House of Commons Hansard #199 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was immigration.

Topics

Food Safety
Adjournment Proceedings

January 29th, 2013 / 7:30 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan Edmonton—Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, while the food safety legislation has been before the House for debate and has passed, it has not taken away the interest and concern of Canadians in food safety.

I am pleased this evening to have the opportunity to follow up with a question that I put to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, to which I got a response from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture. That question was put on October 2 last year.

The essence of my question was the same as a series of questions I had put to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food. Those related to the fact that while the minister was bringing forward legislation ostensibly to increase and protect food safety for Canadians, there was very little attention being given to the improved enforcement of that legislation.

Obviously, we were raising a lot of questions in the House because of the fallout of the food recalls from XL Foods in Alberta and the impact that had on Canadians who were concerned about what they could serve their families for lunch and dinner, and also the impact on the beef industry in Canada. We were deeply concerned and wanted to move expeditiously to strengthen the food safety regime to protect the industry.

One of the stalwarts of Alberta historically is the cattle industry. Because I have a long-standing experience in the field of environmental enforcement, I have followed very closely activities at the federal and provincial and territorial levels, including some first nations governments, in moving toward more effective enforcement compliance policies to make sure that their laws and bylaws are effectively inspected and enforced.

I and my colleagues had a deep concern, which we shared with the House on a number of occasions, that the government did not seem to be admitting to the problems we were experiencing with respect to effective enforcement of the food safety laws. While the government was attempting to bring forward strengthened laws, there was no admission that the government also needed to strengthen food safety enforcement.

We were a little concerned when I raised this question on October 2 that the response by the parliamentary secretary was to suggest to the House and in turn to the public that our party intended to oppose the improved food safety law. That, in fact, was complete misinformation and indeed, when the bill finally came forward, we all voted for it.

The concern was that our party had put forward a series of amendments, 11 in fact, most of which were directed at ensuring effective enforcement of the act. Regrettably, the vast majority of those amendments were refused.

We continue to have the concern that while improved legislation has come forward, there is a number of significant matters that would have improved and enhanced the food safety regime in this country. One of those was whistle blower protection.

Obviously, given the situation in some of the plants, it is very important that the workers feel free to bring to the attention of authorities problems they see on the floor that might affect food safety, particularly when they suspect there might be a violation. The government rejected that amendment.

Other amendments included improved labelling of food, requiring that there be specified training for the officers designated for complaints verification. We also wanted to include a provision that is common in most regulatory laws, and that was to specify that a peace officer had to assist inspectors where requested. There was a whole series of provisions which would have simply modernized the food safety regime in Canada. Regrettably, the government rejected them.

I am hoping in the response I get today that the government will indicate it has finally decided to open up a discussion with the public with inspectors, with those who work in the food safety industry, to talk about a more effective enforcement compliance regime for food safety.

Food Safety
Adjournment Proceedings

7:35 p.m.

Nepean—Carleton
Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, the member asked for a conversation about food safety. That is not what the Canadian people want. They want, as Elvis said, “A little less conversation, a little more action please”, and action is what they get on this side of the floor.

We have taken action to strengthen our food safety system with the legislation the member mentioned, which we introduced and her party eventually came around to supporting. We have updated the inspection approach based on common inspection activities and standard processes; delivered more comprehensive training to inspectors; implemented Health Canada's revised listeria policy; increased CFIA's science capacity; built the modern electronic tools so that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, CFIA, can share information more effectively with stakeholders; and we have provided better and more tools to front-line inspectors, whose numbers we have expanded.

As CFIA continues to modernize the inspection approaches, it will ensure that there continues to be enough inspection staff to protect the health and safety of the Canadian people. Our government has, in effect, strengthened the efforts of CFIA enforcement by broadening its mandate under the Safe Food for Canadians Act, which came just before Christmas, thereby fulfilling the final recommendation of the Weatherill report.

The act has many provisions that strengthen our food safety system, including giving CFIA the authority to mandate traceability for food processors. Comprehensive traceability systems will help the CFIA find non-compliant, high-risk products faster, so they can get off the shelves quicker.

