House of Commons Hansard #125 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was energy.

Topics

Business of the House

September 26th, 2005 / 11 a.m.

Ottawa—Vanier
Ontario

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Minister for Internal Trade

Mr. Speaker, let me wish you and all my hon. colleagues a good session.

Consultations have taken place with all the parties and, if you were to seek it, I believe that you would find unanimous consent for the following motion.

That on Tuesday, September 27, 2005, the hours of sitting and order of business shall be those of a Wednesday.

Business of the House

11 a.m.

The Speaker

Does the hon. Deputy Leader of the Government in the House of Commons have the unanimous consent of the House to move this motion?

Business of the House

11 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Business of the House

11 a.m.

The Speaker

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Business of the House

11 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Motion agreed to)

Vacancy

11 a.m.

The Speaker

It is my duty to inform the House that a vacancy has occurred in the representation in the House of Commons for the electoral district of Surrey North in the province of British Columbia by reason of the death of our dear colleague, Mr. Chuck Cadman.

Pursuant to subsection 28(1) of the Parliament of Canada Act, I have addressed on Tuesday, July 19, 2005, a warrant to the Chief Electoral Officer for the issue of a writ for the election of a member to fill the vacancy.

Message from the Senate

11 a.m.

The Speaker

I have the honour to inform the House that a message has been received from the Senate informing this House that the Senate has passed Bill S-37, an act to amend the Criminal Code and the Cultural Property Export and Import Act, and Bill S-38, an act respecting the implementation of international trade commitments by Canada regarding spirit drinks of foreign countries, to which the concurrence of this House is desired.

Agriculture
Private Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Leon Benoit Vegreville—Wainwright, AB

moved:

That, in the opinion of the House, the government should make available directly to farmers the 2% strychnine solution.

Mr. Speaker, it is encouraging that we start off this session of Parliament with an issue that is probably the most important issue we will deal with in this Parliament. The issue of controlling the Richardson's ground squirrel, which is commonly known as the gopher, is an important issue for some of my constituents and for many people in western Canada.

I have been pursuing this issue for many years. When I first brought it to the House many members laughed that such an issue would be brought before this place. The fact is that the Richardson's ground squirrel causes damage of up to $200 million a year in western Canada. We do not know the exact cost but $200 million is a rough estimate which seems to make sense when one considers the crop damage, the extra labour involved in trying to control the Richardson's ground squirrel with the limited and ineffective products that are available, the damage to equipment and machinery due to the holes and the mounds made by gophers, and the livestock that have to be put down because they broke their legs stepping into a gopher hole. In a bad year, $200 million is certainly a realistic number and it shows the importance of this issue.

Two hundred million dollars is a cost that farmers simply cannot stand to bear on top of the other increased costs that they have felt over the past months and years. Along with skyrocketing costs, prices of their crops have been declining steadily. The price of wheat, barley, canola, peas and all commodities are as low as I have ever seen them in the time I have been farming.

At the same time, due to a move made by the government in 1993, carried out over the last few years, a move that removed the only effective control of the Richardson's ground squirrel, farmers have been forced to bear this extra cost of possibly $200 million a year. That is a lot of money, and it is a serious problem.

I will just read my motion for the record. It is simple, direct and short.

That, in the opinion of the House, the government should make available directly to farmers the 2% strychnine solution.

I get a bit uncomfortable standing before the House knowing that Canadians are listening to us talk about using a poison to control gophers. Quite frankly, with the kind of damage that has been done, they have to be controlled in some fashion. The strychnine solution mixed by farmers themselves is the only effective product that could be made available. That is why it is important that we return this product to farmers.

Back in about 1997, I put forward two motions for the production of papers. The Department of Agriculture provided about 200 pages of information that was supposed to explain why it had removed this product from the market in the first place. Quite frankly, it was embarrassing and completely unacceptable. The reasons the government gave for removing this product were completely unconvincing, and that is putting it mildly.

