House of Commons Hansard #119 of the 35th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was agriculture.

Topics

Committees Of The House
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11:20 a.m.

An hon. member

No.

Committees Of The House
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11:20 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Milliken)

There is not unanimous consent. Or did the no mean yes and it is agreed that we can consider the motion?

Committees Of The House
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11:20 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Committees Of The House
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11:20 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Milliken)

The House has heard the terms of the motion proposed by the parliamentary secretary. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Committees Of The House
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11:20 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Motion agreed to.)

The House resumed consideration of Bill C-60, an act to establish the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and to repeal and amend other Acts as a consequence, as reported by the committee with amendments, and of Motions Nos. 1, 13, 22 and 23.

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December 12th, 1996 / 11:20 a.m.

Bloc

Jean-Guy Chrétien Frontenac, QC

Mr. Speaker, since you have done such a nice job of reading the amendments, which we introduced this morning with the help of my colleague, the member for Lotbinière, and since you have grouped the motions, including Motions No. 1, 13, 22 and 23, in Group 3, you will note that they refer essentially to the federal government's intention of interfering in an area of provincial jurisdiction. Naturally, we must condemn this vigorously throughout this 35th Parliament, since this government takes advantage of its vast spending authority to blunder into areas of jurisdiction that, in many cases, are strictly the preserve of the provinces.

I am pleased to lead off the debate at report stage of Bill C-60. Through this legislative measure, the federal government is getting ready to create the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

The basic responsibility of this new parapublic agency will be to set standards for the safety, quality and manufacture of Canadian food products, as well as to develop minimum standards for imported products. This is obviously a very weighty responsibility for the government, and I am not in any way questioning the good intentions of the departments involved or their concern for public health.

However, I would like to remind the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and the cabinet generally that their policies are hardly original.

I would point out that Quebec has had unified food inspection services for close to 20 years, yes, a 20-year head start on Canada. The federal government has wasted 20 years meddling in provincial jurisdictions in an attempt to get a glimpse of what they were up to so that it could then turn around and adopt the same strategies.

In terms of results, it would be hard to think of a worse approach, but then this is typical of this country: going over old ground, rewriting existing legislation, and changing the commas in order to be able to call it something new. Finally, let us return to the initial point of my speech, instead of launching into a stinging criticism of the state of this over-bureaucratized country.

As I was saying before, the purpose of Bill C-60 is to establish the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Although this agency comes under the jurisdiction of the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, it will consolidate the inspection services of two other major departments: Health and Fisheries. This leads me to believe that the federal government has studied the Quebec model thoroughly, for the bill provides for essentially the same bodies as in the Quebec government's system.

But the worst is yet to come. In its bill, the government calls for the agency, once created, to take precedence over all other food inspection systems. I find this federal attitude more than a little insolent.

I would like to draw the attention of the minister and his cabinet colleagues to a concept that is very simple, but ever so hard for the federalists to grasp: interference. This is a gift possessed by certain categories of people, particularly those elected members who belong to a federalist party, to duplicate, and even to deny the existence of, Quebec's distinctiveness in administrative and other matters.

Parliamentary rules prevent me from naming these individuals who are such past masters of the art of denying Quebec its fundamental right to affirm its identity and its distinctiveness. I cannot name names, but I can assure you that there are so many of them in this House, that they take up more than one side of it.

We in the Bloc Quebecois believe that the government is showing its arrogance toward Quebec and the other provinces by attempting, in the preamble of this bill, to assume a certain legitimate right over provincial activities.

In this connection, our amendment is aimed at limiting the impact of such an element, which would have the effect of dismissing all of Quebec's demands in one fell swoop. For decades, the provinces, Quebec in particular, have been objecting to the federal government's attempts to restrict some of the provinces' vested powers, and even to grab up those powers, without any consideration of the provinces' constitutional jurisdiction in these spheres of activity.

