House of Commons Hansard #113 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was food.

Topics

Opposition Motion—Health and safety of Canadians
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:35 p.m.

Peterborough
Ontario

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and to the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I am shocked by the hypocrisy that was just demonstrated by the member for Malpeque. I would say I am speechless, but here I am asking a question about it.

The bottom line is that the member has completely forgotten his own party's tragic record in government when it comes to protecting producers in this country. When it came to BSE, which nearly wiped out an entire industry called agriculture in this country, the Liberals were so negligent in their handling of this serious issue that farmers in my own area lost millions of dollars, wealth they have yet to regain. That was all as a result of inaction on the part of the Liberal Party.

When the member stands in this House and speaks in the fashion that he just did, he is forgetting his own party's record. The hypocrisy of his speech is at the heights of which I have not heard since elected in 2006.

This government has acted responsibly. We have acted emphatically in support of agriculture and Canadians from coast to coast. The Liberals are the ones who cut provincial governments. They are the ones who wear all of those scars from the 1990s. Shame on them.

Opposition Motion—Health and safety of Canadians
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:35 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Malpeque, PE

By golly, Mr. Speaker, if that member wants to see hypocrisy all he has to do is watch his answers from question period any day in the House of Commons. He can watch them on TV and he will see hypocrisy at its height. That is what we get from that member every day in the House of Commons as we question Conservative election fraud, robocalls, and on and on goes the list.

I will say that the member should be worried about food safety. As I said in my remarks, it is under that government's watch that 23 people died as a result of listeriosis. The cuts in this budget would put food safety at risk once again in this country. Food safety is being put because the Conservative government has its priorities wrong with expensive F-35s, more jails and the list goes on. The member needs to--

Opposition Motion—Health and safety of Canadians
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

Order, please. I am sure there are other hon. members who would like to pose questions.

The hon. member for Pontiac.

Opposition Motion—Health and safety of Canadians
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:40 p.m.

NDP

Mathieu Ravignat Pontiac, QC

Mr. Speaker, unlike my colleagues, I actually want to ask a question.

I paid close attention to my hon. colleague's contribution to this debate. I am particularly concerned for my riding, which has many farmers. They are concerned about the impact of food safety on two fronts. First, they are concerned that Canadians will lose confidence in their products and consume more foreign products. Second, they are concerned that this could have a health impact on their families.

Could my hon. colleague comment on those two concerns from my riding?

Opposition Motion—Health and safety of Canadians
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:40 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, if there is one thing we can be assured of it is that Canadian farmers produce high quality products. However, we have to understand that we are dealing with perishable products and things happen in transport and by lack of refrigeration. Things happen in processing plants, as we have seen with listeriosis.

From the farm side, we can be assured that there is absolute quality, but with the government's move, there is actually less inspection of imported products. That is worrisome.

Canadian producers are required to produce under certain rules. They are not allowed to use certain pesticides, herbicides and so on that could be dangerous to human health. They have to produce under tight environmental rules as well. As a result, their cost structure is quite high.

Those producers have to compete with producers in other countries who may use some of these products. There are two problems here. One, they may be non-competitive because other countries' producers do not abide by the same rules and quality standards that we do. Two, the inspectors at import positions are not in adequate numbers to do the job to check the quality of the product coming in. It is a serious issue for consumers and producers.

Opposition Motion—Health and safety of Canadians
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:40 p.m.

Conservative

Bob Zimmer Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Medicine Hat.

I appreciate this time to talk about a topic that affects each and every one of us personally, and that is food safety. Just like every other Canadian I want to be able to sit down and be assured that the food on my plate is safe. That is why it is so important that I tell the House about the commitment that this government has made to the health and safety of Canadians and to having one of the best food safety systems in the world. This commitment stands true following budget 2012.

Here is the most important thing that I have to say today. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has not reduced and will not reduce staff or cut programs that would in any way place the health and safety of Canadians at risk. The opposition and union bosses have shamefully suggested that the decision made in March in the budget, and the agency's overall modernization agenda, are intended to reduce Canada's investment in food safety or somehow diminish the agency's role in it. This is completely and utterly incorrect. Our government is fully committed to modernizing our food safety system and the opposition should get on board for the good of all Canadians.