The act also allows CFIA to mandate the way in which food processors maintain their records, and it allows the agency to compel producers to turn their records over to the CFIA without delay and in an appropriate format. Previously, food inspectors could keep their records with different levels of details. With this new legislation, CFIA can prescribe the type of information that companies must maintain. The consistency will make food safety investigations go much quicker and much more efficiently.

Canada has a world-class food recall system and acts immediately to alert consumers, should unsafe food enter the marketplace. Our government is committed to making these instances even rarer. I ask the NDP to work with us to make it so.

Food Safety
Adjournment Proceedings

7:40 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan Edmonton—Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, in response, it is with my regret that the parliamentary secretary continues the misinformation. At no point in time did members of our party ever say they were opposed to improved food safety legislation and we, the official opposition, voted en masse for the bill. What was regrettable was that the Conservatives refused to accept the proposed amendments, which would have further strengthened and modernized the food safety legislation toward effective enforcement.

It is disappointing and unlike previous Conservative governments. For example, when the Mulroney government in the mid-1980s tabled innovative Canadian environmental protection legislation, it simultaneously tabled an enforcement compliance policy. It was a historic moment and the statement was made that a law is of no value and is vacuous unless there is effective enforcement compliance.

We have continued to ask: What is the problem? Why would the Conservatives not open up to the public, inspectors and food safety workers to review the enforcement compliance regime to make sure it is as sound as they say?

Dr. Weatherill's report raised serious concerns with the enforcement regime. However, the government has not acted on that report.

We remain hopeful that the government will finally admit that the big problem was with the enforcement of the regime. To ensure that we do not have future problems, let us open it up, take a look and take a look at some of the amendments we have proposed, so that it is a modern, effective enforcement regime.

Food Safety
Adjournment Proceedings

7:40 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Nepean—Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, we have already taken the steps to improve our system and learn from the incidents that occurred. We updated the inspection approach based on common inspection activities and standard processes. We have delivered more comprehensive training to inspectors. We have implemented Health Canada's revised listeria policy, increased CFIA's science capacity, built electronic tools so that CFIA can share information more effectively with stakeholders; and better and more tools for front-line inspectors are now available. Those are tangible steps to protect the Canadian people.

Rail Transportation
Adjournment Proceedings

7:40 p.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to speak again about the importance of rail infrastructure, and specifically, passenger rail.

Just like shipping on the Great Lakes, rail helped build this country and is celebrated for the central role it played in our history. In northern Ontario, the discovery of silver and cobalt was made by men building what would become the Ontario Northland Railway. That discovery eventually built a thriving town. However, the success story of rail is not limited to any one place. Significant economic activity followed wherever the lines went, and rail is still the cornerstone of many communities to this day.

In recent years, passenger rail has fallen on tough times, not because it is not cost-effective, convenient or environmentally beneficial but because governments in Canada have continually downgraded their commitment to this particular form of transportation. If members will recall, when I raised this issue in October, the Ontario government was in the process of ending passenger services offered by Ontario Northland. This move came on the heels of significant reductions in the frequency of passenger routes for VIA Rail and amounted to a one-two punch for people in northern Ontario.

These decisions are short-sighted and, when compared with significant government investments in highways, show that both governments are clearly choosing to subsidize one form of transportation at the expense of another. This is a scenario where governments are picking winners and losers, and abandoning our history, endangering our present and limiting our future options in the process. In this case, the losers are rail, the people who depend upon it and the communities it serves.

I am not here to argue against investing in our highways, our network of roads. I am here to argue that passenger rail is integral to our economy in Canada, especially in northern Ontario. For many people, rail has been their preferred or only available form of public transportation. Rail adds value to the region and helps anchor local economies.

By way of an example, we can look at the numbers associated with the Ontario Northland Railway. The ONR contributes a full 1% to the GDP of the province. Every dollar spent on salaries, operational inputs and capital programs creates an additional $1.25 in value-added activity for northeastern Ontario. For every dollar in wages, it is estimated that $1.47 of value-added economic activity is created in the region.

