House of Commons Hansard #39 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was producers.

Topics

Energy Efficiency Act
Government Orders

10:40 a.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is with sincere pleasure that I rise to speak to this bill, not so much for the contents of the bill, which are thin gruel in some respects, but to the actual challenge put in front of this country and the world.

Bill S-3, An Act to amend the Energy Efficiency Act, seeks to give government further powers and restrictions on certain products that Canadians use every day, such as, washers, dryers, and the like. It is a disappointment in the sense that it is such a small measure in overall goal that Canada must set for itself. Canada must take a leadership role globally.

It is a small measure with respect to the serious issue of rising energy costs. Canadians have seen those costs grow year after year, although there have been some dips along the road when energy prices have fallen. We always notice that as prices go up on the world market, prices correspondingly rise here. However, when the prices on the world market fall, the price at the pump or the electricity prices do not fall correspondingly. The overall trend continues to be bad for consumers.

The bill attempts in some small way to address what are the government's powers. The response from industry has been best described as tepid. It does not seem to be excited one way or another about this, which is usually an indication that not all that much is going on. When the government comes forward with bold and strong measures, there is often a response from industry asking for less to happen or asking for it to happen in a different way. If government comes forward with something that is lukewarm, much more subtle and non-intrusive to the industry's own plans, then we see things such as this bill, which is not much.

The response from the groups concerned with these issues specifically on the environmental side has been mildly positive, in that it is seen as a small step forward. However, the government consistently has failed to come forward with anything comprehensive. That will be the focus of my comments today, because efforts outside of any comprehensive cognitive strategy, anything that people can understand as a cohesive plan, are just efforts in the dark. They are one-offs and do not do enough to bring us to where we need to be and where I sincerely believe Canadians want to be.

It seems there might be one small glimmer of hope contained in the bill, but one has to read into it and dig into it to find whether this is a real potential. That is the possibility that the government could restrict the water usage of some appliances. For example, there are clothes washers and dishwashers that use a third, a quarter, a fifth of what the standard models use. These types of measures are needed.

There are cities that need to invest billions upon billions of dollars on infrastructure. There are water shortage issues in certain parts of our country. This has been a crisis in Alberta in the past. This most likely will continue to be a problem for consumers and for industry. The government should clamp down on products that are wasteful for no good reason. They do not deliver a better service to Canadians. They do not deliver at a better price. They just use more water and more energy for no good reason other than that we have had it too good for too long.

We have had so much in the way of natural resources in countries like Canada. The notion was that there would always be more. There would always be more water, more trees, more energy and that we could simply design our industries and our entire economy based on the principle of waste, based on the fundamental principle that if prices drop, we just do more, that it is okay to waste a bunch, the volumes are so great it will not be a problem.

We are starting to bump up against the natural limits of the environment, the natural limits of what our resources can actually sustain. This is happening globally. We are seeing more and more conflicts around the world on issues involving water and energy. We are still experiencing the war in Iraq, which the American administration has finally admitted was an energy war. We are seeing it happen at a national level with a government that claimed it was going to map the water basins throughout Canada and failed to do so. We consistently hear of boil water advisories in our poorer communities. We also see it at the local level, where people are struggling to find ways to use less water and energy, to turn off the tap, to turn off the lights. Folks are unaware that a lot of the products they buy are vulture electronics. They are called that because they draw power all the time.

With the old televisions and stereos we used to have, we would turn them on, it would take a couple of seconds for them to warm up, and then we would see the screen or hear the music. Now we hit a button and our computers, televisions, or stereos are on in an instant. The reason they are able to do that is because they are constantly drawing power from the grid, anticipating that split second when we might need to see them, use them, or have them available to us. All that power is being used over time.

When we look at the need for new power in this country, in this province of Ontario and my own province of British Columbia, all sorts of money is being spent by government and industry to create new sources of power, when the easiest way to create that new power is not to use it in the first place, to actually conserve, which fits the interests of all our voters, the people who put us here, to lower their energy bills.

The only people who have an interest in keeping more power on the grid or producing more power for our cars and vehicles are the people who produce that power, so they can make more money.

