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 cuts.

Topics

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

1 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am glad to have a chance to take this up with the parliamentary secretary. I have voluminous comments on Bill C-38 because it touches on so many aspects of environmental protection.

In relation to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency facility in my own riding of Saanich--Gulf Islands, the Centre for Plant Health, I really hope to gain the co-operation of government members to keep this facility open. This facility has been in place since 1912.

The following is from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency material. “...in 1965 a plant quarantine function was added on the advice of the Advisory Board of the Destructive Insect and Pest Act to protect the Agricultural Industry from disease risks of international importations of propagation material which could spread to other crops in Canada.”

I heard my hon. friend say that the facility in Summerland to which this quarantine function is being moved has “a better equipped facility”. At this point, several greenhouses would need to be built to have anywhere near the capacity that the Centre for Plant Health has on the Saanich Peninsula. Moreover, it would be a risk to all the economic crops of the Okanagan to move a quarantine facility into the heart of that region. I urge the government to reconsider.

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

1 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Lemieux Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, as I mentioned, none of the places where we are finding savings affect food safety. Efficiencies can be realized, particularly with the relocation of personnel or functions. For example, the activities at the Centre for Plant Health in Sidney, B.C., as I mentioned in my speech, will be moving to the research station in Summerland, B.C. Labs and expertise will be combined to make sure that the important work is carried out in a better equipped facility and with a critical mass of expertise. There will be a larger pool of scientists on which to draw. Some modification might be required but the overall efficiency would make this a worthwhile endeavour.

Canadians have looked at the expenses of government. They see that we are in challenging economic times and they expect savings to be found. We have proposed some savings. These savings would not affect food safety, and Canadians know that. The only people who do not know that are members of the opposition.

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

1 p.m.

NDP

Peggy Nash Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques.

I am pleased to speak to this motion today which draws a line between the cuts to regulations and funding developed for the public good and cuts to public oversight that affect the well-being of Canadians. There have been comments today, and referred to in this motion, about the terrible situation in Walkerton, Ontario where people lost their lives because of lack of public oversight, due to cuts to public infrastructure funding that should have ensured that the public was protected with respect to water safety.

I trace this back to the federal budget of 1995 where the Liberal government of the day made massive cuts to funds that it would transfer to the provinces, and at the time bragged that with these massive cuts relative to the size of the economy, public spending in 1996 and 1997 would be lower than at any time in our country's history since 1951. Of course, that was prior to medicare and prior to many other programs which we subsequently brought into place. So it gives us a sense of the massive extent of the cuts that were made by the federal government, and the off-loading of debt that went, in essence, to the provinces and then was off-loaded to cities and the people of Canada. We saw the impact directly in Ontario. We certainly saw it in my community in Toronto where there was greater homelessness and greater poverty, and people were placed more at risk.

Now in its budget, the government is going down a similar path. It is cutting on the pretense of streamlining. We heard the member opposite a few minutes ago talking about getting greater efficiencies, streamlining, trying to reassure Canadians that all that is happening is basically good economic housekeeping and that there is nothing here that will jeopardize any protection or safety for Canadians. I remind Canadians that it is the government that was not particularly frugal or efficient in its spending of $1 billion when the G20 came to Toronto or when the G8 was in Muskoka and the minister was able to find great ways to squander money in his own riding. We have noticed a lack of efficiency and accountability for the dollars that Canadians send to Ottawa when we see the various budget estimates around the F-35s and multi-millions of dollars' difference when the Conservatives are talking about their pet projects. We can see how cavalier they are in public spending when they pass a crime bill that will off-load billions of dollars to the provinces when crime is declining across the country. So the Conservatives seem to want to be frugal when it comes to protecting the public but, as we have seen with $16 glasses of orange juice for cabinet ministers, not necessarily frugal when it comes to their friends or their own personal spending.

Getting to the matter at hand, Canadians ought to be very concerned about the content of these changes, but also the way they are being brought in. It is a government that seems ideologically bound to off-load what it does not take an interest in, to privatize what it can turn over to its friends and to abandon the notion of accountability when its preference is to centralize power and leave decision making to ministers or to groups behind closed doors.

I think there is a real concern with the lack of accountability and the way so many changes are bound into the budget implementation act of more than 400 pages, a third of which deals with changes to environmental protection. There is a real concern about undermining democracy. I say that because there are changes the bill seeks to make that ought to be in a separate bill to be properly examined and debated by the environment critics and the environment committee. That is the proper way to make those kinds of changes as well as other changes that the budget implementation act proposes.

