Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to address request P-3 for the tabling of documents, submitted by the Canadian Alliance member for Lakeland, which reads as follows:
That an Order of the House do issue for copies of all studies that were done prior to the banning of the 2% and 5% solutions of strychnine to show the effect that the banning of these solutions would have on Canadian farmers.
Let us first look at the background for this issue. Strychnine is a pesticide that helps, among things, control gophers that attack crops in western Canada. It seems that the product used by farmers is effective provided it contains 2% to 5% of strychnine. However, this product is also criticized because of its harmful effects on water, air and soil. Moreover, it is said to also threaten the health of animals that are not pests and of human beings.
In 1992, the federal government restricted, through regulations, the use of liquid strychnine by Canadian farmers. Now, they can only use a concentrated premixed liquid version of the product that contains a maximum of 0.4% of strychnine.
The Canadian Alliance member for Lakeland is very interested in this issue. He tabled Motion No. 13, which was debated in the House for one hour. That motion asked the government to compensate farmers for damage done to livestock and crops by gophers resulting from the banning of effective concentration of strychnine, thereby removing the ability of farmers to control gophers on their lands.
On March 28, 2001, he tabled Bill C-321, an act to amend the Farm Income Protection Act (crop damage by gophers). I am taking this opportunity to say that the French translation should be revised. While we could write the term “gaufre” with the letters “ph” instead of an “f”, it would be best to choose a more appropriate term.
Indeed, the English term “gopher” was translated in French by “gaufre”, which is “a crisp pancake cooked between two hinged metal pans with a grid pattern” and which is often eaten with maple syrup but, I might add, without strychnine. We are a long way from the ground squirrels called gophers, which are rodents causing the same damage as our groundhogs in Quebec.
Finally, our colleague, the hon. member for Lakeland, is asking that certain studies that the federal government has in its possession be made public. These studies, which were done prior to the strychnine ban, could reveal that the Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food banned this pesticide knowing the devastating effect that such a measure would have on western farmers' crops, yet took no steps to compensate them.
The Bloc Quebecois therefore supports this request for documents. The government that has been running this country since 1993 suffers from acute secrecy syndrome. And the debate over this request is an opportunity for me to highlight the federal Liberal government's chronic lack of transparency.
Every day, democracies are tempted to take the secret way out. These democracies, which are accused of being slow, view secrets as an easy way to speed things up, as a sort of pragmatic art, which cuts short futile discussions. The temptation is understandable. What is less understandable is that so many democrats fall victim to it, because democracy loses its meaning the moment it loses its transparency.
This government, which promised during the 1993 election campaign to be transparent in managing the affairs of the state, probably has the worst dirty habit of hiding things in the entire political history of this country. These are a few examples.
I would like it if the hon. member for Joliette could tell us himself how many times he had to rise in the House to ask the government to make public the FTAA texts. It took us a long time to get them.
When the multilateral agreement on investment, the MAI, was involved, once again no documents were forthcoming. It took a leak via the Internet, originating with the government of France and certain individuals with a strong interest in the matter, before we could finally get our hands on a document, and it was absolutely abominable. Negotiation of this agreement had to be abandoned.
As for the Canada-Costa Rica free trade agreement, which we have just experienced, that most recent agreement, namely Bill C-32, we were again asked to pass it without seeing the texts. We are presented with them, but once again we are confronted with a fait accompli. Once again, we are being asked for a blank cheque. We were not consulted at all on the discussions relating to the agreement.
Going back a little in time, hon. members will recall the sad story of the contaminated blood. After creating a commission of inquiry into contaminated blood, the federal government did its utmost to stop the commission from unearthing the full story and naming names.
Let us also recall the Minister of Finance's budget surplus. Once again, there was a whole set of secrets that had been systematically concealed since the government found the path to a balanced budget.
Let us recall the secrecy surrounding the location of transgenic crops in Canada. Ottawa refuses to reveal the location in one or more provinces where there are experimental GM wheat crops. The Canadian Wheat Board has attempted to obtain a list of these from the Canada Food Inspection Agency, but to no avail.
Let us recall the Access to Information Act, which is nothing more than a toothless watchdog. This act, which is supposed to guarantee access to any document of public interest is as full of holes as Swiss cheese, and totally ineffectual against the Liberal government's propensity toward secrecy. This is why there are complaints from both journalists and MPs, both in opposition and in government. Even the information commissioner is very concerned.
The Liberal member for Ancaster--Dundas--Flamborough--Aldershot decided he had had enough of the way the present government was treating the Access to Information Act. He feels it is far too easy for the government and departmental officials to conceal information of a public nature.
But the bad example comes from the top. In his annual report published in March 2001, Information Commissioner John Reid said that he himself no longer had access to certain documents considered secret. According to the report, the Prime Minister and his closest advisers and ministers keep on ignoring the Access to Information Act. Worse still, the member for Saint-Maurice will not allow the commissioner to see his agendas and has gone all the way to the supreme court to prevent Mr. Reid from doing so.
This sort of attitude at the top encourages the entire bureaucracy throughout the country to make the commissioner's life difficult by putting up fierce resistance to requests, said the same report.
The Prime Minister fell back on this “secret way out” when he refused to testify regarding the demonstration staged in Vancouver for the arrival of the president of Indonesia, thus putting a lid on an essential element of the investigation--whether or not the order to the police to use force came from his office. Doubt breeds mistrust, and all politicians are paying the cost of this lack of transparency.
The Bloc Quebecois finds it unacceptable that the government is behaving in this way, when it had promised the public transparency. The member for Lakeland is calling for the release of documents which would, to a certain degree, compromise the previous government, because the decision was taken in 1992. It would not cost much to release the documents, but it would fulfill one of the 1993 election promises regarding transparency.