There is a strong and deep interest and we are finally starting to see it from some of the more enlightened energy companies. Investing more in energy efficiency and understanding more about the need to make a more efficient, more productive, more competitive economy is fundamentally based within questions of energy, whether it is human energy or the energy that we typically talk about in this place, which is electricity, oil and gas, and the like.

Canadians need to know that this bill, for all its small merits, takes place within a policy vacuum of the government.

I had a term turned back on me just yesterday while meeting with some energy consultants. They mentioned the Turning the Corner plan. It had been so long since I had heard it. It had been so long since I had heard the government mention it.

The government brought out this plan in 2007, for those who will remember, and there was the promise of regulations and rules by which this plan would actually be achieved. There was the promise, and nothing was delivered.

What does industry do when there is a policy vacuum? What does industry do when there are no actual rules in place? They continue on with business as usual.

Some of the investments we are talking about, particularly in higher stakes energy, such as the oil and gas and the electricity producers, require billions of dollars to switch from one to another. I recall a meeting I had with some folks who were involved in the mining industry, both in extraction and in the refining or smelting side of operations. They were furious with the government and the previous governments.

One would assume they would be natural allies of the government. They no longer were because they had seen the government issue statement after statement about requiring energy efficiency, requiring fewer greenhouse gases in the operation, yet time and time again, industry had made those investments assuming the rules would follow and nothing followed.

They are still waiting for the Turning the Corner regulations and rules. Not one has been issued of any substance.

In the policy vacuum that has been created, we see Canada, under the Minister of the Environment and others, trying to enter the slipstream of what is happening in Washington, waiting, delaying, not setting any price on carbon, not setting any regulatory limits on what happens with pollution, waiting for the Obama administration to make the effort for them.

As we have seen just this past week, the Obama administration came out with its climate change plans, a document of some 600 pages, and the response from the Canadian government is that everything is fine with us, using measurements that will simply not coincide with what our American partners are suggesting and will do, from all prescriptions.

We are seeing in Congress, both from the House of Representatives side and the Senate side, bills coming forward that are absolutely counter to what the Conservatives have proposed. On one specific issue, how we measure greenhouse gases, which would be one of the most fundamental issues if we are trying to control greenhouse gases, the government here insists on using intensity-based targets, which nobody in the world uses. Certainly nobody who hopes to participate in a carbon market is proposing the use of those targets. It is just simply not done because it is not possible. It is apples and oranges.

One measures the amount of greenhouse gases going out per unit of energy or per unit of economy, which is this intensity fiction that the Conservatives promote. The other one just says, “Here is a hard cap. Here is your limit. Below it, you can trade. Above it, you have to buy”. That is how the market works.

When I was recently in Washington talking with some of our congressional allies, I asked them what kinds of conversations they have had with Canada about integrating our market systems. These were the principal movers of these bills, the folks whose signatures are now going on these pieces of legislation in Washington.

They said their conversation me was the first one they have had with a Canadian legislator, impossible for me to believe when we have this great and glorious embassy in Washington with all sorts of staff and very bright, smart people walking around. We have an entire bank of ministers heading down to Washington every so often, yet the conversation about integrating one of the most important and fundamental markets, which will be upon us within a year, had not started, thereby not allowing Canadian industry access to one of the most important markets they need to access.

Further to that, and this speaks to the energy efficiency of this, the Americans have been talking about a low-carbon standard for fuels for some time. The initiative started out of Maine, New York, California, and Washington state, and is now being picked up by Washington, D.C. The Canadian response to this is that we hope they don't do it, because Canada produces some of the highest carbon fuels in the world. The Americans are saying they are going to put a limit on the amount of those fuels they allow into the country. They are actually putting a limit on the amount of carbon that is emitted by the fuels that American consumers and industries are meant to consume, which is produced in Canada, which is apparently the Conservative government's preoccupation on a daily basis and it has not made any efforts to understand the absolute train wreck that is coming our way if we do not react to this and start to produce fuels of a lower carbon standard.

Canada's response, to this point, is simply to say that it won't happen, that the Americans will blink and simply won't have a low-carbon fuel standard. I have news for the Conservatives. The folks who are drawing up this legislation, within the White House and on the Senate and the House of Representatives sides, have all said and have written in black and white for the Canadian government to finally see, “This is happening”. This is what is on the table, and the Canadian government refuses to take any real recognition of the scope and scale of the challenge that is put before us.