For example, the previous speaker reassured us on the issue of food safety. On the contrary, what the government is putting forward is an erosion of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. To be specific, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is facing overall cuts of $56 million. As we already have outbreaks of listeriosis, it seems to me that food inspection is an area where we would want to invest more money, not cut $56 million. We need food safety oversight today more than ever.

In fact, the government is taking away the oversight of the Auditor General from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. The Conservatives are making the CFIA exempt from a mandatory review by the Auditor General. This is what I mean by a lack of accountability. It is very troubling for Canadians that we do not have the rigour of oversight of the Auditor General for our food inspection agency.

This paves the way for private contractors to do the work of food inspection. Therefore, the fox is in the chicken coop. I think that Canadians ought to be very troubled by the privatization of our food inspection. I prefer to have someone acting in the public interest rather than private profit to be responsible for food inspection. That seems obvious to me. The fact that the Conservatives want to make this change to privatize food inspection should set alarm bells ringing throughout the country.

The Canadian Medical Association Journal has long pointed out key failings in our food safety system. It warned Canadians in an editorial on April 12 of last year to eat at their own risk. It said, even prior to this budget, that it was very concerned about the lack of oversight.

The Food and Drugs Act would see a streamlining where the Minister of Health would be able to exempt products from the regulatory process. That seems a bit troubling. The minister would have the power to issue marketing authorization to exempt a food, or advertisement with respect to a food, from certain provisions of the act. Again, this is about concentrating more power in the hands of the minister without proper regulatory oversight.

As well, the bill would provide for Health Canada to adopt any industry regulations as law without proper parliamentary oversight. I believe this would be very problematic if there were no policy to go with this change to prevent conflict of interest. There is tremendous potential for us to get into trouble with this.

There are many areas, such as: the cuts to search and rescue; the slashing of environmental protections; and the gutting of environmental assessments to speed up major projects, namely pipelines. There are sweeping changes. Canada is already an international pariah when it comes to the environment, but the Conservatives are making massive changes, of which I know my colleagues will put forward more detail. The Conservative government is missing opportunities not only to protect Canadians but to green our economy and invest in new opportunities with renewable energy and energy efficiency. We are lagging behind many other countries in doing this.

I believe that this budget implementation act should be of great concern to Canadians and I think that the motion raises important points in terms of protecting public safety.

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

1:15 p.m.

Liberal

Ted Hsu Kingston and the Islands, ON

Mr. Speaker, when I hear about the government's plans to cut scientists who are monitoring our natural environment and the human impact on the natural environment, and when I hear about its plans to cut the monitoring of our food supply, something we need every day, I am reminded of the statement: what gets measured gets done. If we do not look carefully at our food supply and look at how we are impacting the natural environment we depend on, we will not be good managers of these resources.

It was said in the House that the government believes that what gets measured gets done. Who said that? It was the Minister of the Environment. I have always wanted to say that and I thank the members for their indulgence in that regard.

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

1:15 p.m.

NDP

Peggy Nash Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, I did not hear a question there but I will take this opportunity to speak a bit further to some concerns I have about the environment.

After the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, BP has had to spend $14 billion so far in cleanup efforts. As well, $179 million have been spent on tourism promotions across the four gulf states, $82 million have been spent on seafood testing, and a $20 billion trust was established in 2010 for the claims and oil spill related costs.

The U.S. government recognized the need to strengthen the environmental approval process it uses for major projects and to put a halt to some projects where the risks were unknown as a result of the BP oil spill. Why would the Government of Canada go in the opposite direction and weaken our environmental oversight for major projects like pipelines that could damage sensitive wilderness areas and coastal waters when we see the cautionary tale in the Gulf of Mexico? Why would the government not protect Canadian interests?

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

1:15 p.m.

NDP

Sylvain Chicoine Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her excellent speech, which I listened to carefully. She talked about something important: the manner in which this government should have presented the changes regarding the environment and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency in particular.

I would like my colleague to speak more about the difference it would have made to introduce a completely separate bill instead of bundling everything into the budget, as the government decided to do. Could we have better evaluated the changes made to environmental impact assessments and how?

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

1:15 p.m.

NDP

Peggy Nash Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his excellent question. One-third of this bill deals with changes to environmental protection. In order to protect the environment and Canadians, it would be better to separate out everything to do with climate change and the environment and place it in a separate bill for debate in the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development. That is the usual process.

