Mr. Speaker, I am glad to rise and speak to third reading of Bill C-53, the pest control act. I know it is too late to make amendments to the bill but I hope to make some suggestions to which I hope the government will listen. Perhaps at some future date it will implement some of these suggestions and the positive changes we hope to see take place.
Unlike the debate earlier today in which the government found itself on the wrong side of an issue, the disability tax credit and having to defend its treatment of disabled persons, we find that this bill is politically correct in every way.
I think this bill is part of a trend. When I came to Ottawa, I was under the impression that bills would be written with a positive objective. It is surprising to me to see that a number of bills have been introduced with a negative objective.
The first one I came across was Bill C-15B, which was the animal rights legislation. It has a very strange definition in it where it defines animals as “any being that has the capacity to feel pain”. That is a very strange and negative way to define an animal. We could just as well have been defined animal as one that can feel excitement. It could have been defined either way. It was interesting that the government took a negative tact to define one of the major definitions in that bill.
When we read the primary objective of Bill C-53, once again we see that it has a negative tact of what it wants to do. It says that it is “in the national interest that the primary objective of the federal regulatory system be to prevent unacceptable risk to people and the environment from the use of pest control products”. It begins with the assumption that the bill needs to do something negative.
It is too late now to change the bill but the objective of the bill could have easily been to promote good health and environmental stewardship through the regulation of products which are used for controlling pests. That throws an entirely different flavour on the objective of the bill and its direction.
The perspective of the department is revealed in a large way by how it put the bill together. The objective sets the direction for how the bill will be enforced and how it will be applied. I have a lot of concerns about that. The words “prevent” rather than “promote” have been used . The words “stop“ rather than “provide” have been used. I think already we can see what the intention of the department will be in applying this legislation.
The bill also seems to be very politically correct in that it is discriminatory. Once again, by picking out special interest groups, the government misses out on protecting the people it should be protecting. In the preamble of the bill it mentions that we need to take into account the effects of chemicals on major identifiable subgroups, including pregnant women, infants, children, women and seniors. However it completely misses mentioning the effects on the people who use chemicals the most and who are most closely exposed to them, and that is men.
It is fine to identify the other identifiable subgroups. It is true that some of them are more susceptible to chemicals than others. In my constituency the men are exposed most closely to the majority of the chemicals. Men are working with them consistently. I would expect that to be fair government legislation should deal with everyone, not just the politically correct groups. It is an insult that seems to always accompany special interest politics by people who either do not really understand how things work right on the ground or bureaucrats who have an agenda.
I would like to talk a bit about the people at home. I come from an agricultural area where chemicals are used. The people who use them are primarily the men in our area. The farmers use them in spring to treat seed crops, fungicides and in a number of other ways. Later in the spring they use them for weed control and insect control. In the fall there are chemicals that are often applied as well. I suggest men do have special characteristics. There are a number of illnesses that are often ignored because it seems they are male in origin, while other more politically popular and perhaps more politically correct diseases get a lot of funding and attention from different places.
The bill discriminates. I am not too sure the people who wrote it realize that. My question would be this. How used to that way of thinking have we become that we begin to discriminate but do not realize it?
As so many other bills, this bill also has a coercive element to it. We have seen other coercive government thinking. We have seen the big stick approach in a number of other bills as well. Just lately, in Bill C-5, the government insisted on passing a bill without providing for compensation for landowners who would be affected by it. The government said that we should be comforted by the fact that at some point in the future it would put compensation in regulations.
We have seen it in Bill C-15B where there are very strong penalties for animal rights abuses, yet at the same time the government has chosen not to protect farmers and ranchers from frivolous claims and attacks on their normal way of life. We have seen it also in Bill C-68 which over the years has been a source of a lot of contention and problems.
We see it here again in terms of the transportation, disposal and handling of these products. Clause 6 reads:
No person shall handle, store, transport, use or dispose of a pest control product in a way that is inconsistent with...
Then it states the regulations and a couple of other options.
Later we see that the fines are very substantial. Penalties are severe: $200,000 or six months in jail for a summary conviction and $500,000 and three years upon conviction from an indictment.
I would suggest that farmers will be caught in this. It may be news to the government but containers are not always disposed of in the manner that the bureaucrats have decided is good. That happens for a number of reasons. Often the regulations are made with no accommodation for compliance. The regulations are set up but it is not practical to comply with them or there is no funding in place to make it possible to comply with them. Often there are physical barriers to compliance which includes things like no local facility to dispose of the product or the extra containers.