It is absolutely fine for the government to give itself some more powers with respect to the efficiency of electronics and the efficiency of appliances that Canadians use on a daily basis, but it does not ban the most inefficient ones. It simply says we will allow a few more of these to come forward in a more efficient way. However, the real culprits, the ones that consume the most power, the most water, and waste the most, are still not available to the government to stop outright. Why that would be, I have no idea.

It is not as if the administration of other countries around the world have not gone down that path with no serious detriment to consumers or industry. We have seen the Europeans and Japanese go forward on this for more than two decades, and the Australians, New Zealanders and others. The path is laid, which may be the only advantage Canada actually has at this point when it comes to dealing with climate change or energy efficiency. Because of the delay of the Conservative government and previous Liberal regimes, the path forward has been paved with respect to certain basic elements of how to make a more efficient and less polluting economy.

It is not as if Canada has to reinvent the wheel at this point. So many administrations have gone before us with sincere and genuine leadership. We see this now taking place even at the G20. Today, our Prime Minister and leaders from around the world are there.

It is actually 22 countries. They are going to have to change the name at some point, I suppose, but we will call it the G20 because all do.

At this summit with the European leaders and the American administration, in the talks about the stimulus packages that are needed, there is talk about what level, if Canada is below the 2% commitment it made six months ago in Washington at the G20. In the recovery packages that the administrations are talking about in Europe and the United States, they are talking about a green recovery. They are saying that if they are going to spend this much public money into the private markets, as the Canadian government and other governments are doing, for heaven's sake, should they not put some other public interests in place as well?

The public interest has been consistent and strong over the last number of years that we want less polluting cars, less polluting industry and greater efficiency with what we do, because Canadians do not like the idea. Where it may have been a historical reality for those who built this country that there was just such a wealth of resources that waste was not a deep consideration, it now is and Canadians concern themselves with this. It is why they recycle. It is why they attempt to do things such as carpooling and buying better electronics and equipment for their homes.

It seems to me, though, at this time, when the world is talking about putting in place a green recovery, our administration here is still seized with some ancient ideas. I cannot count how many times I have heard the so-called Minister of the Environment say that we have to choose between the environment and the economy, that we cannot threaten the economy by dealing with the environment at this point in time.

When times are good it is not time to deal with the environment, and when times are bad it is not time to deal with the environment, according to that type of thinking. The conclusion is always the same from the Conservative and Liberal leadership, that it is not time to deal with the environment.

The current Liberal leader, for goodness' sake, called the tar sands a national unity issue. I have heard it called many things by those who promote it and by those who decry it, but I have never heard it spoken of as a thing that bonds all Canadians together, that somehow folks sitting in Halifax, Montreal and Vancouver are on bended knee every day, praying for the health and welfare of the tar sands.

Of course, it is important to hone in on something that is going on, but for goodness' sake, we have to have some sort of measure of balance.

When bills moved previously through this House, spending bills from the government talking about energy efficiency, talking about the need to do better on climate change, the first one that came forward was a bus transit pass allotment. The government put in place the idea of making it easier for folks to get on transit. All the transit authorities across Canada said it was a wonderful idea but to give them more buses because they knew their users, they knew the people who use transit, and what they needed was greater efficiency and greater allowance onto the transit system, that this was the problem.

The government said, no, it was not going to listen to that advice. It was going to go its own way and offer people a tax break so that they could submit their monthly transit receipt and get money back on their taxes.

There is not a problem the government sees that cannot be solved by a tax credit of some kind or another. Lo and behold, that type of neo-conservative economic policy has put us into a certain situation and it still will not be reconsidered by the government, for reasons that are beyond me.

We said not to do this because it would not actually solve the problem the government was going after. It would not get more people onto transit. It would only affect early adopters, the people who are already use transit. As well, the amount of greenhouse reductions would come at an exorbitant price. It would be very expensive per tonne reduced, per car removed from the road.

The Auditor General unfortunately proved us right. That program ended up costing Canada between $5,000 and $6,000 a tonne. It is impossible to imagine that the government has the capacity and the intelligence within it to actually achieve any of the targets that it proposes. It puts out things like this bus transit pass that, if we actually ran the numbers at $5,000 or $6,000 a tonne, would make it impossible for Canada to achieve its goals under the current government's thinking.