The federal government is increasingly moving to centralize powers, while continuing to claim that it is doing the contrary, in order to downplay its illegitimate actions. Such cavalier interference into areas of provincial jurisdiction cannot help but slow down the constructive discourse that could be initiated between the provinces and the federal government. The Liberal Party, with its eye on the next election, is in the process of undermining the credibility of the agency in question. According to Liberal logic, the agency could control all food inspection services in the country by developing national standards. To us this is unacceptable, because it considerably restricts the ability of the provinces to establish and administer their own set of standards.

The provinces would otherwise be free to decide whether or not they wished to go along with certain food safety standards that are more a matter of local custom than public health. Perhaps I may recall what happened last spring, when the Bloc Quebecois protested against the decision of the Minister of Health to prohibit and indeed ban consumption of raw milk cheese.

You will recall that Quebec is by far the biggest consumer of this kind of cheese. In the other provinces where this kind of cheese is eaten, consumers are mostly former Quebecers or people who have been to Quebec and who appreciate this type of cheese. This is one example of eating habits in Quebec that are different from those in other parts of Canada.

At the Department of Health, people were thinking about all this, and probably because they had nothing else to do and had to justify their pay cheque, they said: "From now on, no more raw milk cheese will be imported or manufactured; cheese will have to be made with pasteurized milk". Of course there was a howl of protest from the official opposition, supported by consumers. I remember that someone put a question about this to the Minister of Labour, whose roots are Italian. I cannot refer to him by name, but he is a fellow citizen, formerly from Italy. When he saw he would no longer be able to get his favourite cheese, he said: "Oh dear, I will have to talk about this to my minister, because she is making a serious mistake". See, that is a good example.

In the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean area, they make a kind of tourtière called cipâte, made with partridge and hare. It is a local specialty. Tomorrow morning, an inspector with the new agency might say: "Cipâte is no good; it might be dangerous to the health of the people of Lac-Saint-Jean. So there will be a nation-wide ban on making tourtières with hare and partridge".

I realize you are going to say I am exaggerating. Eighteen months ago, who would have thought that a few senior officials at the Department of health would consider banning the consumption of the best cheese in Canada? But it happened.

Without the media coverage, the government would never have backed down under pressure from the Bloc Quebecois. Not that the Bloc was incapable of doing a good job as the official opposition, but because the government, although this is a constitutional monarchy, often behaves like an autocratic and totalitarian government. It prefers to ignore the public interest and support the interests of the major lobby groups, while maintaining an illusion of power based on order and the public good.

In concluding, Bill C-60 is an important bill that will affect three departments. We in the Bloc Quebecois found a number of weak points in Bill C-60.

We intend to introduce more than 35 amendments in the course of the day, and my colleagues and I will do everything we can to try and make the Liberal majority think twice. I know that several people on the government benches think our amendments are very constructive and could improve the bill considerably. The purpose of the first group of amendments is simply to prevent the federal government from infringing on provincial jurisdictions.

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11:40 a.m.

Reform

Elwin Hermanson Kindersley—Lloydminster, SK

Mr. Speaker, we are at the report stage of Bill C-60. My colleague from the Bloc Quebecois has proposed a large number of amendments.

This bill went to committee prior to second reading, and the purpose of a bill's going to a standing committee of the House of Commons before coming to this House for approval in principle is to allow the committee more opportunity to make amendments and reshape the bill in the most effective and useful manner after hearing witnesses and government officials give reason for the bill and what should be in it and what should be changed from the initial bill tabled.

Reform tried to use this opportunity to introduce several amendments at committee stage. In fact, 25 Reform amendments were proposed in committee during the clause by clause consideration of the bill after we had heard from a number of witnesses.

Because we have introduced our amendments at committee stage we of course are unable to reintroduce the same amendments at report stage. Therefore we have not introduced amendments at this point because we sensed a wall of resistance by the government to any proposals we would make.

The rationale behind the majority of our amendments to this bill was simply to make the new single food inspection agency more accountable to Parliament. I have noticed that some of the amendments proposed by my colleagues from the Bloc Quebecois move in that same direction, but often in a slightly different vein than those amendments we proposed. Even in committee my colleagues from the Bloc and Reformers often voted together on issues where we could make the food inspection agency more accountable to the Parliament of Canada and not just leave it as an option that the committee at the wishes of the government could look into the effectiveness of this new agency, but in fact that it must review the effectiveness of the agency and that the agency must be more accountable to this institution.