The best solution I saw on this was in my home province of Saskatchewan. It came out with a program where the containers were triple rinsed and then returned to the local landfill site. It was very successful, it was voluntary and it had educational component to it. Farmers were very happy to comply with the program. They just needed a bit of encouragement and some education on the fact that the program was there for them. Fines of $200,000 will not encourage compliance as much as encouragement and a good program with a bit of education.
I have some concerns as well about the re-evaluation process. Clause 16 talks about that. It mentions that all chemicals shall be re-evaluated at some point. It talks about the fact that if the pest control product was approved in the past years, then the review process would have to be implemented fairly quickly. There is a time limit on when new chemicals will have to be re-evaluated.
This could be a very good process or it could be a disaster. We need to know more about the provisions to re-evaluate all chemicals on the market. If the government tells everyone to begin from the start with these chemicals in order to get them re-evaluated, we will find ourselves with a very expensive, cumbersome process.
The PMRA has not exactly been successful at its registration of new products. I do not know that we can throw every chemical that we have approved in the last 30 years on it without causing a huge backlog. If the government expects companies to start over with the registration, it will be just about impossible. However, if at some point it is willing to set up with an ongoing evaluation system and give approval to chemicals that demonstrate that they are not a problem that are not causing problems in the environment, then this re-evaluation process could be an excellent thing. All of it depends upon the application of the process.
I have great concern over subclause 17(2) which talks about a special review every time any OECD country takes a product off the market. We know that trade concerns can often be hidden behind health and environmental issues. We have already run into that a number of times in other areas. I suggest this ties us too closely to other countries and their activities. The Liberal government seems to be very wary of getting too close to the United States, yet in this legislation says that if any OECD country decides to pull a chemical off the market, we need to do an automatic review of its registration.
If it is good to do it that way, why do we not do it the other way as well. If any one of the OECD countries approves a product, then we approve it as well and put it on the market. That would be a fair exchange. That is not part of this bill and it is not likely that would ever happen.
There are other concerns as well. One is harmonization. We were pleased to get one of the Alliance amendments through on harmonization. Under our amendment when an applicant applies for a registered pest control product or to amend the pest control product registration, they would now be able to submit information from reviews and evaluations conducted in other OECD countries.
We heard this a PMRA hearings. People want the opportunity to bring information here that has already been developed in other places and use as part of our registration. If we use a chemical under similar conditions, it makes good sense that we use that information. It avoids costly duplication for pesticide makers. It cuts down on the cost of the registration process. It actually hastens the process of getting those chemicals onto the market where they can replace some of the older and maybe more hazardous chemicals.
Minor use is one of my other concerns. A major shortfall in Bill C-53 is that it gives no consideration to minor use products. The agriculture committee has heard this a number of times. It is very important for horticulture and vegetable specialty crops. It is important that there be a discussion about minor use and the way it will work in Canada. Minor use applications are increasing as we go to more niche marketing.
There are a lot of times that the economy of scale absolutely does not support full registration. There was a situation last spring on the prairies regarding chick peas. Because the Bravo chemical was not working in stopping the ascochyta, I approached the government to try to get another chemical approved. It took some time but the other chemical, Quadras, was approved and it worked very well. However the approval process for that chemical took quite a bit of time. That approval time has to be shortened up. If a chemical is available, if it has been used in other places and if we seem to have similar conditions here, then it should be available quickly. This is important for Canadian competitiveness.
Fruit and vegetable growers have told us that they need these chemicals. If they are available in the United States, if they have been approved and are on the market and if we have similar conditions, we need to be able to use them. The government has recognized the importance of minor use but has done nothing about it.
Concern about access to minor use products was brought up prominently in the recent report of the agriculture committee on registration of pesticides and the competitiveness of Canadian farmers. According to the report:
Canadian farmers...do not have access to the same safe and effective pest management tools as their competitors, particularly American producers.
I was glad to be part of the committee that put that report together. It called for several improvements and I would like to read two of them to the House.
First, the committee has called for at least $1 million a year in funding for research and an analysis program similar to the U.S. IR-4 that will be developed in co-operation with agricultural stakeholders to generate the necessary data for approval of new minor use pesticide products or to expand the use of previously approved products.
A second recommendation is that an adviser on matters pertaining to minor use pest control products be appointed to intervene in decisions and policies to facilitate activities relating to minor use products. This adviser's mandate would include a special focus on harmonization issues with the United States such as the equivalency of similar zone maps and the consideration of data already existing in an OECD country. The adviser would report to the Minister of Health and the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food.
Another concern the committee is that the bill does not address the issue of reduced risk products. It makes no provision for getting these new, safer reduced risk products directly into the marketplace. We need to expedite the reviews of such products.