A second bill that came forward is absolutely mystifying to me. The government brought forward a biofuels initiative about 18 months ago. We gave it a good look and allowed it to go to committee. At the committee stage, we moved two amendments. This was some $2 billion, a significant chunk of taxpayer money, going towards biofuels. We said that if we were going to subsidize biofuels--the ethanols, the corn ethanols, and the fuels of the world, maybe sugar or beet, we did not know what--there must be two filters applied over top.

One would be how many jobs we could possibly create with the expenditure of $2 billion. That should be a factor. At that time, we were not in a recession, but certainly there were some very shaky elements of our economy that we saw, the government ignored, and we all landed in. We said to at least put in a job component, a metric that says how many jobs we will create for the $2 billion invested. The government said, no, it did not need to do that; it would just simply spend the money.

The second thing we said was that if we were trying to reduce the greenhouse gases emitted by Canada, should that not be a filter on the greenhouse gas program? Could we not put that down as a measure, as a marker to say that we were going to achieve the most greenhouse gas reductions possible? The government said, no, why would it do that, and it did not. As a result, the $2 billion went out the door. It was a farm subsidy. Fine, if the government wants to do a farm subsidy, it can. However, $2 billion goes out the door and greenhouse reductions from that subsidy are negligible, according to every study that has been done on it.

So in this policy vacuum, when bills such as Bill S-3 come along and the government waves them around and says it is fixing climate change and not to worry about it, it happens within the context of nothing else.

Certainly when the governments of the day were looking at developing the tar sands in the first go-round, they did not just do one-offs. They had a comprehensive strategy. They put every measure of government forward--money, research, support, and expertise--to develop that project, and lo and behold, it was successful. They are doing a lot of tar sands right now.

When it comes to the environment, there is not that same intelligence or that same authenticity and sincerity. That is what has been failing Canadians, and that is why this bill, while a small measure, is certainly not going to get the job done.

Energy Efficiency Act
Government Orders

11 a.m.

NDP

Megan Leslie Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, this bill is about appliances, and the member rightly points out that the bill does not actually outlaw the biggest offenders, the appliances that are the greatest offenders. However, energy efficiency is about so much more than appliances.

In Nova Scotia, we have a ton of energy efficiency programs, some run by our utilities, some run by the provincial government.

For example, there is a commercial lighting program that actually helps commercial industries figure out what is the best lighting system for them, what is the most energy efficient lighting system. We have programs for energy efficient households and energy efficient businesses, even programs to help manufacturers choose the most energy efficient motors or refrigeration systems. These are big companies that we are talking about.

Because of this member's expertise in energy efficiency and other energy issues, I would be interested in his thoughts about energy efficiency programs beyond simple appliances.

Energy Efficiency Act
Government Orders

11 a.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, the folks in Halifax have done this for a long time. In fact, in many respects, they have led the country, not only on energy efficiency but also on waste reduction. They have thought about these as comprehensive strategies.

Right now the natural resources committee, to which the bill will be sent, is looking at integrated energy systems. We have looked at whether communities and regions have integrated energy systems, and right most do not. A few communities such as Halifax, Okotoks, Guelph and Vancouver are trying to integrate their energy systems and are thinking about them in a comprehensive way.

These are very challenging questions in my area of northwestern British Columbia. We must always be consistent and thoughtful of folks who do not live in our big metropolises, of those smaller communities that make an effort to do the same thing, communities that are more car and truck dependent and are more reliant on the primary heat because they tend to be farther north.

These communities can also be brought in, with efficiencies that make sense at their level and in their circumstances. This is why the cookie cutter approach by the government has not worked. It is why its policies have not been adopted across the country. The Conservatives pretend that all Canadians live in the same circumstances and that is not true.

If we were more adaptable, folks in northwestern British Columbia, in Halifax and others would pick up this charge. It makes sense environmentally and makes sense on a financial and personal level. The ethics and economics work out in this scenario and we need to push that. We need to have something a lot more comprehensive than this.

Last night, we passed Bill C-311, by the member for Thunder Bay—Superior North. It is a good bill and it sets out the framework for this.

The House needs to be much more aggressive and progressive on this. Canadians are expecting it and demanding it.