Over the years Parliament has less knowledge and less control over what is happening in the vast bureaucracy, the new agencies that have been constructed by governments. We feel that the trend needs to be reversed.

While the government members of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food could at any time review anything, we all know that because the committee has a majority of government members, the committee need not review anything if the government does not wish it to.

We are trying to reverse that trend so that government will be seen to be more accountable and will indeed be more accountable.

The new food inspection agency begins its operation under this legislation in 1997. It will become one of Ottawa's largest bureaucratic entities, with 4,500 employees and a budget of $300 million. We are not talking small potatoes here at all.

Federal officials contend that ending interdepartmental overlap and duplication in such areas as enforcement, risk management, laboratory services, informatic systems and communications will save taxpayers $44 million annually starting in 1998-99. But surprisingly, no detailed breakdown is available to back up this estimate.

When we ask questions about where exactly is the $44 million going to be saved, departmental officials did not know where that was. They really had not arrived at that stage yet. It was just a figure they seemed to have pulled out of the air and expected the savings to be realized.

We are very concerned about this new federal food inspection agency not because we think it is a bad idea but because we see examples of previous experiments along this line and what has happened. The most obvious one is the Pest Management Regulatory Agency, which was created to be accountable and responsible to the department of agriculture. However, it has run amok and has no confidence by and from the industry. This was revealed the other day in our committee when several people from the industry appeared on the issue of cost recovery. The prime example they put forward as an illustration of the failures of cost recovery was the Pest Management Regulatory Agency, which was designed very much along the same lines as this agency.

Therefore, members will understand why we are concerned that this agency be held more accountable to Parliament and to the committee that reviews the effectiveness and the work of the Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food.

As I said, 25 Reform amendments were put forward in committee and only two were accepted, one being a clarification of which minister was responsible for the federal good inspection agency. There was some concern because the minister of agriculture was not put in the original document and in fact the government may be intending to do away with the department of agriculture. Therefore we insisted that amendment be included.

The other amendment that was accepted was in the preface of the document. It merely indicated that part of the mission statement of this new agency was to be cost effective. I am very pleased that was put in the preface of the legislation. Unfortunately, when we tried to give it some teeth by putting forward amendments in the actual clauses of the bill that would ensure its cost effectiveness, the government put up a wall of resistance and refused to accept every and any amendment we put forward.

We think that actually more than $44 million could be saved if the government knew what it was doing and had a responsible plan in place and had actually thought this thing through more than picking a number of $44 million out of the air.

With regard to my amendments put forward by this grouping by the Bloc, Motion No. 1 is an amendment that would require the government to respect the legislative authority of the provinces but it does not deal with much else. This may be considered symbolic but we think it looks like a motion that could be supported because we certainly do recognize that in some areas the provinces do have authority.

With regard to Motions. Nos. 13, 22 and 23, we do have some concerns, particularly on Motion No. 13. While consultation with the provinces is to be applauded and we support it, the fact that each province's approval is required to establish standards does cause us concern that we may see some trade barriers developing between the provinces, above and beyond what we already have, using standards as a way to protect one's own provincial area of the industry at the expense of a neighbouring province. Of course that is not the way to unify the country. We really do have some concerns about Motions Nos. 13 and 22.

Motion No. 23 is another amendment with respect to the jurisdiction of the provinces. We support their jurisdiction but are not sure that this particular jurisdiction needs to be entrenched at this point in the act.

I think I will have more opportunities to speak to this bill as we progress through the various groupings.

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11:45 a.m.

Essex—Kent
Ontario

Liberal

Jerry Pickard Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food

Mr. Speaker, there is absolutely no question that the federal government gives a great deal of consideration to the jurisdiction of the provinces and believes that the jurisdiction of the provinces is the provincial responsibility. We also believe very strongly in the process of consultation with the provinces and with all the stakeholders in the industry. There is no question that is important.