These changes cannot be debated by the Standing Committee on Finance. I do not have the expertise to debate detailed changes to the regulations. That is why it would be better to divide this huge and complicated bill and debate each issue—such as the environment and health—in specialized committees. I am advising the government to do so.

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

1:15 p.m.

NDP

Guy Caron Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the subject of this motion, because I think it goes straight to the heart of the government's way of operating.

When we talk about government services or government structures, members on both sides of the House agree that procedures, services and structures should be constantly reviewed so that they can be made to respond more efficiently and more effectively to the situations they were created to deal with. A regular review of these procedures, services and structures is essential. I believe members on both sides of the House agree completely on that.

Nevertheless, the government's vision, as it has demonstrated since 2006, is just the opposite of what it should be. One way to study the efficiency and effectiveness of services, and even find savings, is to perform a regular review of these services.

The government, however, is doing things backwards. It wants to make budget cuts—$5.2 billion this time. Then, every government service will feel the impact of these cuts. Thus, the government's intention to make cuts is detrimental to all services, whether they are inefficient—as sometimes happens—or very efficient, and even essential. In this way, the government's actions and reaction are causing great damage.

I would like to talk about two particular situations addressed in the opposition motion. First, I will discuss the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Second, I will talk about search and rescue, in particular the issue of the Quebec City centre, which serves my riding.

The government's flippant attitude toward important and fundamental questions relating to the health of Canadians has never been clearer than during the listeriosis crisis of August 2008. The response by the Minister of Agriculture at the time was quite telling. I remind the House that the agriculture minister, speaking during a conference call, made the following comment about the crisis:

“This is like a death by a thousand cuts. Or should I say cold cuts”.

Later on during that same call, someone mentioned that a Prince Edward Islander had died of listeriosis. Once again, his response to the situation was flippant:

“Please tell me it's the member for Malpeque”.

In fact, that member was from Prince Edward Island. The minister apologized for his comments when they were made public, but he suffered no consequences for his behaviour.

That shows the extent to which the Minister of Agriculture and this government in general fail to take the health of Canadians seriously. Obviously, nobody wants to jeopardize the safety of Canadians deliberately, particularly when it comes to food inspection, but measures such as those the government is planning to implement will endanger Canadians whether or not that is the intent.

A government that seeks to govern well should take history into account, should keep the listeriosis outbreak and Walkerton in mind when making decisions in this area.

I mentioned the 2008 listeriosis outbreak. Clearly, that was not benign. Fifty-seven people across Canada got sick and 22 of them died. The outbreak highlighted the inadequacy of inspection measures. The Weatherill report by the commission that inquired into the listeriosis outbreak mentioned a number of disturbing facts about the situation.

I would like to quote four of the report's findings.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency failed to do mandatory safety audits of the Maple Leaf Foods plant which produced the tainted cold cuts for years prior to the outbreak.

A new inspection system—the compliance verification system or CVS—implemented just before the outbreak was flawed and in need of “critical improvements related to its design, planning and implementation”.

The CVS was “implemented without a detailed assessment of the resources available to take on these new CVS tasks”.

Finally, there is a fourth point.

There was already a shortage of inspectors prior to the outbreak. Let us talk about the period before the outbreak—the number, capabilities and training of the inspectors assigned to the Maple Leaf processing plant on Bartor Road, the plant that produced the contaminated cold cuts. Apparently, the inspectors were feeling stressed about their responsibilities at other plants, the complexity of the Bartor Road plant—particularly concerning its size and hours of operation—and the adjustments needed because of the new compliance verification system.

The Weatherill report was scathing. It pointed out that the system put in place by the government right before the listeria outbreak was deficient. It wanted to go even further regarding this deficient system. This relates to the question I asked the parliamentary secretary about the Canadian Food Inspection Agency employee who discovered a government directive concerning the agency that reduced its funding by 5%—and this was in 2008. So, it was a matter of a 5% cut and directives whereby essential food inspection procedures, which should have been conducted independently, would be transferred to the industry in the name of self-regulation and voluntary regulation.

“Voluntary regulation” is a lovely expression, but very little regulation is actually involved. The responsibility for this regulation is being given to those who stand to gain in the process. That is the very definition of conflict of interest. As far as food inspection is concerned, Canadians and Quebeckers want to have independent procedures to ensure that there will be a clear and accurate evaluation that is outside any other interest and that simply seeks to protect the safety of our citizens.