Budget 2012 identified funding of $51 million over two years for the Public Health Agency of Canada, Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency for key food safety initiatives.

We all know change is difficult, especially the new third party in the House. But in this case, as was the case for the Liberal Party in the last election, change is necessary. The risks associated with the food supply are constantly changing and the changes being undertaken by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency will allow the agency to focus its resources where they are most needed.

Budget 2012 decisions affecting the Canadian Food Inspection Agency were founded on three key principles: create no reduction or impact on food safety capacity, minimize the effect on the front line in non-food safety related activities, and reduce administrative costs through shared services and other efficiency measures.

I would like to explain how the agency will adjust some programs for efficiency without compromising food safety or other services provided to the public. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency identified a number of opportunities to reduce costs associated with management, administration and other internal functions. In some cases the agency has found better ways to operate. I know this is difficult for union bosses and the opposition to accept, but we know taxpayers appreciate that we are seeking to use their money more responsibly.

The reduction of internal costs represents approximately 50% of all the agency's reduction initiatives. The truth is that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is reducing its executive workforce and is standardizing executive and management support organizations to be more efficient and to eliminate inconsistencies in tasks, levels and classification of administrative staff.

Corporate support for the agency's recently adopted internal governance structure will also be streamlined. This corporate support currently rests in various parts of the organization. Processes and services associated with a range of internal activities will be streamlined. These include human resources, accounting, corporate management, business transformation, audit and evaluation, and communications. The agency will be reducing expenditures associated with professional service contracts and other external costs by $4 million annually.

For some reason the Liberals pretend that they have never found, and would never find, savings in the budget. The truth was revealed on October 27, 1999, in the Telegraph-Journal, and I quote:

Allan Rock and his colleagues are systematically dismantling Health Canada's enforcement of public health and food-safety standards...systematically reducing the number of food inspectors in the field.

That is from the former Liberal government. The Liberals forget their history and are doomed to repeat their history of being relegated to third place election after election.

Another way efficiencies will be realized is by eliminating duplication and saving on transportation costs.

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency already share national headquarter facilities. They will eliminate duplication in certain corporate services in the areas of information technology, communications, human resources and real property services. In addition, the two organizations will merge related services. They will also pursue opportunities to collaborate on costs related to maintaining fleet vehicles.

I would like to explain a little more about the thoughts behind planned efficiencies. Over time, businesses expand, start up and close. The traffic of products changes. Industry and producers end up, for example, using alternate inspection stations.

Business processes also change and new technologies emerge, reducing the need for Canadian food inspection staff to be in close proximity to certain regulated parties. These changes have created opportunities for the agency to reduce operating costs by consolidating office space and divesting quarantine/inspection stations that are not being used any more.

Currently, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has a number of administrative offices across the country that will be combined or reduced. The agency also has three quarantine/inspection stations that will no longer be used: the Monchy Quarantine/Inspection Station in Saskatchewan, the Coutts Quarantine/Inspection Station in Alberta and the Nisku Quarantine/Inspection Station in Alberta. The agency will consolidate a number of offices and divest three inspection stations to optimize the use of its office space and increase administrative efficiency. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency services will be maintained, regardless of which office is considered for consolidation. Only the location will change.

Similarly, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans will consolidate the coast guard sub-centre in Quebec City. DFO remains dedicated to the safety of all Canadians in ensuring that timely and appropriate maritime search and rescue coordination and response services are available to all mariners.

Public safety is, and always will be, an important government priority. In both instances, service to Canadians will not be impacted as a result of any office consolidation. The CFIA initiative is expected to be fully implemented by 2014-15. It will not compromise food safety. Rather, this initiative is directed at gaining efficiencies and cost savings without impacting service delivery.

Similarly, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency will consolidate some of its laboratory services in both the east and the west to continue to provide the highest quality of service possible in an efficient and effective manner. In eastern Canada, current activities at the agency's laboratory in St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador will be transferred to two Canadian Food Inspection Agency facilities in Charlottetown, P.E.I. and Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.