As well, this government has certainly set forward the committee's ability to deal with all issues and all matters that come to its concern that it wishes to further explore. A committee certainly has the ability to deal with issues such as PMRA, provincial-federal agreements and any other issue that comes forward.

There is no way that this government wishes to infringe upon the provincial ability. However, we feel that the amendments which are being put forward at present are really not needed within the bill. This government has and will continue to respect the jurisdictional legislative authority of the provinces. Indeed, clauses 14, 20 and 21 of Bill C-60 significantly enhance the ability of the federal government to collaborate with the provinces while fully respecting the provincial jurisdictions.

With respect to entering into agreements with the provinces, such federal-provincial corporations may be involved with matters of potential financial liability. These arrangements will have to be reviewed by the finance minister.

Clearly, the government will enter into agreements only which explicitly allow provincial agreement by the provinces. In other words, we are not going to enter into an agreement with the province and say the federal side wants this, but the province has no say. An agreement is an agreement; it is an agreement between two parties. As a result, the federal government and the provincial governments will agree before a document is signed.

Furthermore, the Government of Canada will continue to respect the jurisdictional level of all governments. I should note with respect to the roles and responsibilities of the Minister of Health that the intent of clause 11(4) is to clarify and not alter the role of the Minister of Health in establishing food safety standards. The current process of establishing food health and safety standards already provides for consultations with stakeholders and includes the provinces.

The federal jurisdiction includes setting food safety standards for all Canadians under the Food and Drugs Act.

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11:50 a.m.

Bloc

Jean Landry Lotbinière, QC

Mr. Speaker, the last time I spoke in this House on the bill establishing the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, I spoke of reducing costly overlap and advocated harmonizing and simplifying standards so as to reduce the burden of regulatory requirements and promote competition in business.

I concluded my argument by saying that the focus had to be on co-operation between partners and respect for legislative jurisdictions. I even invited my colleagues to reread sections 91 to 95 of the Constitution Act, 1867, which apparently they did not do.

The Province of Quebec combined its food inspection activities in 1978. Now it is the federal government's turn, and it is proposing the same thing. It wants to harmonize. That is all very well, but there is no need to upset the established order. The rules must be obeyed.

I want to direct your attention to the lack of compliance with the Constitution and the lack of respect for our partners, the provinces and the employees. The present government finally decided, in 1996, to standardize food inspection.

In his latest budget, the Minister of Finance announced his financial game plan for this new agency. I would remind you that that was on March 6. Here we are, a few days away from

Christmas, and the federal government is pushing members of Parliament to pass their bill.

And I mean their bill, because there was no serious consultation. Although the briefs submitted to the Commons Standing Committee on Agriculture contained some very sound remarks, they remained on the shelf like dead ducks, in my opinion. The government apparently did not take them into consideration, because it continues to propose the same bill at the various stages of the process, with very few amendments.

In my first speech, I denounced the fact that, as presented by the government, this agency might become a real patronage haven, and this is an understatement. The Liberals want to use the new Canadian Food Inspection Agency to reward their friends. At first, it will have only a few members like the president and board members. But two years later, the agency having moved and the employees having lost their permanent status, new appointments will be made. Who knows what the future holds. There might be a few Liberal candidates here and there who will have bitten the dust in the election.

Subtlety is not our Liberal friends' strong suit. It is obvious that, through this bill and clause 5, the minister is trying to give himself the power to appoint the president and the executive vice-president. The odds are he will probably designate a friend or an old classmate, as is so often the case.

Then, under clause 10, the minister wants to appoint an advisory board of 12 members. Have you ever seen a cowboy movie with only one bandit? There is always a gang, is there not?

Also, the minister will choose individuals who share his vision. Like-minded people do business together, belong to the same party, help one another. Unfortunately, the Liberal fraternity is still very well represented in this House.

Worse yet, under section 22, the minister will approve the agency's corporate or five-year business plan. Can we let that happen? It is understandable, under the circumstances, that the minister wants to retain a degree of flexibility just in case. If that is not remote control, it certainly is acute interference. The government is trying to control the agency and turn it into a club for its friends.

