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NDP MP for Welland (Ontario)
Won his last election, in 2011, with 42.20% of the vote.
Statements in the House
Veterans Affairs November 25th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, I am interested in the industry minister's comment, because Industry Canada has lost $1 billion and cannot tell us where it went. It has no idea where it went. It went to the States? Who knows?
That is just one of many programs. It is a theme across the front bench. They constantly say it is the bureaucrats or it is somebody else's problem, but it is not their problem; they are only ministers. “I'm only the Prime Minister”, he says over there.
At the end of the day, the Auditor General clearly said they are failing veterans. Can someone over there, just anyone, stand up with a little humility and say to veterans across this country, “We are sorry for what happened to you and we will make it better”?
Agricultural Growth Act November 24th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, my friend talked a bit about public research. I would like him to elaborate a bit more. The bill would allow public research with patented material up to a certain level, but not for commercial use. People could not actually commercialize it if they used it. If they could not actually make money from it, and there has been a decrease in public dollars actually going into public research, does the member have any fear or concern that the public research piece of the balance may actually decline? Where does he see it going? Even though they could get the material from a private company, they could not commercialize it, because it would be explicit that it was for non-commercial use.
Does the member see any threat to public research in the sense that there is a lot of stuff to work with but nothing to do? What effect would that have on farmers, ultimately?
Agricultural Growth Act November 24th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for the question; it is actually a very good one.
The organic association, to use an example, had real concerns about what this meant to their members. What we have seen when large corporations do things is that, justifiably, they do them to scale. They do them on a very large scale, and they do very limited numbers because those become the most profitable ones, and so they should. Why would they market something that is less profitable when they can market something that is more profitable? Their shareholders are looking for their company to be more profitable. That is the impact that consumers will see: less choice in the marketplace in the future.
The organic association is not so much concerned that their seeds will necessarily get commingled. It is more that folks now in the seed business may get out of the business because there will be less return through it and they should actually be in something else. There is a big concern that they will see a kind of homogenization and have fewer choices than exist now. There are those who believe the choices could still be there, but it remains to be seen.
Therefore, there is an impact for consumers down the road, and it will not necessarily be a positive one.
Agricultural Growth Act November 24th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the question from my colleague from the agriculture committee.
This is an omnibus bill, as I maybe should have stated from the beginning, and there are a number of pieces in it. There are things under the Fertilizers Act and things under the advanced payment program, and there are a number of other things in the bill that we New Democrats fundamentally agree with, so my recommendation for my colleagues would have been a totally different one if the bill had been split.
We brought forward the advance payments program, even though the government had to make a major amendment to it, and justifiably so. It was probably the correct amendment, and we actually voted with the Conservatives on it. We would have voted for the advance payments program. It is what farmers actually wanted. The Conservatives heard farmers on that one. I will give them that. That is what we heard from farmers. There were a couple of other bigger groups that wanted an increase in the amount of money, but basically they heard them. On the Fertilizers Act, we would have voted for that one as well. There are big pieces of this bill on which we are in agreement. That is what farmers were saying, and that is what we heard from our witnesses as well.
However, the fundamental piece on which there was the most concern was the Plant Breeders' Rights Act, because that is about intellectual property. It is about who owns the intellectual property of a seed, which is the very life of a plant. That is the beginning of life for a plant. I do not mean to overdo it, but it is. We can buy seeds at Canadian Tire and grow carrots if we want. I would offer up to all of those who have never taken an opportunity to plant a seed and see something grow that they should do that.
Clearly, they want to own the very essence of a plant: the seed. They have won the day on that. The issue was how we balance it out to ensure that both parties who are involved in growing food for us as a nation are on a level playing field. Unfortunately, in this case the big companies won and the farmers, in my view, did not.
Agricultural Growth Act November 24th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, my friend from Timmins—James Bay sits on other committees, as many of my colleague do, watching how legislation comes about and whether we can enact changes to it or not.
He is right about farmers' privilege. As I said at the beginning of my speech, there is a difference in language and tone and in how we believe that farmers have a right to save seed versus their belief it is a privilege.
When we raise that with members on the government side, they say that it is the same. Our view is that it is not the same, that there is a significant difference between a privilege and a right. That became abundantly clear when we were going through the legislation. We can see the powers that the minister takes into his own hands when deciding a farmers' privilege on a case-by-case basis. The minister can eliminate some of the privilege of an individual farmer or a group of a farmers. He can say to them that they cannot have that privilege of saving that anymore, because he has decided against it.