Do you want to know what happened to that employee, by the way? Easy: he made the document public and the Conservative government responded by dismissing him. He blew the whistle on an initiative that could have been hazardous to the health of Canadians. The Minister of Agriculture even denied the employee's status as a whistleblower saying that he was not the one who blew the whistle on the government's initiative that was going to hinder food inspection, but rather he was the one who blew the whistle on the whistleblower.

Again, this shows the government's flippant attitude and indifference toward the real problems raised by the commissioner responsible for the commission that followed the listeriosis outbreak.

My colleague here talked about the findings in the journal of the Canadian Medical Association, namely that the process itself is inadequate. The commission did a good job with the guidelines it was given by the government. However, the guidelines did not focus on casting doubt on the process, the way in which the agency operates, but instead focused, within the framework of the process, on seeing how we can assure the most accountability and best identify the people who are responsible. There are fundamental problems with the processes that were uncovered in this article by the Canadian Medical Association, and that is worth mentioning.

I heard my colleague, the Minister of Agriculture, talk about all the money that has been invested by the government in the past few years when it comes to the Food Inspection Agency. The problem is that if the money goes to the wrong place or if the processes are not improved, then the money is no good. What the listeriosis case and the crisis in Walkerton, Ontario, uncovered is the issue of the process, the way to proceed, and that is not being reviewed by the government.

I would like to have more time—as I know I am running out of time—to speak about the Quebec City search and rescue centre, and the Quebec City office in particular, which will affect my riding. I hope to have the opportunity to say a few words about this when answering questions.

The crux of the problem is really the Conservative government's approach to the budget cuts imposed on all departments and on agencies in critical situations, such as the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Instead of verifying whether services are effective and meet their objectives, general cuts are made and all services suffer, including essential services. That is our concern with the budget implementation bill. That is why we will support the motion.

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

1:30 p.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, air pollution is a major environmental risk to human health. By reducing air pollution levels, we can help reduce the burden of disease from respiratory infections, heart disease and lung cancer. The lower the levels of air pollution in a city, the better the respiratory and cardiovascular health the population will be in.

Exposure to air pollutants is largely beyond the control of individuals and requires public authorities at the national, regional and even international levels. Does the hon. member think that the government should be making cuts to air pollution?

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

1:30 p.m.

NDP

Guy Caron Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, yes, I believe that the Conservatives should reduce pollution and therefore should not cut the budgets of programs aimed at reducing air pollution.

With regard to the environment, the member for Parkdale—High Park mentioned that one-third of the budget implementation bill deals with environmental measures. I believe that this is the wrong approach for two reasons.

First, the government claims that it is doing more for the environment than any other previous government. On the contrary, it is doing less for the environment and doing the most harm to the environment of all the governments that I have seen to date.

Second, as my colleague stated, these provisions should be studied by the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development to determine their environmental impact and not just their impact on the budget, as would be the case with the omnibus bill. I agree with my colleague that this matter should be given special consideration.

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

1:30 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Dubé Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened to my colleague's speech, which was unfortunately limited in time.

As a Quebecker, I appreciate discussion of the search and rescue centres. There is talk of reducing the service available in French. This is not just a symbolic service, but one that enables people to communicate properly. It is literally a question of life and death.

I would like to ask the hon. member to elaborate further on this subject, since he ran out of time.

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

1:30 p.m.

NDP

Guy Caron Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, that is a very important question. The search and rescue centre was the topic of the second part of my speech. I know that the office in St. John's, Newfoundland, is affected, but the one in Quebec City is to be abolished.

This has major consequences for my riding. Rimouski and my riding are on the banks of the St. Lawrence River, and are currently served by the Quebec City centre. The loss of this centre will result in 500 more calls per year in Halifax and 1,000 more in Trenton. The problem is that Halifax and Trenton are not familiar with the circumstances in the gulf and estuary of the St. Lawrence. That will clearly mean problems in obtaining a rapid response.

Second, Le Soleil, the Quebec City newspaper, has pointed out the problems related to French. Last June, an article in this paper reported on a test of the Halifax office, in which it took 20 minutes to get a satisfactory reply in French.

The 1976 creation of the Quebec City office filled an existing gap with respect to response capabilities in French. The report by the Commissioner of Official Languages, following a request from the NDP, makes exactly this point. In particular, the St. Lawrence area, which extends as far as the Magdalen Islands, will be poorly served by the planned measures. Unfortunately, the Fisheries and Oceans Canada budget, which ought to have covered this, will be reduced further.