There were a few complaints by a few animal rights people and a few complaints that non-targeted species had been poisoned, and particularly that the poison had been used illegally on neighbours' dogs and that type of thing. A lot of other substances could be used to poison a neighbour's dog if someone chose to do that. Since it is against the law to do that why do we not uphold the law instead of removing this product that is so important to farmers? That is the issue and that is the issue the government has not dealt with.

Just to show how unimportant agriculture is to the government I would like to point out that this issue is being spearheaded by the Minister of Health instead of the Minister of Agriculture. I understand that both departments are involved in making this decision but the Department of Agriculture has a lot more information on this product and on its importance than anyone else. It should have received the information from the Department of Health but there is not much there.

Last Thursday I received a backgrounder put out by the Department of Health on this product. Obviously my continual interventions on behalf of farmers are having an impact. What is in the backgrounder is embarrassing. No reasons were given for removing the product and no excuses for not returning it. The department acknowledges that it is the only truly effective product available to farmers but it makes two absolutely incorrect statements and one is false.

One statement is that there are two products available to farmers, one being a premix that is done by the municipalities. In fact, that has not been available over the past year.

The other statement is that there is a premix that is done in the Toronto area which is then shipped out west. This product is simply mixed with farmers' grain and then shipped back. It is extremely expensive. The department says that it is an effective product for control. If one were to talk to my neighbours and people across the Prairies they would hear that it is not effective. that it is extremely expensive and that it is impractical.

All farmers are asking for is to have this 2% strychnine solution returned to them so they can mix it with their own grain and effectively control this terrible pest that costs up to $200 million or more in a bad year. It should not be that difficult for the government to deliver on this. I certainly hope the government will be supporting the motion as we go along in the process to adopt the motion.

If the motion is passed, the issue will be given to the appropriate committee which I assume will be the agriculture committee as it is the committee that makes sense. It would deal with it, put legislation together and then have the legislation once again come before House and hopefully passed by the House. The farmers would then have this product returned to them, a product that would safely control the Richardson's ground squirrel, commonly called the gopher.

What has happened with this product simply demonstrates what happens all too often with this government. I hate to step in here right away sounding so critical of the government. I will acknowledge that over the past 100 years Liberal governments have provided some good government from time to time. They have not always provided bad government but unfortunately they have not provided good government over the past 12 years.

In its 12 year mandate the government has too often used the same knee-jerk type of reaction that it has used in the strychnine problem. This demonstrates part of the problem with the government. It simply made a decision based on input from fewer than a dozen people, according to the papers which I received under production of papers, who had complained about this product. It did no evaluation of the cost to farmers which is why I cannot give a definite number on the costs to farmers in terms of damage to crops, machinery damage, livestock having to be destroyed and that type of thing. A study has never been done. This demonstrates how the government operates. It cares so little for farmers that it has the health minister handling the issue instead of the agriculture minister and the agriculture department. I think I know the reason for that.

I would be willing to bet that if the agriculture department had put together this background information that was sent out last Thursday it would have come out supporting this motion. The government simply cannot admit that it has made a mistake so it made sure it went to the health department which knows nothing about the issue and does not really care about the issue. As a result it probably will not support the motion, although I sincerely hope this time it will do the right thing.

The government should keep in mind that a possible election will be called sometime over the next year if the Prime Minister honours his promise to call an election within a month of the Gomery report coming out. That is the only thing that seems to really cause the government to change its mind or at least to make statements on issues.

Unfortunately, so often those statements are not followed up on, but at least the government will make statements during the pre-election period that it otherwise would not. I am hoping that one of those statements will be that the government will return this product to the hands of farmers.

What I want to do now is tell farmers that they now have a chance to have some input on this issue. I will read for the House a small section of a backgrounder from the Health Department. It states, “Health Canada's Pest Management Regulatory Agency has re-evaluated the available data on strychnine and is inviting comment on the proposals for its continuing use”.

First of all, if the agency has re-evaluated the available data, I want to see that data. I ask the health minister to table that data with the House. If the agency has done an evaluation and a study it only makes sense that the information should be provided to the House and to farmers across the country.

I will continue with the rest of the agency statement. The agency “is inviting comment on the proposals for its continuing use. The comment period begins on September 26, 2005, for a period of 60 days”. Of course it is the wrong time of the year because harvest will be going on during October and probably still in early November this year, but the government has finally provided an opportunity for farmers to have direct input on this issue.