It is arbitrary in my view. In our view, that was never the intention of the legislation. At least in civil court, and other areas, and even in the Criminal Code, when taking away someone's right of freedom and sending them to jail, there is due process. This does not give due process. It simply says “By fiat, I am the minister and I am eliminating this particular privilege.”
Even more draconian, the other side of it is that the seed company can now come to the minister on a case-by-case basis and say “Do not register that one. I do not want it registered.” Registration means that when they move on to something else, that may still be out in the marketplace for farmers to have. If all the seed companies make valid arguments and decide against this on a case-by-case basis, it eliminates farmers' ability to have a competitive marketplace,
If the decision is to not register, we will be in a lot of trouble. What will happen is that they will now own all of it. It will not be open, because the registration will be held by the company itself rather than being registered through CFIA. That will be extremely problematic.
I will guarantee that just as sun rises tomorrow morning, they will ask, on a case-by-case basis, to keep that private and not to register certain varieties of seeds as we move forward.
Agricultural Growth Act November 24th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, it is always with great pride that I come here to talk about agriculture and farmers.
The parliamentary secretary tried to encapsulate what we did around the bill, how the committee functioned and whether it had great and vigorous debate on amendments. If I were able to dance, it is less than what used to be referred to as the “one-two”. Usually, it is a “one and a half” when it comes to debate from the Conservative side. When the Conservatives do not really have any more logical things to say, they just say “no”, which is the intent of the debate.
When the Conservatives portray this as some sort of vigorous and spirited debate in this place, one gets used the hyperbole, embellishment and all of the other things that happen here. The parliamentary secretary is taking somewhat of a poetic license around his descriptor of how the agriculture committee works, except for the fact that, for the most part, it is a pretty genial committee, to be truthful, as far as the tenor.
I would like to thank the chair of the committee, who was very good and generous about ensuring there was a balance of witnesses. When I say that, there was an equal number of witnesses who spoke quite passionately in favour of Bill C-18 as was without amendment. That is even before the government's amendments. On the other side, in equal number, there were many who had a number of amendments to put forward. A few of those amendments were covered by what the government did.
None of them ever thought about the major amendment that the government made, which had to do with the advanced payment process and about recouping money from farmers who went bankrupt. That is why it used the example of the student loan program. It was not actually my narrative or descriptive of how the advanced payment reclaim program would work. It was from the department of Agriculture and Agri-Food. When I specifically asked to have the six pages of amendments to fix this one piece explained, the department told me that it was a very technical piece, but that it was like the student loan program.
For those of us who know young people who have student loans, that conjures up a vision that is not pleasant. I do not know too many student loan recipients who think the program is a great one to be in. They would see it as a very onerous program. That is what the government decided to do. That was its major amendment.
The government's minor tinkering with the farmers' privilege piece did not do the first thing we suggested it ought do. We do not believe it is a privilege for farmers to save seed. We think it is their right to save seed. Some would ask is that not just semantics, or are we not just being wordsmiths? Legislation is about words, and words are important. That is why we spend an exhaustive amount of time, according to the government, talking. It says that we should do more doing and less talking, but carving legislation is about writing the words down, and debating the words and their very meaning.
Fundamentally, the difference between a right and a privilege under the code of law, of which I am not a learned person in the sense of being a lawyer, is the significant difference between one having a right to do something and one having a privilege to actually do it. That is a significant piece that I think the government understood. I think it purposely decided to leave it as a privilege because it intended to do things. At least, it would leave itself with the ability to do things.
One of the things that was mentioned earlier, and my friend from Timmins—James Bay pointed it out, was the minister's ability, on a case by case basis, to change that privilege. My view is that if it were a fundamental right, he would be unable to do it on a case by case basis because he might have to come back to here. We suggested that needed that be struck from the bill and if the government wanted to change things, it could write new legislation and bring it back here.
The government says that it is a bit onerous and that it takes too long. It takes too long for who? For the seed company, of course, the folks who will end up with the ownership of seeds that they wish to sell, because they will say that they have developed it or done something with it and they own that intellectual property, which is understood.
However, if the minister simply allows things to disappear for farmers, where is the balance in that? For us, clearly Bill C-18 was about balancing the needs of those seed developers and the rights of farmers, and ensure that the balance was appropriate and not totally unequal. Those who held the intellectual property would still have greater weight than those who did not. They would have the ability to sell or not, they owned it, and no one else could have it if they had not previously bought it. This became problematic for us, and to be truthful, problematic for most farm organizations across the country. Most said that needed to be changed.
