House of Commons Hansard #46 of the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was national.

Topics

Budget Implementation Act, 2004
Government Orders

6:55 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I declare the motion carried.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004
Adjournment Proceedings

6:55 p.m.

Liberal

Charles Caccia Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, this exchange tonight has to do with genetically modified wheat.

On February 4 I asked the Minister of International Trade what he would do to prevent the loss of access for grain producers to premium foreign markets in view of the importance of non-genetically modified wheat given by prospective buyers abroad.

Unfortunately, the minister's response dealt only with the scientific aspect of the question, deferring the decision to Health Canada and its approval process. However, the decision to allow genetically modified wheat to be produced in Canada is made by the government as a whole and has widespread economic, ecological and political implications.

The question is, why should Canada take precautions with genetically modified grain? I submit that, increasingly, farmers in western Canada are urged by potential customers abroad to produce genetically modified free wheat. I am told that some 87% of all customers request a non-genetically modified guarantee. We are talking of an industry that is worth some $45 million which exports grain to 70 countries, including Japan, China, Mexico, the U.K., Italy, Indonesia and even the United States.

The Canadian Wheat Board is the largest wheat and barley marketer in the world and has repeatedly called on the federal government, first, to include a cost benefit analysis throughout the wheat value chain, placing particular emphasis on farmer income. Second, prior to unconfined release of genetically modified wheat and barley in Canada, the Canadian Wheat Board urges the government to examine market acceptance and tolerance levels of genetically modified products so as to ensure benefit to Canadian farmers.

Finally, because there are no genetically modified varieties of wheat and barley approved or registered for commercial production in Canada, the Canadian Wheat Board, in order to ensure the interests of farmers and customers, also calls for an effective segregation process that labels traditional varieties from genetically modified varieties should genetically modified products be released into the marketplace. Thus, accordingly to both the international market and the Canadian wheat producers alike, the introduction of genetically modified wheat poses substantial concern, ecologically and economically.

Could the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Trade please tell us why the government seems to be proceeding with letting genetically modified wheat into Canada and why it is indifferent to the requests made so far by farmers and the Canadian Wheat Board?

Budget Implementation Act, 2004
Adjournment Proceedings

7 p.m.

Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia
Manitoba

Liberal

John Harvard Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Trade

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for Davenport for his interest on this important file, for his questions and suggestions.

At this time there are no transgenic varieties of wheat registered for commercial production in Canada. Monsanto Canada has applied to Government of Canada regulators for approval of Roundup Ready wheat. However, the three safety reviews: food, feed and the environment have not been completed.

In addition to the above food, feed and the environment safety reviews, Canada requires that wheat varieties be subjected to a rigorous analysis of end use quality, agronomic performance, and disease resistance for variety registration purposes prior to commercialization. Expert committees must judge these varieties to be equal to or better than the reference varieties before they can be registered by the federal government and sold as seed to commercial farmers.

The Government of Canada is aware of the concerns of many of Canada's international customers regarding GM crops and that the introduction of new plant varieties should be done in a manner that addresses those concerns.

Thus, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada has launched an interdepartmental process to determine how best to ensure that the commercialization of products of agricultural innovation does not cause undue international market disruption, while balancing Canada's commitment to innovation and to science based regulation.

With respect to the labelling of genetically modified foods, Canada requires labelling where the foods have undergone significant nutritional or compositional changes, or where there may be health and safety concerns, such as allergenicity.

Canada supports a voluntary, industry based approach to labelling based on how a product was produced if it is not related to the product's characteristics, such as non-product related process and production methods.

In our view, mandatory labelling for non-product related process and production methods may constitute a technical barrier to trade and, therefore, contrary to our international trade obligations.

In this regard, Canadian industry has responded to consumer demand for labelling of GM foods and has developed a voluntary standard for GM products through the Canadian General Standards Board, CGSB.

The Canadian government has supported this broad based initiative and believes that a voluntary labelling standard would be the best way to provide important information about how a product is made while upholding our trade rights and obligations.

Both a comprehensive study by the Royal Society of Canada on “Biotechnology Regulation in Canada” and the Canadian Biotechnology Advisory Committee support a voluntary labelling scheme. The CGSB standard was recently referred to the Standards Council of Canada for final review and adoption as a national standard of Canada.

I would like to thank the hon. member for his comments and suggestions. As I have said, the government is well aware of the potential trade impact of the issue. This is why it is so important that the introduction of new plant varieties be done in a manner that addresses these concerns.