I encourage farmers right across western Canada in areas affected by this terrible plague of Richardson's ground squirrels, gophers, to write to the health minister and the agriculture minister and send copies to their local MPs. A copy to me would be wonderful, as I have been trying for years on their behalf to have this product returned. I encourage farmers to write in with their explanation of why this product is desperately needed. I encourage them to take part and to make sure they do it before the deadline of November 25 or 26.

I will be contacting farmers further on this issue to try to give them the information necessary for them to have input on returning this 2% strychnine solution so they can mix on their own, but I do want to read out for the record the agency address. It is: Pest Management Regulatory Agency, 2720 Riverside Drive, Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 0K9. The number A.L.6606D2 should be put on the letter as a reference number so the people receiving the letter will be able to ensure that the proposals make it directly to the appropriate people.

I strongly encourage farmers not only in my constituency but across western Canada to provide their input now. This will probably be their only chance and it has been a long time in coming. It has been much too slow.

It is interesting that the government has removed this product from the hands of farmers and yet it has given on at least three or four occasions now a special emergency registration for the product. Unfortunately, it has not been done in a fashion that is extremely helpful in that it requires someone else to premix this product for them. Anyone who has used this product knows that if the liquid strychnine is mixed ahead of time with the grain used as bait, the bait will not work. Gophers do not find it appealing and just will not eat it and, as a result, the control measure does not work.

Since the government has reinstated this emergency registration, why does it not do the right thing now and restore to farmers the 2% solution of strychnine? It was used effectively and safely for decades, for most of this past century, in fact. Problems were very rare. Occasionally the product was used illegally to poison neighbours' dogs and other things like that, but any other product could be used for that too. We should deal with that under the law and come down hard on people who use it illegally because that is not acceptable.

Why should our farmers not have this product which is so valuable to them, is very much needed and may save a cost of $200 million a year? Why should it be removed because of the actions of a very few people over the years? It should not. I encourage the government to do the right thing and return the 2% solution of strychnine to farmers to help save up to $200 million a year.

Agriculture
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for raising this issue. It is certainly an important issue for our farmers, who need all the support that they can get given the recent history of the agricultural community.

The research also shows, as a result of a single test case in Saskatchewan, that seven to twelve million lethal doses of the strychnine were available for birds and mammals to eat, not just gophers. In addition, it was found that the carcasses of these birds and mammals were available to their own predators. These animals also died through eating the poison carcasses. It is estimated that in a single season of strychnine use in Saskatchewan some 6,000 strychnine-poisoned carcasses were available to predators.

With that as a starting point, I note that the motion calls for the 2% solution of fresh bait formulations, yet the government allows producers access to a ready-to-use concentrate of 0.4% strychnine baits, which are commercially available. These are as effective as the 2% strychnine concentrate and are safer to use. The governments of Alberta and Saskatchewan are supportive of these commercially available fresh strychnine products.

That is the research. It does show that there is a concern about other birds and mammals and there is also the assertion, agreed with by Alberta and Saskatchewan, that the 0.4% solution is as effective as the 2%. I wonder if the member would care to comment.

Agriculture
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

Leon Benoit Vegreville—Wainwright, AB

Mr. Speaker, I think the member is unfortunately a victim of misinformation sent out by the health department. The 0.4% solution simply is not effective. Farmers know that. They have tried it. They have used it for the past several years. As well, it is premixed in Toronto so it is dry by the time it gets to the farmers and the gophers are not very interested in it.

Besides that, it has to be received at just the right time. There is a very narrow window in which gophers will eat this bait and it is effective at controlling them. It has to be received within a few days, in the early spring before the grass starts growing, because gophers will eat grass rather than the bait if it is not received at the right time.

So first of all, it is not effective, and second, anyone who has used this product knows that if the 2% solution is used instead of the 0.4%, which is not effective, gophers will normally find their way back down the hole and in fact their carcasses will not be available. Also, if bait stations are used, gophers will die within the bait stations and their carcasses will not be available.