The minister came back with a minor tweak to say that the farmers could now store seed. However, the initial legislation did not say that. It actually said that one could save it, clean it, but not store it. Therefore, what were they going to do with it? If they could not store it, where was it going to go after they saved it? It had to be kept somewhere. It could not be sent to a friend down the road to store it, because that would be a commercial transaction even though no money was exchanged. There is no exchange even for non-monetary purposes in this legislation, and the seed could only be kept for oneself. Therefore, the Conservatives made this minor tweak to enable farmers to store it, and that is all they did under farmers' privilege, even though it was identified by a number of farm groups across the country as needing needed a bit more strength for that particular aspect.
UPOV '91, which is the major piece in this legislation, is the new threshold on intellectual property rights when it comes to seed. There is no question about that, and it is accepted around the world.
UPOV is simply an acronym for intellectual property and '91 signifies the year it came into force with a number of countries, including a previous government here which signed on but never enabled it. This has been around for a long time.
Therefore, there was the issue of getting it done, which had been tried before, but the majority of farmers said that they did not want it, so it was withdrawn. However, the reason it has come forward now is that although farmers are still basically leery of UPOV '91 and what it may hold for them years down the road, there are very few alternatives these days.
Public funding for public research through Agriculture Canada has been on the decline for the last 25 years. However, nearly every farm and farm group will tell us the same thing: they need more money to go back into public research so there is a balance with the privately-held independent companies.
To be truthful, private companies are in the business of making a profit, and that is not a dirty word. Yes, I am a New Democrat, but for private companies, profit is not a dirty word. That is what they are there to do. They provide a product or service and sell it. There is nothing wrong with that.
However, I will be so bold as to say that we take seed to grow crop to make food. It is a simple proposition. Anybody who puts seed in the ground and looks after it well, it will grow. It may be flowers, vegetables or anything. Farmers do exceedingly well in our country and they deserve to have the latest technology and seeds to do that. The problem is this. At what price and are they a captive market?
Our view of this was how to balance it. One way is to protect farmers so they can be empowered in dealing with their competitors so they can withstand the push of, “here's what you're getting and here's the price you're paying”, because they have options. The problem is that the government has limited those options.
Clearly, that was the dilemma we had with the legislation. It was not the fact that a private seed company would own intellectual property under UPOV '91. We did not fundamentally disagree with that at all.
We wanted to see the tables balanced. The Conservatives did not want to see the tables balanced. They have allowed the table to be unevenly balanced because, even on a case-by-case basis, as I said earlier, the ministry has the right to take some things away if it chooses. That, we think, is not the direction to go when farmers are now at the whim of the minister, not Parliament, with the latter now able to say, I do not think they need that.
One of the other amendments we tried to push forward was that the seed companies themselves can now appeal to CFIA not to register the seed. If they do not register it, it means that it is totally private, meaning in turn that the farmer cannot save it, because only the registered varieties can be saved. So now the farmer cannot save it. Not only are the seed companies allowed to lobby the minister to see if he can remove certain privileges, but they also now have the right to ask CFIA not to register a particular variety of seed if they do not want that done. That gives them more power in the marketplace. The fewer the varieties of seed that get registered, the less the ability of farmers to find a competitive price for the seeds they need to buy.
That is why we made amendments. We did not strike the bill. We did not go into committee and say, “Let's eliminate this or let's eliminate that“, and try to wipe it all out. We did not do that at all. We went to committee with the good intention of trying to make a bill that would be acceptable to the seed producers and their intellectual property rights, and for farmers who are the end-users of that particular product. That was our goal at committee.
Unfortunately, my friends on the other side of the table, in government, decided that they we did not need to level it out that well. They believe they know what is best for farmers. We heard that in the House this morning: the parliamentary secretary said that they know best for farmers. However, what he did not say was that when witnesses and farm groups and farmers came here, including the Conservatives' witnesses, or at least ones that we did not call, they said that we needed a substantive amendment. My colleague wants to suggest that there is only one group we spoke to.
One of the amendments came from my discussion with the vice-president of Bayer CropScience AG. Back in February I had a two-hour conversation with the vice-president of Bayer on the phone. We discussed the piece on farmers' privilege and their ability to store it. When we went through that with him, he said that was not actually what he wanted to see. He wanted to see a more balanced approach to this. That is when we suggested that we would draft an amendment that would give balance, but still protected his company's intellectual property rights if it developed a new variety. It is only fair if they have put the money in and own that property that they have a right to charge for it. That is what UPOV '91 said.