Finally, in this respect, the Fisheries and Oceans Canada budget will also bring reductions in the Canadian Coast Guard and the small craft harbours program, under which Rimouski is supposed to serve as a port of refuge. At the moment, it cannot easily play this role, because it needs a breakwater.

These questions must be dealt with by the government, but that is not happening and the lives of people using the St. Lawrence are at risk.

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

April 30th, 2012 / 1:30 p.m.

Liberal

Frank Valeriote Guelph, ON

Mr. Speaker, it has been famously said that those who fail to learn from the past are doomed to repeat it.

The motion before the House today is concerned with exactly that. Not only is the government repeating history by making reckless cuts to essential government services that protect the health and safety of Canadians, but it is doing it knowing full well what tragic consequences can arise.

I will be sharing my time with the member for Etobicoke North.

Sitting on the front benches of the government are ministers who, while senior members of the Mike Harris government in Ontario, were at the wheel when essential government services were cut, leading to the deaths of seven people and the serious illness of thousands of residents of Walkerton. In this day and age, it is unthinkable that Canadians should have to question the quality or safety of their food or water, yet it was a Conservative government in Ontario that created a health and safety vacuum when it cut water monitoring, among other essential government services, to create efficiencies in the late 1990s. Justice O'Connor, in his subsequent investigation into the Walkerton tragedy, cited the pursuit of these efficiencies as key among the reasons the whole water quality monitoring system broke down.

As if that were not enough, we are barely four years removed from the outbreak of listeria at Maple Leaf Foods, which tragically killed 22 and left many other Canadians seriously ill. In the wake of the listeria contamination outbreak, the Weatherill report recommended not only increased funding for more inspectors but also a significant government investment in the necessary infrastructure to ensure that the Canadian public is never again at risk from food we would never expect to be dangerous.

These illnesses target the most vulnerable in our society: children and seniors, those who need and deserve our protection the most. It is entirely reckless to go ahead and tell Canadians, children, seniors, and men and women with dietary restrictions and allergies that in the wake of such tragedies, they are now responsible to eat at their own risk.

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada experienced the most severe cuts of all the departments in the most recent Conservative budget. Among those cuts is a cut of $56.1 million to the budget of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Now, my colleagues opposite will have us know, as soon as I am done speaking, that they have invested a considerable sum of money in the CFIA this year as well; of course, it is still significantly less than they are cutting, leaving a funding deficit of approximately $5 million.

Conservatives would also have us believe that these cuts will be found from internal efficiencies and that there will be no front-line changes that would place the health and safety of Canadians at risk. Unfortunately, they neglected to inform senior management, who told CFIA staff quite the opposite, saying:

I don't know how you take 10% of your budget and not deal with the front line.

Front-line staff are not “efficiencies”. They are not a reduction in the paper budget or a readjustment of administration or management, and they are certainly not a reduction in an excessive advertising budget.

There were approximately 1,200 food inspectors in Canada before the listeriosis outbreak in 2008. In the last two years, the CFIA has added 70 meat inspectors to respond to the outbreak and another 100 in order to comply with the higher inspection standards of the United States. Members opposite will argue that there were some 700 net new inspectors since 2006; however, a majority of these additional staff members have nothing to do with food inspection. They are not front-line staff; it is just that everyone was given the title “inspector”.

This is particularly important when we consider that only about 2% of imported food is inspected as it enters Canada. Right now when meat is imported into Canada, it is cleared separately, because it is a higher-risk product; however, in the same town hall where senior managers at CFIA informed staff that there was no way they could avoid affecting front-line services, they also announced that as part of cuts to food inspection, they will be eliminating the program to pre-clear and track imported meat shipments.

Considering that meat inspectors clear and track 50,000 shipments a year, axing this program means less scrutiny and less information about high-risk imports.

Cuts to food inspection will also affect interprovincial imports and exports, with cuts to jobs at the ferry terminal in Port aux Basques where inspectors spray down soil-contaminated vehicles to prevent the spread of potato cyst nematode. If the nematodes are allowed to get into P.E.I. or other maritime soil, the result would be near destruction of the potato industry as the disease spreads across the area.

Unfortunately this new, less thorough, approach to inspecting imports is coupled with what CFIA senior management calls a radical re-engineering of the inspection process. CFIA executives informed staff that they would be transitioned largely from food inspectors to systems inspectors only. The difference is fundamental: they will no longer be food safety inspectors, but instead paper-pushers who will oversee industry self-policing. In large part, this environment existed before the listeriosis crisis, yet the Conservative government has ignored all of the valuable lessons most Canadians learned in the wake of that tragedy.