Under clause 11(4), the Chrétien government, through its health minister, will be able to establish policies and standards relating to the safety and nutritional quality of food. That is exclusively the prerogative of the provinces. As in the case of raw milk cheese, the government is interfering in something that does not concern it.

All this is far from reassuring in terms of our government's transparency. Some will say there is nothing new under the sun, and they will be partly right, as far as this government is concerned. As you know, I am a straight talker and I like to see people get their due.

I often say that we have to render unto Caesar what is Caesar's. However, in the case before us today, Quebec could end up indirectly subsidizing the inspection services of other provinces, under clauses 20 and 21, which provide for the establishment of federal-provincial corporations. There is a real possibility that Quebec could end up paying for this. Looking at how the federal government deals with the other provinces-and I am thinking of the GST harmonization process-you realize that "la belle province" is heavily penalized.

The Bloc proposed many reasonable amendments, to make sure the agency is immune to discrimination and patronage, so it cannot be misused by the Liberal government. But the Liberals refuse to make the necessary changes, because these changes would adversely affect their plans. The fact is that the agency will become a real haven of patronage.

The Liberals are in a bit of a hurry to pass certain bills before Christmas. This is not good.

There is something suspicious. Given what the Liberals are trying to do with this legislation, nothing should surprise us any more. It is easy to figure out that the Liberal government is trying to score political points, to win votes, with this bill. An election will be called in the spring. That is why the government is in such a hurry.

We in the Bloc Quebecois have proposed amendments designed to protect our fellow citizens. We want transparency. We believe the House of Commons committee should monitor or be otherwise involved in the process.

The bill, as presented by the Liberals, is a step backward, not forward.

This government did nothing to promote debate. I am talking about a meaningful public debate on the quality of Canadian and imported foods.

What type and level of services are we going to provide in order to protect our fellow citizens? Would you believe the government restricted consultations with the producers, provinces and unions concerned. Members of this House are the only ones left to block this legislation. Any hope for transparency in the establishment of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency now depends on the will of the members of this House to vote according to their conscience and for what is reasonable.

I am thinking of the bill to create this agency, because it is necessary and it is important. But it should be amended to eliminate the possibility of patronage appointments.

Furthermore, are they afraid to hold a serious debate on the quality of our services? One could think so, given the fleetingness of the consultation. There was no consultation, because the Liberals are in a hurry to ram their bills through.

In conclusion, the government is locating the agency in the National Capital Region, but for how long? Here again, we must be vigilant, for they could be tempted to move the head office around, depending on where they want to score political points. That is their long term escape plan. This will be a blow to many honest employees in the National Capital Region. Their rights will be disregarded.

The Liberals are masters of patronage and political intrigue. In all sincerity, I must oppose the government's Bill C-60. I urge my colleagues to vote against it.

In addition, I urge Liberal members to vote freely and join us in rejecting this bill. In the past, a member of this House stated, not without attracting attention, that patronage was a political fact of life. I, for one, say that we must stand up and condemn this manner of operating. If bills leave the way open to patronage, they should be rejected.

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Noon

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Milliken)

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. member, but his time is up.

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Noon

Reform

Leon Benoit Vegreville, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the report stage amendments to Bill C-60, the legislation which will put in place the federal food inspection agency. I will be making presentations as we go through these groups of motions but I will only speak to Motions Nos. 1 and 13 from group 3.

First, I support the amendment in group 1. It could be considered to be a symbolic amendment which asks the federal government to respect the legislative authority of the provinces with regard to this legislation. It is important, it is not strictly symbolic and it deserves to be supported.

This amendment deals with process. I would like to quote from a brief presented by the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, probably Canada's largest organization representing farmers across the country. The brief was given to the committee dealing with Bill C-60. I will read a couple of paragraphs from it. I think it should be entered in Hansard . I support most of what is presented by the Canadian Federation of Agriculture in these two paragraphs.

It talks about the process although in part the process that has led up to this legislation being where it is right now.