As well, birds of prey will not eat a carcass. What they eat has to be moving or they simply will not eat it. If they do, can they eat enough to cause damage? Although I will admit it is not a real study that has been done, the resulting information seems to show that they simply could not eat enough to do damage and to kill them. Throughout all these decades in which farmers were using this 2% and even 5% solution of strychnine, the number of birds of prey in the country was continually increasing.

The problem outlined by the member is a problem which I think is only in the minds of those at Health Canada, unfortunately. If they had taken the time to really communicate with Agriculture Canada in an honest way and to communicate with the agriculture departments in the provinces, I think they would have found, in fact, that this is simply not the case. I am glad the member brought it up, but it is not a real problem. It is a perceived problem.

Agriculture
Private Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

Myron Thompson Wild Rose, AB

Mr. Speaker, I have a quick question for the member. I know his riding is similar to mine in many respects. I have travelled through the riding over the last two or three years. I have seen with my own eyes the devastation that gophers can cause to the crop of a farmer. I do not believe that members who do not support this idea of bringing the gopher population under control really understand the seriousness of the problem.

I doubt if the Liberal member who just spoke has ever walked through a grain field where gopher damage has occurred, but I would like to invite him out some time. I would take him through a trail, but he would probably fall in one because he would not know what he is looking at.

These people do not seem to understand the seriousness of this, so I would like the member to emphasize it just one more time. I know he sees it in his riding. I have seen it in mine. Farmers really hurt from these predators and we need to take it seriously and take it seriously now. Does the member believe the government is willing to support the seriousness of this problem, willing enough to do something about it?

Agriculture
Private Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

Leon Benoit Vegreville—Wainwright, AB

Mr. Speaker, I certainly would not have brought this issue before Parliament the number of times I have over the past nine years, or over whatever number of years I have been pursuing it, if it were not a problem that is extremely important to the people of western Canada and to my constituents.

It is an important problem, as anyone who has seen a field would know. On my own farm, I had about 60 acres of canola completely wiped out one year. That was 60 acres in an exceptional year when there was actually some money in canola and it was worth about $350 an acre.

That is the kind of hit farmers simply cannot afford to take. If we multiply that by tens of thousands of farmers, in a bad year it is probably well beyond the $200 million figure, although I cannot vouch for the complete accuracy of that figure. It is our best estimate. Nobody has done the study to determine it.

Agriculture
Private Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

West Nova
Nova Scotia

Liberal

Robert Thibault Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, I want to take this opportunity to welcome you and all hon. members back to Parliament.

I thank the member for Vegreville—Wainwright for bringing this forward.

I listened to the member for Wild Rose, who questioned whether government cares about this or understands the plight of farmers and the difficulty with the Richardson's ground squirrel. There is no doubt everybody understands that. Everybody wants to find a solution. The member for Vegreville—Wainwright proposes a 2% solution of strychnine. The government is working with the provincial government and the industry to find a 100% solution to this problem.

The member has requested that the government make available directly to farmers a 2% liquid concentrate of the pest control product strychnine, which farmers would mix with seed to produce a strychnine bait to control ground squirrels. The end result would be a bait containing approximately 0.4% strychnine.

However, ready-to-use 0.4% strychnine baits, which are effective and safer to use, are already available to Canadian farmers for that very purpose. In fact, since 2005, fresh, ready-to-use 0.4% strychnine bait products have also been commercially available in Canada. These recent registrations now provide farmers with the means by which they can readily access moist strychnine baits, comparable in freshness to bait mixed directly from concentrate.

The hon. member's motion relates to restrictions put in place in 1992 by Agriculture Canada, then Canada's regulatory body for pesticides. The restrictions limited the availability of strychnine products for ground squirrel control to ready-to-use bait formulations limited at up to 0.4% strychnine.

The ready-to-use baits provided for concentrations of strychnine that were very similar to, or sometimes even greater than, those found before 1993, in baits prepared by mixing the concentrated 2% strychnine solution with farm-available grain. Furthermore, the ready-to-use products were, and are still considered to be, safer to use.

