed by the federal government and provincial authorities could still work at cross purposes. Jurisdictions will have to be clearly respected.

We have an opportunity before us. Sovereignists from Quebec are open to trade with the rest of Canada, they trust Canada and showing their good faith. If the federal government changed some aspects of its act and reviewed its operation, we would have before us an interesting model which could be exported and which would bring Canadians to understand that sovereignty and partnership are the way of future not only of Quebec but of Canada as a whole.

Canadian Food Inspection Agency Act
Government Orders

4 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Ringuette-Maltais)

Is the House ready for the question?

Canadian Food Inspection Agency Act
Government Orders

4 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

Canadian Food Inspection Agency Act
Government Orders

4 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Ringuette-Maltais)

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Canadian Food Inspection Agency Act
Government Orders

4 p.m.

Some hon. Members

Agreed.

Canadian Food Inspection Agency Act
Government Orders

4 p.m.

Some hon. Members

No.

Canadian Food Inspection Agency Act
Government Orders

4 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Ringuette-Maltais)

All those in favour will please say yea.

Canadian Food Inspection Agency Act
Government Orders

4 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Canadian Food Inspection Agency Act
Government Orders

4 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Ringuette-Maltais)

All those opposed will please say nay.