Industry cannot solely be relied upon for food safety regulation and verification, which is why we do not rely on any industry or body to police itself, especially when the results could be as dire as they were in Walkerton or at Maple Leaf Foods; however, the government, which is ideologically opposed to regulation, is letting ideology and politics interfere with safety.

Consumer protection inspectors verify the accuracy of product nutrition claims, which is critical safety information for diabetes sufferers or Canadians living with heart disease, high blood pressure or other life-threatening allergies. On top of cutting the verification of product labels, CFIA has also cut its verification of restaurant menu claims as well as product net weight claims.

Now more than ever, Canadians are more conscious about the food they are eating in terms of salt intake, fat content, and wheat or peanut content, and rightly so. Postmedia showed in an article on April 20 that some of the country's biggest food brands, in some cases, drastically understated the quantities of harmful nutrients while inversely overstating the presence of healthy nutrients.

According to these CFIA tests, of the 600 products tested, more than half were inconsistent with the information on the packaging, with information in some cases off by nearly 90%. That significant a variation is a terrifying proposition for a mother with a child suffering from celiac disease, for a middle-aged man who needs to regulate his sodium intake in order to regulate his blood pressure or for a diabetic whose day-to-day health is contingent on a very rigorous diet. Canadians with serious dietary restrictions will have to look at every food product as though it is labelled “use at your own risk”.

More astonishingly, the only remedy left by the government in the wake of the vacuum it has now created is an online portal where consumers can contact companies directly with their complaint. Perhaps Conservative members can answer me this: what good is a web inquiry to a mom whose child is in the hospital?

In the Conservative war on experts and information, the health and food safety professionals are no longer the first line of defence, but it certainly appears now that everyday Canadians are the last. My deepest fear is that it could be too late by the time anyone needs to report an inaccurate label.

This is no less than the second wave of cuts. Not even six months ago, the Conservatives slashed the CFIA budget by $33.5 million, including $17.4 million dedicated specifically toward increased inspectors and inspections. The Conservative government argued these funds already had an expiration date, yet instead of implementing a permanent infrastructure to protect Canadians against food-borne illness, it followed these early cuts with more and deeper cuts in this budget.

In the 2008 election, the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food made an inappropriate joke at the expense of the victims of the listeriosis outbreak. He was rightly criticized for it at the time. I would like to think that he had learned his lesson and no longer saw food safety as a joke.

I am certain there is no member in the House who wishes to see another food tragedy. I am certain that should another befall Canadians, the Conservative government will wring its hands and be quite contrite. We can, however, avoid that to the extent possible by continuing to support the regulations now in place, the regulations that came about and were informed by Walkerton and by the listeriosis outbreak.

We have come too far to make the same fatal, costly mistakes. It is not too late for all members of the House to support reversing these cuts and restore peace of mind to the Canadian public that its food is not only the best but also the safest.

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

1:40 p.m.

NDP

Andrew Cash Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, earlier today a member opposite suggested that Canadians do not really understand the point of this motion today. However, Canadians do understand that the government cannot be trusted when it comes to Canadians' health and safety, the integrity of our food security and the protection of our environment.

This is a government that is becoming a pariah internationally because it is holding up an international body that wants to put a warning on asbestos. The government is the only government on this committee that is holding up that process. How can the government be trusted to protect the integrity of our food system and the safety of it when it is showing its colours internationally in a most egregious way?

I wonder if my hon. colleague on the Liberal side wants to comment on the general direction the government takes in terms of protecting us against hazardous materials and protecting our food.

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

1:45 p.m.

Liberal

Frank Valeriote Guelph, ON

Mr. Speaker, there is no question that the government has not only lost the confidence of Canadians, with I think a 20% approval rating as to its trustworthiness, following the robocall scandal, following the F-35 misinformation that it had given us for which it was found in contempt last year, as members will recall. It has also lost international esteem because of its position on asbestos, because of its position on the environment.

Imagine firing 700 environmental scientists, muzzling environmental scientists and shutting down the round table on the environment and the economy. When the government says, “We've got everyone's interests at heart about the environment”, we know it has gone from becoming environmental laggards to environmental outlaws.

Canadians are not fooled by this. They know that the same ideology has now been applied to food safety. I am warning Canadians now that if they do not stand up to the government and become warriors about food safety, their health is at risk.