I would like to remind the hon. member that the government moved to restrict the availability of strychnine liquid concentrate only to protect Canadians' health and safety and their environment from possible serious adverse effects of this dangerous poison. Strychnine has a very high level of acute toxicity and has been and continues to be implicated in poisonings of non-target animals, including dogs and wildlife.

Canada is not alone in having taken action on strychnine. All above ground use of strychnine has been prohibited in the United States since 1988. Furthermore, it is illegal to use strychnine for pest control in most European countries and it is prohibited by the Bern convention on the conservation of European wildlife and natural habitats.

The Richardson's ground squirrel has been considered to be the major mammalian pest impacting croplands, pastures and rangelands in western Canada over the past several decades, for which the control option of choice has remained strychnine treated food baits.

In the years following the restriction of strychnine products in 1992, issues were raised regarding the effectiveness of the ready-to-use strychnine baits for ground squirrel control. The government acted swiftly and responsibly to address farmers' concerns.

For several years from 1997 onward, Health Canada conducted an extensive analysis of the ready-to-use products marketed at that time to confirm that they met the level of strychnine guaranteed on the product label by the manufacturer, and as required by Health Canada, that is, 0.4% strychnine.

During the years 2001, 2002 and 2003, as was mentioned by the member from Vegreville—Wainwright, because provincial authorities were concerned with severe ground squirrel infestation in certain areas of Saskatchewan and Alberta, they requested and received emergency registrations of a concentrated 2% strychnine product to allow for the preparation of freshly baited 0.4% strychnine bait.

This emergency registration program allowed the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan, under very strict provisions, to freshly prepare and distribute moist strychnine bait formulated from 2% liquid strychnine concentrate, providing farmers in those provinces with access to fresh bait for on farm use to control Richardson's ground squirrel.

These freshly prepared baits, which have been demonstrated to be more acceptable to ground squirrels, resulted in enhanced control.

I want to be perfectly clear that the recently registered fresh, ready to use 0.4% strychnine bait products provide farmers with the same type of product at the same concentration of strychnine that was used under the emergency registration programs of 2001, 2002 and 2003.

However, Health Canada has not restricted its involvement in the ground squirrel control program to pesticide issues. Risk reduction plays an important role in modern pesticide regulation and while the restriction of the use of certain pesticides is a means toward that end, so is the development of integrated pest management strategies to research alternative methods of control.

To that end, Health Canada's Pest Management Regulatory Agency has been facilitating an integrated pest management program in conjunction with the western provinces to address ground squirrel infestations.

Parties participating in the integrated pest management program include representatives from all levels of government, non-government organizations and the pesticide industry. This is the 100% solution.

Part of the objective of this program is to provide the use of alternatives to strychnine, including non-chemical methods of control, and the use of registered pest control products containing active ingredients other than strychnine.

Although in its early stages, the integrated pest management group has already presented preliminary research findings to Health Canada, which could eventually result in improved label directions that would increase pest control product efficiency without incurring additional environmental effects.

Another major activity in which Health Canada has been involved is the re-evaluation of strychnine, as was mentioned by the member. This falls under Health Canada's pesticide re-evaluation program, which is designed to ensure that the continuing acceptability of all pesticides registered in Canada before 1995 is examined using current scientific approaches.

Health Canada has released its findings on the strychnine re-evaluation and has invited comments from interested parties before finalizing its decision. I would join the member in inviting all concerned to participate in those discussions.

In closing, I want to assure the hon. member for Vegreville—Wainwright that Canadian farmers do have access to strychnine products that are equivalent to those shown to be effective under severe ground squirrel infestations.

Health Canada has and will continue to listen to, and act on the concerns of farmers. Health Canada will continue to explore Richardson's ground squirrel control strategies through an integrated pest management program, so that Canadian farmers will not be left without the tools they need to pursue their livelihood in a safe and practical manner.

Agriculture
Private Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

Leon Benoit Vegreville—Wainwright, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I would ask for unanimous consent to have a question period with the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health who has just spoken. Some of the information I heard requires a follow-up with questions.

Agriculture
Private Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

Does the hon. member have unanimous consent?