These facilities are more modern and better equipped to handle the complex food and plant diagnostic testing required by industry in support of food safety and market access. The St. John's facility is in need of significant upgrades and investment to maintain current services, while the Charlottetown laboratory offers access to more modern facilities, equipment and greenhouses. It also has a highly secure bio-containment space that will enhance service delivery in both diagnostics and research support. The Dartmouth laboratory has molecular diagnostic capability and multiple high-tech analytical chemistry instruments that are not available in St. John's. Food safety and fertilizer testing will move to the Dartmouth lab while remaining plant health work will move to the Charlottetown lab.

None of these changes will impact food safety in any way. I fail to understand how the opposition members think that verifying quality of fertilizer has anything to do with food safety. A lot could be said for fertilizer.

In British Columbia, my home province, the agency will be moving its activities from the Centre for Plant Health at the Sidney laboratory to the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada research station in Summerland. This move will ensure the important work is carried out in a modern, better equipped facility with a larger pool of scientists working together. No disruption or change to levels of service will result from this change.

The key word here is “change”, but managed changed, responsible change for the good. Through these actions and the resulting efficiencies, this government will continue to demonstrate its commitment to having one of the best food safety systems in the world. The opposition is stuck in the past and needs to wake up and support the government's plan to modernize and improve even further our world-class safety system.

Opposition Motion—Health and safety of Canadians
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:50 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, testing fertilizer is an important responsibility. It may not be directly related to food safety but members would be amazed how often the fertilizer does not come up to what is listed on the bag. It is a responsibility of the Government of Canada. If that is not up to par, then farmers are paying for a product that they are not getting. That can be serious.

This is just one case among many for which the federal government is abdicating its responsibility to Canadians. How can the member stand in his place and support the government doing this? It is putting the food safety system at risk and not looking after labelling. And this little issue, as he calls it, of inspecting fertilizer, is a very important point for the many farmers in this country and he just sloughs it off. It is irresponsible.

Opposition Motion—Health and safety of Canadians
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

Bob Zimmer Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member, I guess, for his response as I did not hear a question there. I guess the only problem that he has with it is that it is moving out of his own province to Dartmouth.

Essentially, the same quality of testing that we do at CFIA will still be there but it will just be in Dartmouth instead of his home province. I am not sure how that answers his question but the same proficiency that is there will still be there in the future.

Opposition Motion—Health and safety of Canadians
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:50 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like all hon. members to maintain a critical and open mind on the subject of the superiority of Summerland as a centre for plant virology. Very good science is being done there. The Centre for Plant Health in Sidney and, of course, it is in Saanich—Gulf Islands, but it was placed on Vancouver Island in 1965. I have an email here from one of the virologists who was involved at the time confirming that it was specific to the importation of plant material that represented threats, such as the plum pox virus, which is the kind of thing we do not want in the centre of a fruit growing area. Ideally, we want it on an island so if there is an accident we are not contaminating an economic region of significance and importance in terms of fruit growing as we know in terms of vineyards and other fruit.

Now I am not saying that we cannot do good science in many places but I am hoping that members will look at letters from scientists, as I am able to present them to this House.

Opposition Motion—Health and safety of Canadians
Business of Supply
Government Orders

April 30th, 2012 / 5:55 p.m.

Conservative

Bob Zimmer Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to respect the hon. member's comments and the fact that it is moving from her home riding. I understand there are some concerns she has. It is our responsibility as government, though, to look for efficiencies and to make a program work at a better price, essentially, to save taxpayer money. That is the bottom line. The same rigorous standards will be there whether they are in Sidney or in Summerland, so we look at efficiencies that way.

Opposition Motion—Health and safety of Canadians
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:55 p.m.

Calgary Centre-North
Alberta

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, my colleague spoke about changes to the fish habitat regulations. Over the last month or so, I have heard from many different constituents across the country about how we need to ensure that we have transparency and clarity in what we define as fish habitat, both for the protection of species and for ensuring that we have that balance and working landscape.