Even the vice-president of Bayer was saying that, yes, he heard us, that we were right and needed to find a balance. To suggest somehow that due diligence was not done on this side of the House by New Democrats and the agriculture critic is a bit facetious, because, quite frankly, it was.
We spoke to other major chemical groups, seed manufacturers, agricultural groups, and individual farmers. In fact, we probably put more effort into Bill C-18 than I have seen since I went on the agriculture committee back in 2008. Why? It is because when the government tabled the bill, it was in such a hurry to do it. It tabled the bill a year ago, I think, and it has languished, so we actually had the ability to go out and talk to people for a long period of time, which was nice. We did exactly that. We talked to experts on intellectual property, who eventually came to the committee and talked about those types of rights, including a lawyer who specializes in agriculture. We had all of that discussion to frame our position so that farmers would get the best deal they possibly could, based on a balanced approach, which is really what we wanted.
What does it mean for farmers and their privilege, and what could it mean? That is the great unknown, because it has all gone back into the hands of the minister rather Parliament. There will a question now as to where the royalties will be in the system. A lot of questions were asked about that. There is a debate as to end-point royalties or beginning royalties. When a farmer buys the seed, they get it there. Some say they would rather pay at the end, because if the seed is not any good, then maybe they will not pay that much money. If the seed is really good, then they will pay a percentage based on the seed that was really good and they got a great crop.
There is a fundamental debate about that, which should be had by farm groups and farmers, but the dilemma is that it belongs in the hands of the minister. New Democrats hope he will have a conversation with the farm groups, but it is not a sure thing.
Every bill needs a regulatory process, and I accept that. The problem with most of the bills that come before the House is that the government puts all of that and more into its own hands and makes decisions without the House having an opportunity to debate it. Of course, its catch-all phrase is, “Don't worry, we will consult”. Who will consult? The parliamentary secretary says he has a list of folks he likes to consult, and there are folks that New Democrats consult that he obviously does not want to listen to. That is not consultation.
People who both agree and disagree with one's view have to be consulted. In fact, the folks who disagree should be consulted more often than the ones who do, because they challenge one to think more about a particular piece of legislation and how it can be made better. It also hones one's ability to discuss with them and explain why one is going in a certain direction, which allows them to see why one is headed down that road.
However, one can change directions, as New Democrats have done here. We said that we wanted to get the bill to committee to have good discussions, which happened. We had good discussions and brought forward substantive amendments for sure. It is always hard for government to accept substantive amendments, I understand. It was not about taking the bill apart but strengthening it for farmers, the very people whom the parliamentary secretary said the government was there for. The amendments put forward were for farmers, crafted mainly by what farmers told us either at committee or privately in meetings and conversations that have taken place over the last eight months.
The parliamentary secretary says it is only one group that New Democrats listen to. I have a number of letters from rural municipalities in Saskatchewan, not from individuals but councils in rural municipalities, that actually adopted resolutions, not just one but a few. They adopted resolutions that said Bill C-18 should be defeated.
I did not receive these last week but at the beginning of the year during the consultative process. Rural municipalities in Saskatchewan were saying that this is not a good bill for farmers. That was six or seven months ago. They were all saying this in March, early in the process, when copies of those letters were sent to me, the originals having gone to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food.
Therefore, the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food was well aware that a number of rural municipalities in Saskatchewan were saying no thanks to Bill C-18—not even as amended as New Democrats proposed. They were saying no, carte blanche: “We don't want it, it is not a good bill for farmers”, they said. Yet the parliamentary secretary and the minister would have us believe that everything is rosy in farm country and every farmer in Canada loves what the government is doing. The reality is that this is not true, just as in life one cannot be loved all of the time by everyone—unless, of course, one is Speaker. I know that the Speaker loves all of us all of the time because we are so well behaved.
Clearly, there are diverging viewpoints. With this bill, I actually thought there was enough give and take and room between the government and the opposition to craft a really significant bill for Canadian farmers. Unfortunately, much to my chagrin, as I learn as I get older, I was wrong. I was disappointed by that, but it still does not shake my faith in Canadian farmers.
Canadian farmers really know what they want, they know how to tell us what they want, and I would suggest to my friends on the other side that Canadian farmers will show them what they want during the election in 2015. I suggest that those rural municipalities in Saskatchewan are a bellwether for the members who say they did not want it and are now about to drive it down their throats.