The United States has reduced risk category and timelines in approving them. Last year the timelines to get these products onto the market was approximately 35% less than conventional pesticides. There are some big savings in terms of efficiency and cost.
Bill C-53 also does not mention any timelines for registration. That is an important change but perhaps it will be made later. There needs to be some timelines put on registration because presently this is taking far too long.
The health committee also heard from a number of witnesses that registrations were taking too long compared to the United States. That was consistent with what the agriculture committee heard as well. Our party has pressed for timelines to be drawn up but the government has chosen not to put them into this legislation.
I would like to take a few minutes to talk about the PMRA, which seems to be an ongoing problem in the agriculture sector. This legislation will be completely wasted unless changes are made to the PMRA.
Unfortunately, the bill does not bring accountability to the PMRA. Timelines are a concern within the PMRA, but also the audits that this legislation calls for do not go far enough. There is no requirement in the bill to report the financial information of the agency. We already saw the failure of that in the Canadian Wheat Board audit where wheat board directors were allowed to set the conditions for the audit.
The auditor general did a good job on the area she was allowed to study but she was not allowed to study the overall operations. She ended up doing a study of office management but could not study the overall efficiency of the board. Because of that she was prevented from reaching any conclusions about the kind of job the CWB was doing for farmers. I would not like to see the same thing happening with the PMRA. We need to know if the agency's objectives are being achieved in an expeditious manner.
Both the health and agriculture committees heard a number of times from witnesses their concerns about the PMRA. Many of their administrative and management practices were called into question repeatedly. The agriculture committee highlighted problems with the PMRA. We were told that seven years after the PMRA was started up it had advanced the pesticide registration system but the impatience and frustration of farmers persisted and was systematic of a glitch in the agency's overall operation.
We heard from many witnesses who were frustrated with having to deal with the PMRA bureaucracy and feeling that they could not get through the registration process. They could not talk with the people who could make decisions and often regulations were changed while they were trying to work on registrations.
The agriculture committee recommended that an independent ombudsman be appointed to facilitate discussions on the needs of farmers regarding pest control within the PMRA. We made a recommendation that the Auditor General of Canada conduct a value for money or performance audit to examine the management practices, controls and reporting systems of the PMRA.
We feel it is important that for the legislation to work that the problems within the PMRA be resolved if any of the worthy goals of the legislation are to be realized. The bill is only as good as the PMRA's ability to administer it.
I will go over the agriculture committee recommendations made regarding the PMRA. It is important that we get them on the record because we heard a lot of concern about these needs. The report that the agriculture committee submitted dealing with pesticide registration had four recommendations.
First, it recommended there be an ombudsman independent of the PMRA that would report to the health minister. Poor communication between farmers and the PMRA has been a concern. Having a third party reporting directly to the Minister of Health would certainly alleviate disputes. We thought it was a good idea and that the time had come for this to take place.
Second, it called for the auditor general to do a full audit of the PMRA. The PMRA has been slow in registering products. It has been far too slow. Bureaucrats from the PMRA told the committee that it was due to inadequate funding. There are people who would dispute that but the auditor general's recommendation would allow general performance and management practices to be audited for efficiency and we could then see whether this bureau is funded adequately or not. It would be important to do a value for money check to examine the management practices and the efficiency, or the lack of efficiency, that we may find within the PMRA.
Third, we called for a recommendation dealing with funding to enhance broader product access. More funding is needed for the approval of minor use pesticides. In the United States, for example, the EPA has approved 901 new pesticides and new uses for existing pesticides. The PMRA has only approved 24 products since March 2000. Are we getting good value for our money?
The committee recommended at least $1 million a year in funding from Agriculture Canada for research and analysis development in co-operation with stakeholders for the approval of new minor use products.
Fourth, we made a recommendation for a scientific data adviser. The PMRA often seems to reinvent the wheel every time an application comes in for a minor use product. The committee recommended an adviser on minor use pest controls to intervene in decisions and policies. The minor use registration is a growing and significant part of what the PMRA will do. It is important for it to have a scientific adviser in place to make good and quick decisions on minor use. The person could work specifically on the harmonization with the U.S. There should be some equivalency with the United States and encouragement to use existing data so that we do not have to repeat the research that was done several other times.
The bill is needed and it is time that it was passed. It is long overdue. We have some reservations about it and I have tried to make some suggestions of areas that the government might consider improving. I know that they will not be in the bill but hopefully in the future the government would take a look at putting some of these improvements into place. The government could have done a better job but the bill serves the purpose of beginning the process.