Energy Efficiency Act
Government Orders

11 a.m.

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, one thing I have not talked about very much, but is very important and it happens around the world, is extended producer responsibility. In fact, that applies a lot with electronics.

It has been done in the forefront by a lot of manufacturers, based upon metals and other types of materials in electronics, which are valuable through scrappage and so forth. There are also many environmental reasons for companies to have that responsibility. A company would either take the product back or would have process to dispose of it so it would not end up in landfills.

Many different problems arise from some of the electronics, which can cause contamination. As well, we have a high amount of recycling of those products, which is important. It not only does it preserve further metals from having to be extracted sooner, it also makes use of the materials in appliances that are no longer be of use.

Could my colleague comment on that policy? Where is Canada on this? I do not think we are anywhere near where we should be. Automobiles are one good example, but there is also electronics. Could the member comment on this? I know he has been around the globe and has seen what has happened in other places.

Energy Efficiency Act
Government Orders

11 a.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, there is this notion of cradle to grave product stewardship. When a product is designed by the manufacturer, there is a certain sense of ownership through the product's entire life and then brought back. We have seen this in some small measures when we have looked at tires, or batteries or some of the more toxic products. We know there is a liability when a product is created.

There is an actual inherent and contained component that at some point someone will have to take care of, particularly when the components are toxic. We know that is true with electronics and the auto sector. When a computer is made, we know there are toxic elements contained it. Imagine all the computers that will eventually be released into the environment unless we plan otherwise.

We have seen the job creation potential in thinking about this and putting in rules that work this way, whether in electronics or otherwise. I have seen it in other countries with respect to the auto sector. Alongside assembly plants, which we all know well and are losing memory of because they are shutting down so fast as they flee to other jurisdictions, no thanks to the government, are de-manufacturing plants.

Electronics in automobiles are constructed in such a way that their deconstruction is imagined. Some of the resources contained in electronics within automobiles are precious resources. They are hard to find. They are often located in politically unstable parts of the world.

Why would we continue to design BlackBerries, washers, dryers and vehicles that require us to acquire more and more resources from a shrinking and limited world and in the process not create any jobs? Never mind the cost and burden to the municipalities, which are cash strapped now. They are dealing with landfills that are filling up with toxins and they can barely contain them. It is a huge challenge.

Our resources need to be considered in a comprehensive way. This bill goes some small steps toward something else, but until we have that comprehensive thinking in this place and show real leadership, Canadians will be on the hook for this stuff, because the liability transfers to them. The jobs that could be created are forsaken and that is wrong. It is simply wrong on all sorts of levels.

I thank my colleague for his leadership in the auto sector. If only the government had listened to some of his calls earlier on about the coming crisis and the types of things we are now seeing. It is a tragedy and a shame for families.

Energy Efficiency Act
Government Orders

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

Is the House ready for the question?

Energy Efficiency Act
Government Orders

11:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

Energy Efficiency Act
Government Orders

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Energy Efficiency Act
Government Orders

11:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Energy Efficiency Act
Government Orders

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

Accordingly the bill stands referred to the Standing Committee on Natural Resources.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the second time and referred to a committee)

The House resumed from March 3, 2009 consideration of the motion that Bill C-13, An Act to amend the Canada Grain Act, chapter 22 of the Statutes of Canada, 1998 and chapter 25 of the Statutes of Canada, 2004, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Canada Grain Act
Government Orders

11:05 a.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-13, An Act to amend the Canada Grain Act, chapter 22 of the Statutes of Canada, 1998 and chapter 25 of the Statutes of Canada, 2004.

This bill is exactly the same as former Bill C-39. The number C-13 may be unlucky, because the government does not seem to have learned from its mistakes. The previous bill had serious shortcomings. My speech today will focus on many aspects of the bill that should be improved so that it better serves grain producers and the industry.

Canada is in the midst of an economic crisis. Since the government introduced Bill C-39, we have learned that there will be job losses related to the proposed changes to the Canadian Grain Commission. It is expected that jobs will be lost because of the elimination of the Grain Appeal Tribunal, the end of registration and the cancellation of receipts, and the end of inspections and mandatory weigh-overs. In all these areas where the government wants to make changes, jobs will clearly be lost. This does not come as good news at a time when thousands of jobs are being lost. Passing this bill will unfortunately cause collateral damage, to use more military language, and people will find themselves on employment insurance.