As I have said, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada has launched an interdepartmental process to determine how best to ensure that the introduction of GM products does not cause undue international market disruption. As part of this process, we will ensure that the hon. member's comments and suggestion are taken fully into account.

Finally, I would emphasize again the importance of balancing Canada's commitment to innovation and to science based regulation. Ultimately, our ability to defend our access to foreign markets is based on our commitment to science based regulation.

As members will be aware, we are currently involved in a WTO panel against the European Union's moratorium on GM products on grounds that the moratorium is not based on science.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004
Adjournment Proceedings

7:05 p.m.

Liberal

Charles Caccia Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. parliamentary secretary for the sensitivity that he brings to this issue and his understanding as a champion in his career of consumers' rights.

I am sure that he is personally, at least, favourably inclined to the consumer's right to know as to whether or not a product contains genetically modified material. Therefore, his tendency will be in favour of a mandatory system, rather than a voluntary one.

The reasons given for not adopting the mandatory approach are far from being convincing, in view of the fact that there are a number of countries, including France, that do have mandatory labelling and let the consumer decide on this particular matter.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004
Adjournment Proceedings

May 3rd, 2004 / 7:05 p.m.

Liberal

John Harvard Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia, MB

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for Davenport for his work on this particular file. He has established, over many long years, a reputation for concern about the environment and these kinds of issues. The House and the government, in fact the country, is better off because of his sensitivities, work and commitment.

I want to say that these are difficult issues, but the government is trying to strike a balance. The final chapter has not been written, but we will do whatever we can to achieve a balanced approach to this.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004
Adjournment Proceedings

7:05 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Bill Casey Cumberland—Colchester, NS

Mr. Speaker, on February 9, after several years of raising this issue, I rose to alert the House again about how the government discriminates by postal code when it advertises for jobs in Ottawa. I find this process and practice so offensive that I am going to stay at it until it fixes it.

I often think that if someone described a country and said a person could go to this country, but this country will not allow its citizens to work in its own capital city for its own government, one would find it offensive and think that person must be referring to a banana republic or something, but that is Canada.

The Canadian government has dozens and dozens of jobs in Ottawa all the time; however, they are only available to people in the immediate Ottawa area. Citizens in Stormont—Dundas—Charlottenburgh, Cumberland—Colchester and everywhere across the country cannot apply unless they have certain postal codes in the Ottawa area.

Just a couple of minutes ago I took a bunch of jobs off the Internet. There is a variety of about 15 to 20 jobs. It is not only an offensive policy but a poor policy to not bring people from across the country to the capital city of Canada to help create legislation, draft letters, and just be a part of the practice of governing this country.

When the government advertises jobs, it says that only people in certain postal codes around Ottawa and Hull can apply for these jobs in the capital city of their own country. Citizens of Canada are told they are not welcome in Ottawa and cannot work here because they do not live in the right postal code.

I want to go through a few that I picked off the Internet a minute ago. A correspondence officer for the Solicitor General pays $44,000. The education required is the completion of secondary school. There are a lot of people who would like to have a crack at this particular job. It is not a high education job and pays $44,000 a year, but people in most of our ridings cannot apply because they do not have the right postal code.

The next one is a job in foreign affairs. It is a research instruction and library web master. It requires graduation from a recognized university with a masters degree. We have one with a high school degree and one with a masters degree, and it is the same story. Who can apply? Only those people who live in this little circle around Ottawa in certain postal codes. This job pays $56,861 a year. Can people in Calgary apply for it? No. Can people in Charlottetown apply for it? No. Can people in Toronto apply for it? No, because these jobs with the Government of Canada are restricted to people in the postal codes I referred to.

Another one is reference librarian. It does not even say how many jobs there are. It says that currently there are several vacant positions. I do not know whether that is 5, 10, or 20. There are several vacant positions in the Departments of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. Who can apply? Only those people who live in these postal codes. Can people in Moncton, Halifax or Truro apply? No, they are not allowed to come to work in their own capital city. They cannot come here because of the discrimination policy of the federal government and it will not change it.

I met with the Public Service Commission and it wants to change it, but it is not given the resources to put in the equipment and technology to do it. Businesses do it, the private sector does it, and there is no reason why the Government of Canada cannot stop this offensive practice of discrimination by postal code.