Put more simply, for every job created by the railway, there is an additional job created in the region. Communities that are serviced by the railway tend to have higher average incomes than most in the other regions.

The intermodal nature of rail and the ONR's connectivity with east-west routes amount to a competitive advantage for the region. With the promise of significant development in the Ring of Fire, it makes little sense for Ontario to abandon its commitment to passenger rail. Employees will have to get to their workplaces, and with every job that is created in this region, there is another potential passenger who will now be finding other ways to get to the job site.

The current government has a hand in reducing options for northerners, as well. VIA's cuts to all routes are being felt in northern and remote communities especially hard. Many of these places have already seen bus service dry up, despite significant cash investments in the roads that they travel on. Also feeling the pinch are businesses that grew out of the demand created by passenger rail. Less frequent trains means fewer customers. What may seem like a small decision for people with the options of those living in larger centres is earth-shattering for towns such as Hornepayne.

Will the government look at the evidence that supports a strong passenger rail option in Canada and protect the services already in place, while finding ways to encourage more options, especially in rural and northern Canada?

Rail Transportation
Adjournment Proceedings

7:45 p.m.

Nepean—Carleton
Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, rail is an important part of the transportation mix in our country.

It is important to remember that VIA Rail is a money-losing enterprise. That means every time it has a line that lacks significant demand, the cost to the taxpayer goes up. The proportional benefit to the people VIA is meant to serve goes down. That is why VIA has made the decision to prioritize lines that have greater traffic and to find savings in lines that do not.

These are difficult decisions, but they are important because we do live in a world of finite resources. A dollar spent in one place cannot be spent somewhere else. When a train line runs to a destination where traffic levels are not high enough, the costs associated with serving that under-subscribed line have to come from other services elsewhere.

In order to prioritize the finite moneys that it has, VIA is working to provide excellent and continued service in the places where the largest number of people can benefit. This is the basis for the decisions that VIA has made.

In the future we will continue to work toward a more efficient and faster VIA Rail service so Canadians will use VIA in larger numbers and the crown corporation can generate the necessary revenues to serve more people at a lower cost to Canadian taxpayers. That is the plan and we have made significant investments in increasing the speed and efficiency of these trains in order to fulfill that plan.

Rail Transportation
Adjournment Proceedings

7:50 p.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member does not even know what he is talking about.

The reason that people are not taking as many trains is because there is not enough choice in the amount of times the trains go through. That is because of the cuts made and the promotion of it as well. The fact that there is a cut in the ability to promote the line certainly plays an impact in not even knowing about the opportunities that could be out there.

It is clear that rail offers real value to those regions and communities it serves. While the government is reducing services to VIA routes, groups like the Coalition for Algoma Passenger Trains are trying to revive them. Rail projects create demand and jobs in the north, as we see with Serpent River First Nation in partnership with Sudbury's Mansour Group on a railway ballast contract where the first nation supplies crushed rock for the Huron Central Railway's track reconstruction project. They built a 1,000-foot long railroad siding in just 6 weeks. It is working. With the success of this project, Serpent River First Nation is keen to become a transportation hub in the region.

Will the government jump on board and create another success story by committing to restore passenger rail and preserving the infrastructure needed to grow this in the future?

Rail Transportation
Adjournment Proceedings

7:50 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Nepean—Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am fascinated by NDP logic. The member rises to say that the given line does not have much passenger traffic and the solution is to have more trains.

I am not aware of any other line of business where a reduced number of customers would lead to an increased amount of customers served. VIA must react and respond to the degree of demand that Canadians offer. When Canadians do not demand a given line, VIA has to make decisions about the future of that line and whether its resources would be better dedicated to a more heavily trafficked one instead.

That is what VIA has done. I think it has made the right decision. We will continue to move forward with our policy agenda.

Rail Transportation
Adjournment Proceedings

7:50 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Joe Comartin

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly the House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 2 p.m. pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 7:52 p.m.)