The job losses will be concentrated in the ports of Vancouver and Thunder Bay. Jobs will also be lost in Winnipeg, mainly in inspection. In the longer term, other jobs could be cut in other regions, including Quebec. Grain is weighed and assessed in the ports of Montreal and Quebec City.

The most telling proof that this bill is a product of the Conservative ideology is that the government has not followed a single one of the recommendations made by the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food, a committee on which you, Mr. Speaker, have had the pleasure of sitting for some time and where we have had the opportunity to work together. That committee examined Bill C-39 and made recommendations. It also studied a report from Group Compass Canada. The government has changed not one word in Bill C-39, now Bill C-13.

There are, therefore, a number of elements of uncertainty in this bill. We must remain vigilant. The reform of the Canadian Grain Commission is taking place in a specific context. We know the Conservatives are trying their best to dismantle the collective marketing mechanisms that protect the interests of producers. I am thinking of course of such things as the Canadian Wheat Board, but also of everything surrounding the current Doha round of negotiations in Geneva. Moreover, once again last July there was a text on the table that placed the supply management system in jeopardy. That text was studied by seven countries, but Canada was not one of them. We did, however, have two ministers there, the present Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and the former Minister of International Trade, Michael Fortier, who was not re-elected.

The two of them were in Geneva to follow the discussions. The text that was on the table placed the supply management system in jeopardy. At the end of the negotiations, which fortunately did not result in an agreement between the countries, the two ministers expressed disappointment that it had not. Understandably, the sword of Damocles is still hanging over the heads of supply-managed farmers, and I need hardly tell hon. members there are very many such farmers in Quebec. The supply management system accounts for over 40% of Quebec's agricultural economy.

That being the case, great vigilance is required when we are examining any government bills relating to agriculture. What is more, the Conservative government has appointed a friend of the minister to head the Canadian Grain Commission. One might well wonder whether the new commissioner will defend the producers' interests or the minister's, particularly since the mandate of the Canadian Grain Commission has been modified. It is no longer required to act in favour of producers.

It was clearly written into the commission's mandate, yet it has disappeared from the bill. Any time bills deal with issues that directly affect producers, our focus should continue to be the economic health of agricultural producers.

I was talking about the chief commissioner, Elwin Hermanson, a former Reform Party member from 1993 to 1997. The Minister of Agriculture was Mr. Hermanson's campaign manager in 1993 when he first ran for election, and from 1993 to 1997, the minister was the constituency office coordinator for Mr. Hermanson, who appeared before the committee. In any case, while I do not mean to impute any motives, we can nevertheless ask ourselves if the head of the commission will have our producers' interests, first and foremost, in mind.

The government is implementing some recommendations of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food, such as modernizing the mandate of the Canadian Grain Commission. One might now wonder if it did so correctly. I want to make it clear that, based on the speeches I have heard from my various colleagues and what we have also talked about in committee, everyone agrees that the Canadian Grain Commission's mandate must be modernized. The question we must now ask, and what we need to gauge here today is this: does Bill C-13 address the worries and concerns that have been raised, any more than Bill C-39 did in the past?

The Bloc Québécois is skeptical about some of these measures. That is important to note. We are skeptical about the elimination of the Grain Appeal Tribunal and the payment security program, because we do not know what will replace it. The Bloc Québécois also condemns the fact that the government has not introduced an office of grain farmer advocacy, as the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food recommended. I will have more time later to talk about some of the committee recommendations that have not been included in this bill.

What does the bill do? The government is changing the mandate of the Canadian Grain Commission in such a way that, in addition to the interests of grain producers, the commission would also consider the interests of the industry as a whole, including grain processors.

In order to clarify the Canadian Grain Commission's mandate, it will be split into two parts by Bill C-13. Part one will set out the CGC's core mandate to establish and maintain standards of quality for Canadian grain and regulate grain handling in Canada to ensure a dependable commodity for domestic and export markets. Part two will establish that the CGC shall specifically protect producer interests with respect to deliveries to elevators and grain dealers, access to binding CGC determination of the grade and dockage of grain deliveries, and the allocation of producer cars.