I will make the same appeal to the other side that the parliamentary secretary made to this side. Members representing people who live on the Prairies may want to rethink Bill C-18 when it comes time to be whipped, because, clearly, there are a lot of folks in those ridings who are saying no thanks.
Agricultural Growth Act November 24th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, I always enjoy listening to the parliamentary secretary tell us how we should think on this side of the House.
However, he was right on one count. The bill could have been a great bill for farmers. All the Conservatives would have had to do was accept our amendments, which would have actually helped clean up their legislation. In fact, they had to make an amendment in an area we concentrated on, because they got it wrong. We identified very early in the game that they had it wrong. The minister actually said they would have to change that and brought in a series of amendments. It is unlike them to actually bring them forward like that.
The biggest amendment they brought forward was a six-pager, which was a technical piece, that would support the Department of Agriculture in recouping monies from the advance payments program. It was a rather technical piece, so I will not go into the details, but the way the department described it was that it would be like the student loan program. They wanted to mirror that. Well, people who have student loans know how onerous that program is.
My question for the parliamentary secretary is this: When it comes to the case of farmer's privilege, why did the bill still allow for the minister, on a case-by-case basis, to not allow farmers to save particular seeds? On a case-by-case basis, the minister could actually take that right away. Why was that still allowed to be in the bill, even though we proposed that it be taken out?
Agricultural Growth Act November 19th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my hon. colleague, the chair of the agriculture committee, for his comments. I believe I said it the other night but will say it on the record again today that I thought he chaired the committee admirably when it looked at Bill C-18. I thought there was a good balance of witnesses. His ability to chair is one thing. My trying to convince the other side to accept amendments is my own responsibility and I have to admit that I was not quite as successful as I had hoped to be. In baseball parlance, it is called an “ofer”. In other words, 16 up to the plate and 16 outs. That happens in life.
The chair asked committee members to study the bill in a professional manner, and we did. We were presented with some very professional suggestions that we thought were amendments to bring forward. Where I take slight issue with the chair is when he says that these amendments to take UPOV '91 out of this particular bill before us now would leave us eons back in time. That is not quite true. If we go back to UPOV '78, which everyone is regulated under today, it has been fairly successful. I would suggest to the chair respectfully that farmers in this country have done very well, and so they should. They have worked extremely hard. If UPOV '91 is taken out, UPOV '78 would be there.
I think the chair perhaps overstates things. I recognize that members in the House sometimes stretch things a bit, but we would clearly still have a UPOV agreement. It would be UPOV '78.
Agricultural Growth Act November 19th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, as we have unfortunately become very accustomed to in the House, we have time allocation and this time it happens to be with respect to agriculture. I guess we have to spread it around every ministry to ensure everybody gets an opportunity to come and defend time allocation in this place, so now it is the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food's opportunity.
Even when the minister came before committee, he said that the bill was not quite the way the government wanted it and required some changes. He is correct about some of the things that go on in this place because of the way the process is when it comes to the amendments. However, we submitted 16 recommendations that we thought would strengthen the bill. In its wisdom, the government side of the committee decided to vote against all of them. That was disappointing to say the least because the minister said that he would send a recommendation and the department would have some changes to it, which actually came about. However, it turned out to be a very small piece.
Clearly, the dilemma with Bill C-18 is that it is an omnibus bill, so there are many moving parts contained within it, some of which we like. The problem is we have to vote for all of it, so we have to vote for the parts we dislike more than the parts we like. That is part of the problem.
Ultimately, the minister said that the new seed act would take care of the new seed varieties, which is true. UPOV '91 will not affect them. However, as I said in committee, one of the amendments we tried to make was with respect to the varieties that were established today. When I asked the department this, it clearly agreed with me and said that if I applied to deregister them, there was a process for the deregistration and if that was not opposed to in any way, I could have them removed. The reality is that if I have a new seed variety under UPOV '91 and two old ones and I want to keep the two old ones, which I do not make as much money from, as a business person, I would probably take the new one. Why could we not have ensured that piece was in legislation?
There were a number of other things that did not get through the committee, which is unfortunate because we are now in this situation. The minister made a promise that he would get it done by August, and the last time I checked it was November. That is no reason for time allocation.
Petitions November 19th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, the second petition actually speaks to my private member's bill, which is to designate the Friday preceding Father's Day as National Garden Day.
Representing a part of the city of St. Catharines, which is also known across this great land of ours as the garden city, what more appropriate thing could we do than actually celebrate the horticultural industry, but celebrate part of my riding at the same time, and designate that Friday as national garden day?