I would ask my colleague if he would talk about this balanced principle in the context of his constituency and why these changes are so important.

Opposition Motion—Health and safety of Canadians
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:55 p.m.

Conservative

Bob Zimmer Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, it draws in again to what department should be dealing with what in government. With regard to the DFO, it has been given a responsibility in the interior that, it could be debated, is not its responsibility. We are dealing with that as a government and ensuring the proper departments within our government are dealing with appropriate matters.

Opposition Motion—Health and safety of Canadians
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:55 p.m.

Conservative

LaVar Payne Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to provide reassurance to Canadians that this government is fully committed to preserving food safety and environmental protection.

Canada has a solid reputation for the safety of our food supply. We are proud of it and we are committed to maintaining it. I say shame on the opposition for attempting to tarnish the world-class reputation of our food system.

Our government's new responsible resource development initiative is good news for both the environment and investment in Canada's energy sector. Budget 2012 contains $165 million over two years for responsible resource development that supports our twin goals of enhanced environmental protection and job creation for Canadians. This means that Canada will have a better, more focused and effective environment protection program while continuing to attract investment in our resources, which creates jobs.

Speaking of our economy, this brings me to the important services provided by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Under significant investment by our government, this agency continues to strengthen Canada's food safety system in response to the globalization of the food supply. New and emerging risks and advances in science and technology protect Canadian families.

When it comes to funding support, budget 2012 identifies funding of $51 million over two years for the Public Health Agency of Canada, Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency for our food safety initiatives. This funding commitment has been consistently reflected in previous budgets, budgets that the opposition voted against, I may add. I am not sure how the opposition justifies demanding a stronger food safety system and then voting against food safety investments. I guess that is Liberal logic.

In budget 2011, the government invested $100 million to modernize food inspection and in the previous four budgets the CFIA also received incremental investments to improve the food safety system and hire new inspectors. I know there are concerns about how changes at the CFIA will affect its work and how the agency will continue to protect the health and safety of Canadians, and that is reasonable.

What is not reasonable is the opposition fear-mongering when it knows full well that our food system is and will continue to be among the safest in the world. I am here to reassure members that changes being made are to the agency programs that do not impact food safety. The agency will continue to protect the health and safety of Canadians.

I will explain how the agency will continue to focus on its core mandate of animal and plant health, consumer protection and food safety.

It is true that the agency will adjust some programs that are not related to food safety. Indeed, the changes will allow the agency to focus its resources where they are needed most. Unlike the opposition, we believe that it is possible to save taxpayer dollars without affecting food safety.

It is also true that, like all federal departments and agencies, the CFIA is contributing to the government's deficit reduction plan. The agency will realize reductions of $56 million by 2014-15. The changes the agency is making as a result of budget 2012 will better reflect the goal of focusing on activities that deliver its core mandate and better position the agency to receive change agenda over the next five years.

To achieve this, the agency is making some important key changes. First, it is focusing on its core mandate of food safety, animal and plant health, and consumer protection, programs important to Canadians, by transferring some of its activities to other fully qualified people or organizations.

Second, it is modifying programs to reflect current scientific knowledge. This includes consolidating scientific expertise in better equipped facilities.

Third, it is improving service and simplifying requirements for industry by building single window access to a number of Canadian Food Inspection Agency services and program specialists, and reducing the regulatory burden.

Fourth, it is increasing administrative efficiencies by streamlining administrative processes and consolidating some corporate services with its portfolio partner, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

In nearly 50% of the agency's deficit reduction plan, reductions are delivered from internal, administrative efficiencies. These will not affect agency front line delivery programs.

Union bosses will not like that but Canadian taxpayers will.

Activities that are not directly related to the safety of food, animals and plants, including some inspection activities, have been assessed carefully and adjusted. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency will continue safety related work.

The Liberals sure have a poor memory if they think that working in the private sector to create efficiencies and save money is a bad thing. The member for Wascana reported such activities when he was agriculture minister. I will quote something from the Victoria Times Colonist of July 14, 1994. It reads:

Agriculture Canada is looking at ways to shift responsibilities to the industry which could in turn lead to privatization of certain inspection procedures, said [the member for Wascana].