At present, the mandate of the Canadian Grain Commission is to, in the interests of producers, establish and maintain standards of quality for Canadian grain and regulate grain handling in Canada, to ensure a dependable commodity for domestic and export markets.

I would like to point out that clause 3 of Bill C-13 amends section 13 of the Canada Grain Act by removing the words “in the interests of producers” from the object to establish and maintain “standards of quality for Canadian grain and regulate grain handling in Canada to ensure a dependable commodity for domestic and export markets”.

As we stated earlier, like the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-food, the Bloc Québécois supports modernization of the Canadian Grain Commission's mandate. Our party recognizes that the commission must be able to consider broader interests, such as public health, preserving the enviable reputation of Canadian grain producers, and other interests.

The Bloc Québécois is also sensitive to the concerns of grain producers who believe that Bill C-13 is drafted in such a way as to reduce the protection it affords grain producers. It should be understood that since Bill C-39 was first introduced before the election was called, therefore dying on the order paper, much water has flowed under the bridge. We have had all kinds of meetings, correspondence, telephone calls, visits from different people affected by the changes to the mandate of the Canadian Grain Commission.

That gave us a chance to weigh the pros and the cons of this bill. The cons are definitely adding up.

The National Farmers Union has told us that it is essential to preserve the language of the existing Act, which includes the expression “in the interests of producers”, to describe the purpose of the Canadian Grain Commission and the standards of quality in the regulations respecting grain handling operations in Canada. In fact, the first recommendation in the COMPAS report was as follows:

The Standing Committee supports a redefined mandate of the Canadian Grain Commission as more in line with the practical reality of the Canadian grain industry and it recommends that any eventual bill clearly protect the interests of grain producers.

We know that the Conservative government is allergic to collective marketing mechanisms and instruments that enable producers to earn a fair market return. Deregulation and reducing constraints on the free market are key elements of their ideology, elements that, unfortunately, come through in this bill, as I will demonstrate.

The Canadian Grain Commission must not become another Canadian Food Inspection Agency. That organization has lost a lot of credibility over the past few years because it has been forced to choose between the two components of its dual mandate. Agricultural producers in Quebec and Canada are quite right to distrust this government, which has set its sights on the Canadian Grain Commission. It is clear that deregulating everything under the sun has not produced the desired results with respect to protecting producers.

The Bloc Québécois is ready to look at what can be done with the Canadian Grain Commission's mission. We are ready to do that. Can a bill like this really be amended? A lot of people have their doubts.

One of the problems with this bill is that it suggests that an office of grain farmer advocacy is no longer necessary. I strongly disagree. As for the protection of the interests of agricultural producers, we deplore the fact that the government rejected the third recommendation of the parliamentary committee, proposing the establishment of an office of grain farmer advocacy that would have reported directly to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food.

One might wonder if this is not another sign that the government wants to divest itself of any responsibility and thus deregulate the services of the Canadian Grain Commission. The mandate of the office of grain farmer advocacy, whose role would be similar to that of an ombudsman, would be to ensure that producers understand their rights under the act, and to defend their interests in disputes with other stakeholders.

We had a short briefing, an information session, with officials on this, and I asked a question on this very subject. I can report that I was not at all satisfied with the answer.

Like the parliamentary committee, we think that such an office would have ensured that the interests of producers are defended in disputes with the other stakeholders involved, including the Canadian Grain Commission. We believe that the communication, consultation, liaison and complaint investigation responsibilities assumed by such an office would have strengthened Canada's grain quality assurance system.

Another problem is the elimination of grain appeal tribunals. What does this bill do? The grain appeal tribunal hears the complaints of grain producers and companies that are not satisfied with the grades given by the commission's inspectors. The chair of the tribunal is an authorized grain inspector, but acting at arm's length. The other members of the tribunal come from the grain industry.

The tribunal's position within the Canadian Grain Commission limits its legitimacy and perceived effectiveness. Moreover, clause 14 of the bill proposes to abolish grain appeal tribunals, which are currently established under sections 35 to 38 of the Canada Grain Act. From a reading of clause 31, on page 12, the proposed subsection 70(5), we understand that, in case of a disagreement over a ruling made by the chief inspector—who is the first level of appeal—grain producers will no longer be able to turn to the grain appeal tribunal. They will have to turn to the regular courts. Hon. members will understand that the message being sent to producers is quite simply that that have to fend for themselves, using their own money, as if they had any to spare, and defend themselves before the courts. That not only can be very costly, it can also take a very long time before a ruling comes down. We know all the things that can slow down the regular courts.