"The intention to streamline efforts to save costs and create a more efficient system is one which CFA has supported from the outset. The consultation process concerning the structure of the new streamlined entity was good as far as it went.

"One of the major failings from an industry point of view, even now as the legislation works its way through Parliament, is a real business plan with costs and realistic revenue projections that can be shared with those who are effectively the shareholders. As cost recovery systems become part of business life, government must realize that, as in any other business, those who pay call the tune. When industry is forced to pay user fees it considers itself not just a stakeholder, but a shareholder".

I have just one more paragraph from the brief presented by the Canadian Federation of Agriculture to the agriculture committee.

"From this point of view, it is somewhat difficult to comment on the legislation Bill C-60. As are most other pieces of new legislation, it is enabling legislation. Most of the detail will be in the regulations which we do not have to review. We also do not have a clear understanding of the financing of the agency. Statements such as: `There will be no new cost recovery fees for the first year of operation, April 1997 to March 31, 1998', when the industry knows that a new battery of fees will be imposed on April 1, 1997, create at best a level of scepticism, at worst, a level of distrust. The fact that the legislation creates a single stand alone food inspection agency with no clear accountability to shareholders gives us pause. What are we being asked to comment on?"

The closing question is what are they being asked to comment on? That is so true. With this legislation, as with so much other legislation that is presented to the House, it has a very broad scope, without enough detail, not enough clear guidance and restriction. It implements an institution and a policy which is uncertain at best. That is what the Canadian Federation of Agriculture is saying. It is also a big concern to me.

The devil is in the details. The regulations will not be debated and passed in the House either at committee or right here on the floor. The Canadian Federation of Agriculture is very upset about it and so am I. It has presented its case very well on this new agency. It does not approve of the process.

I support Motion No. 1 dealing with another part of the process, asking for the approval of the provinces in regard to this legislation.

The second motion from this grouping I would like to speak on is Motion No. 13. I oppose this amendment.

The amendment requires the minister to establish policy standards in consultation with the provinces. I approve of that part of the amendment. Of course there should be consultation with the provinces. There should be approval from the provinces. However, the amendment requires the approval of each province.

Of all governments, this government should know how difficult it is to get unanimous consent of the provinces on an issue such as this. To its credit, the government took the initiative to put in place the agreement on internal trade. It is an agreement which required the unanimous consent of the provinces to remove some of the trade barriers between the provinces that have been put in place over the last 130 years.

Unfortunately many sections of the agreement on internal trade are blank because the government could not get the unanimous agreement of the provinces. Even the completed sections are not being honoured. It is almost impossible to do anything about an infringement or failure to honour the agreement because it requires unanimous consent of all provinces. It does not work. This amendment calls for unanimous consent of the provinces but it is highly unlikely that any major change like this would ever pass.

With regard to the agreement on internal trade, I propose-

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12:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Ringuette-Maltais)

Could the hon. member conclude his remarks in the next few seconds, please?

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12:10 p.m.

Reform

Leon Benoit Vegreville, AB

Madam Speaker, I thought I had only spoken for five minutes. I guess our watches are not synchronized.

In closing, since we cannot get unanimous consent in regard to the agreement on internal trade, other Reformers and I have proposed that instead of a requirement for unanimous consent there should be a requirement for the approval of at least two-thirds of the provinces which would include at least 50 per cent of the population, the double majority. This is just an example. I am not saying exactly what should be done here.

I would probably support that kind of formula in this amendment. But it is not there so I do not support it.

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12:10 p.m.

Bloc

Réjean Lefebvre Champlain, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak once again to Bill C-60, an act to establish the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and to repeal and amend other Acts as a consequence.

As I have said before in this House, the need for a federal food inspection agency comes from pressure exerted by municipal and provincial governments, the agricultural sector, fisheries and even consumers.

The setting up of a single food inspection authority was therefore awaited anxiously, but not at any price and particularly not under just any conditions.