The opposition Liberals either have a bad memory or they are hypocrites. Either one may explain why they are now the third party.

I will elaborate on the previously announced transfer of the provincial meat inspection responsibilities to some provinces. As I already emphasized, the CFIA has a critical mandate of protecting the safety of Canada's food supply and the plant and animal resource base, as well as consumer protection. The agency is refocusing its resources on programs that support that mandate. In doing so, the agency will be transferring some of its activities to other fully qualified organizations. As announced in August 2011, the CFIA is returning provincial meat inspection responsibilities, previously provided on a contractual basis, to the provinces of British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, to align them with other provinces. This inspection activity has been focused on verifying compliance with provincial standards in these provinces. This initiative will be fully implemented by January 2014 with the provinces assuming this appropriate responsibilities.

Union bosses and the opposition are shamefully claiming that by doing so we are cutting inspectors and endangering Canadians. This transition does not affect federally regulated establishments and does not compromise food safety in any way. I want to reassure all members that the ultimate food safety outcomes of these inspection systems will not change. All meat produced in Canada, either in federally or provincially inspected plants, must and will continue to meet the safety requirements of the federal Food and Drugs Act.

The CFIA has provided meat inspection services to provincially regulated establishments in those provinces for a number of years. In all other parts of the country, inspection of provincially regulated establishments is delivered by the provinces.

I will explain. Canada has always had federal and provincial inspection systems. The main purpose of federal inspection is to enable meat for sale through export and interprovincial trade. Meat that is intended to be sold out of the province or exported out of the country must be inspected in federally registered plants. These are the plants where the CFIA is responsible for inspection. This is the point I want to make about meat inspection services to provincially regulated establishments. These arrangements are not part of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's legislated responsibilities. This is why the agency will be returning the delivery of provincial meat inspection back to the provinces where it belongs.

I want to reassure all members that CFIA officials will continue to work closely with provincial counterparts as this seamless transition takes place and not disappear, as the opposition seems to think. Returning the delivery of provincial meat inspection to those provinces will allow the agency to focus its efforts on its core mandate. This means that it will be able to focus on programs important to Canadians. The agency will be able to focus on food safety. I want to reassure Canadians once again that products sold or produced in Canada will continue to meet our high food safety standards.

I would like to speak to the CFIA initiative that cuts red tape but I am running short of time so I will jump down to the end of my speech.

The opposition seems to be of the opinion that our current food safety system is as good as it can get. Our government, however, knows that there are always improvements to be made. Yes, our system is superior compared to other countries but our government is always seeking ways to improve it. We are fortunate to live in a country with a strong food safety system and one that is continuously evolving in a responsive and responsible manner. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency will continue to maintain that fine reputation. Protecting the health and safety of Canadian food remains the government's top priority.

Opposition Motion—Health and safety of Canadians
Business of Supply
Government Orders

6:05 p.m.

Blackstrap
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Lynne Yelich Minister of State (Western Economic Diversification)

Mr. Speaker, the OECD report said that the nation's food safety was ranked as superior based on factors such as: the rate of food-borne illness; inspections; education programs; use of agricultural chemicals; strategies for bioterrorism; risk management; and food recalls. Overall, Canada has nudged up a spot in the international food safety ranking of 17 countries to tie the United States for 4th spot, as well as earning accolades as one of the best performing countries in the 2010 food safety performance world ranking studies.

If we already have a good standing in the world, according to the OECD report, imagine where would we place now with the investments that we have made with budget 2012 and how we support food inspection. Would the member care to expand on that?

Opposition Motion—Health and safety of Canadians
Business of Supply
Government Orders

6:05 p.m.

Conservative

LaVar Payne Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Speaker, Canada has a great reputation in terms of the Food Inspection Agency, what we do in Canada, as well as the funding we have provided over the last number of budgets. In particular, we have added another $51 million to help with food and health safety inspections to make Canada even better, while eliminating a lot of red tape so the organization that does the inspections for us will be able to do a much better and efficient job for Canadians to ensure that their food is safe.