We note that the parliamentary committee did not address this issue. The COMPAS report commented that the Canadian Grain Commission's “grain appeal tribunal has earned some plaudits for effectiveness”.

COMPAS continued, “Our impression is that the Tribunal is respected for its role in grading disputes, although at times some stakeholders sensed excessive influence on the part of the Office of the Chief Inspector.” We heard that in committee as well. It was also stated that there is always room for modernization and improvement, but in my opinion that does not mean abolishing the tribunal. The Bloc Québécois awaits the government's explanations for this amendment.

Then there is the elimination of inspection and mandatory inward weighing, which is what the bill would do. Weighing and inspection of grain is carried out by the Canadian Grain Commission and is mandatory on bulk shipments overseas but optional for container movement or for exports to the United States.

Inward inspections are the weighing and grading that take place when railcars or trucks arrive at transfer elevators or terminal elevators. The Canadian Grain Commission then provides third-party weighing so as to forestall errors and to provide assurance to producers.

With its Bill C-13, the government is proposing that inward inspections take place only at the request of the shipper, but that outward weighing and shipping remain mandatory. Terminal and transfer elevator operators will be required to allow access to service providers who will do the weighing and inspection.

While the Canadian Grain Commission will no longer be involved in the delivery of this optional service, both shippers and elevator operators will have access to binding Canadian Grain Commission arbitration in the event of dispute over a grain grade.

Like the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food, the Bloc Québécois supports optional inward inspection, as proposed by the government. We have been told that inward inspection is no longer universally required. According to COMPAS, “About half of railcars unloading at terminal elevators originate at primary elevators of the same company.”

Rather than proceeding with complete deregulation, we should find a compromise for such cases, perhaps continuing to pay the costs for those who opt for this inspection. However, we also have questions about food safety inspections. I will come back to that if there is time.

We also agree with the arguments presented in the committee report to the effect that the Canadian Grain Commission could abandon kernel visual distinguishability when this method is replaced by one that is more efficient, according to recommendations 5 to 7 of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food. Contracting out of inspection services must be evaluated in a pilot project and the government, after three years, must evaluate the real impact.

We must be careful, however. Since inward inspection is optional, this could increase unit costs and prices by decreasing economies of scale. Making it optional would likely put smaller grain companies that do not have a terminal elevator at a disadvantage in terms of competitiveness. Inspection and weighing fees are collected from the farmer at the primary elevator. Optional inward inspection would benefit larger companies that have a terminal elevator by allowing them to avoid payment of the fees and offer a better price to farmers. Grain companies that have a better geographic location will be in a better position to take advantage of mixed shipments.

It is therefore important to promote competition in the grain handling system by helping the smaller companies. That is why we believe that the Canadian Grain Commission must have sufficient funding so that the commission can maintain efficient and timely services for both producers and smaller handlers who need such services for transactional purposes.

There are many other elements I could talk about, but I will just mention certain irritants in this bill. As I said, we received a huge amount of correspondence indicating that there were serious flaws in this bill. For example, the Agriculture Union said that if Bill C-13 were passed, some 200 commission employees, most of them front-line service providers, would lose their jobs.

The Agriculture Union, a component of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, represents most of the employees of the Canadian Grain Commission. Obviously, these people met with us and shared their concerns.

I also want to mention that I have here a report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives that talks about the problems with this bill. The report is entitled Threatened Harvest.

It is important that the members of this House be aware of this report and the other elements that show that Bill C-13 has huge flaws.

Citizenship and Immigration
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

April 2nd, 2009 / 11:25 a.m.

Bloc

Thierry St-Cyr Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Mr. Speaker, there have been discussions among the parties, and I seek the unanimous consent of the House to adopt the following motion:

That the Third Report of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, presented on Wednesday, February 25, 2009, be concurred in.

Citizenship and Immigration
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

Does the hon. member have the unanimous consent of the House to move the motion?

Citizenship and Immigration
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

11:25 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.