When Bill C-60 was examined in committee, and in this House, the Bloc Quebecois presented numerous amendments, which we are to debate today. The reason for so doing is simple: the bill, as presented, is deficient in a number of areas. It has, therefore, been necessary to improve it, primarily in order to reassure the agriculture and agri-food sector, and especially to ensure that the federal government respects provincial jurisdiction over food inspections.

I would, therefore, like to explain to my colleagues on the government side the reasons why the amendments presented by the Bloc Quebecois are necessary, useful, unavoidable even, if we do not wish to see the Canadian Food Inspection Agency become another den of patronage and source of conflict between the provinces and agricultural industry representatives.

I will, therefore, explain why it is vital for the government to accept, and vote in favour of, the amendments we are debating today. The situation is as follows: the initial block of amendments address the appointment of future directors of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

Bill C-60, as tabled by the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, offers no guarantee of the competency and expertise of those who will be selected as president and vice-president of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

We believe it is vital for the bill to be amended so as to ensure that the person directing the agency is not selected for his political allegiance to the party in power, but rather for his real abilities in the area of food inspection. These appointments must, of course, take place after the provinces and organizations representing agricultural interests have submitted to the advisory committee the names of candidates for those positions.

Since this is about the quality of decision making in the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the government can hardly refuse to support amendments in this respect. Common sense and a desire to avoid wasting public funds should be more important than the government's partisan interests. This is a matter of fairness and common sense.

The second group of amendments refers to the powers of the advisory board, which board shall advise the minister of agriculture on the mandate of the agency. The Bloc Quebecois wants to make sure that the minister obtains from the advisory board all the data, opinions and expertise he needs to make informed decisions.

To be able to do so, the board must be given broader powers. That is why we suggest that Bill C-60 give the advisory board the authority to speak out on all matters it deems relevant to food inspection.

The amendments we are proposing will give the advisory board the authority to answer all questions and speak out on all issues submitted to it by the inspection industry, the provinces and the representatives of its employees.

We also want the advisory board to be able to give its opinion on inspection service rates, facilities, products and the rights of the agency. The purpose of these amendments is to let the advisory board take a position on the real issues at stake in food inspection. We do not want a puppet advisory board at the beck and call of the responsible minister.

That having been said, the membership of the advisory board will also have to be changed. The amendment we are proposing would add one representative of the union or unions present in the agency. We think it is necessary to include agency employees in the board's consulting process if we want to keep abreast of what is really happening out there in the food inspection sector.

I believe that the quality of the services offered by the agency will be better protected if the advisory board is given a real mandate that allows it to speak out on the real issues.

The third group of amendments deals with the status of the agency and its employees and the powers of the responsible minister and the auditor general. In my opinion, he should be able to consult all members of the industry he considers representative and the provincial governments before drafting his report. This is not currently the case.

This is why the Bloc is presenting an amendment to require the auditor general to consult these people and organizations so they may express their opinions and recommendations on the agency's operation. The aim is to ensure that provincial governments, the public and the users of the agency's services may comment on ways to improve the services, thus requiring the auditor general to take them into account in his report.

As regards the status of the agency and its staff, we believe it would be dangerous to make the agency a separate employer under the terms of the Public Service Staff Relations Act. The intent of our amendment is to avoid describing the agency as a separate employer in order to preserve the vested rights of employees assigned to the agency.

Furthermore, we want to enable those who currently represent unionized employees affected by the agency's creation to continue to negotiate the assignment of jobs and positions within the agency and all matters pertaining to personnel management.

The aim here is to protect the rights of employees to ensure that, after the two year transition period provided in the legislation, they continue to enjoy the benefits of the Public Service Employment Act. Otherwise, the situation would be unacceptable.

Finally, we note that the powers accorded the minister are watered down and at times vague with respect to agreements with the provinces on food inspection. Under our amendment, these agreements would be signed by the minister responsible and the provinces without the need for approval by the governor in council.

Our amendment changes the rule so that the minister responsible for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency alone is accountable for decisions involving the agency.

This leads me to my conclusion that the minister of agriculture and his government should not be reluctant to implement the amendments we are debating in this House, because they are based on logic and common sense. I would like to think they will apply good judgement when it comes to time to vote on them.