Another says there are three permanent positions. This is the Royal Canadian Mounted Police civilian staff. Can people in Regina or Victoria apply for this job? They cannot even apply for it even if they are well prepared for it and qualified. This one requires a diploma from a recognized Canadian institute in interior design. There are three jobs and no one in my riding or anyone else's can apply.

It is an offensive policy. It is a poor policy and I want to know, why will the government not change the policy?

Budget Implementation Act, 2004
Adjournment Proceedings

7:10 p.m.

Leeds—Grenville
Ontario

Liberal

Joe Jordan Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board

Mr. Speaker, I rise to respond to the question about geographic eligibility criteria in public service recruitment.

I commend the member for his interest in this area and his desire to ensure that the public service recruiting policies are fair. I also want to assure him that the government shares his goal. Hence, the government initiated the public service human resource modernization which resulted in legislation that confirms the mandate of the Public Service Commission, the PSC, as the protector of merit in appointments.

Equitable access is central to any fair and transparent recruitment system based on merit. The PSC is committed to maintaining the best possible public service for Canadians, one that is competent, non-partisan, representative and able to provide service in both official languages. Therefore I can assure the House that the PSC is committed to expanding the use of a national area of selection as a means of enhancing Canadians' access to federal public service jobs.

I might add that since the PSC is responsible for recruitment, questions about specific cases are best addressed by its officials.

I am pleased to note, and the member referred to this, that a meeting did take place between himself and the president of the PSC, which no doubt has answered some of his questions. For example, I understand from the PSC that the area of selection used for the list of postings cited by the member was properly handled, with the exception of four postings for jobs in Afghanistan which were discussed in the House and revised on February 9.

There was a larger question of why the PSC continues to use geographic criteria at all. A quick look at the statistics tells the story. In 2002-03 the PSC processed over 3,020 competitions open to the public. There were 523,000 applications received. An average of 173 applications were received per competition. In January 2004 over 1.3 million visits were made to the jobs.gc.ca website. This means that it is currently impossible to offer every job nationally, given the PSC's limited systems.

Nevertheless, the PSC is working to open up more jobs nationally, which it reported to Parliament in the June 2003 report “Enhancing Canadians' Access to Federal Public Service Jobs”. For example, since 2001 the PSC has opened up all senior level positions to national competition. In 2002 the PSC launched two pilot projects aimed at expanding the area of selection. In 2003 it launched the public service resourcing system to open up recruitment in the national capital and eastern Ontario region.

In short, the PSC is pursuing a responsible and measured approach to expanding the area of selection.

I thank the member for his interest in the PSC. I urge him and other members to support the Public Service Commission on improving the fairness and effectiveness of public service recruitment, for it is only by working together that we can ensure the continued excellent work of the public service and the quality of the PSC.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004
Adjournment Proceedings

7:15 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Bill Casey Cumberland—Colchester, NS

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the parliamentary secretary's answer but I do not agree with him. He said that the hiring practices are based on merit. He said that the merit appointments and jobs are based on merit. That just is not true.

People from my riding, from the riding of Blackstrap, if they are qualified still cannot apply for these jobs, yet unqualified people from certain postal code areas can apply for them. That does not make any sense and it certainly flies in the face of what the parliamentary secretary said, that these jobs were based on merit, because they not. They are based on postal codes.

The other silly thing is that someone from another country who lives within those certain postal codes, for example, a citizen of Slovenia who has a work permit and who meets the criteria can apply for any one of those jobs, but a citizen of Canada in another riding cannot apply for the jobs. It makes no sense.

Again, I ask the parliamentary secretary when will the government give the Public Service Commission the resources and money to put in the technology and equipment to fix this anomaly and aberration, this offensive policy?

Budget Implementation Act, 2004
Adjournment Proceedings

7:15 p.m.

Liberal

Joe Jordan Leeds—Grenville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I think I did indicate that the process was underway.

The member constantly cited examples of jobs that are posted in Ottawa which are not available to people who live in other areas of the country. The geographical selection criteria applies to other areas of the country as well. There are jobs in the member's area that people from this region are not allowed to apply for.

At the end of the day, it comes down to the resources and the number of applications. The public service is aware of that. Certainly we are hopeful that the incorporation of new technologies will allow us to process them. I absolutely agree that the solution to the problem, when it is feasible, is to open every job to every Canadian. That is what we are working toward.

The bottleneck in the system now is one of sheer volume. The public service is committed to coming up with a process so that someday we achieve the goal which I think we share.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004
Adjournment Proceedings

7:15 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly, the House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m. pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 7:17 p.m.)