Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity in the House today to deal with Bill C-61 and the various possible motions in amendment that have been put on the Order Paper with respect to Bill C-61.
In beginning the discussion on Motion No. 1, I start by making reference to a matter the member for Kindersley-Lloydminster referred to in his opening remarks, the level of industry support for the measure as it appears in the form of the legislation.
My parliamentary secretary, in dealing with the issue before the committee, indicated that there was broad support for the legislation as it appears before the House of Commons. In indicating the kind of correspondence presented to verify the support, my parliamentary secretary was not in any way misleading or attempting to mislead members of the committee. He stated quite accurately that letters of support had been received for the principle and the concept of the legislation from 11 key industry organizations. The names of the organizations have already been referred to by the hon. member opposite.
Consultation on the legislation began a long time before the bill was actually drafted. In October 1992 Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada wrote to all industry associations to inform them of the intention to move forward with an administrative monetary penalty system. After that consultation various letters of support were received broadly from the industry. Also a variety of industry groups reaffirmed their support for this type of legislation during the regulatory review process conducted by my department during the course of 1992.
Once the bill was actually drafted and tabled in the House of Commons on December 5, 1994, a letter and substantial documentation were sent to 132 industry associations informing them that the bill had been tabled. The letter went on to detail the significant features of the legislation. It specifically provided a contact point to enable further discussion and information upon request from the various industry organizations.
In response we received a few inquiries seeking certain specific clarifications about some detailed points contained in the draft legislation, but there were no letters and no other forms of
communication indicating any fundamental change on the part of the industry in terms of support for the legislation.
At the same time a press release was issued to over 1,000 media and industry contacts. It indicated that the legislation had been tabled and that the concepts previously discussed in various forms of consultation had now been transformed into legislative form and were about to proceed through the House of Commons.
As the bill has been before the House for some considerable length of time, various industry representatives have been kept informed of the progress of the legislation. Certainly the indication is that a broad measure of support in the industry continues for Bill C-61.
In view of the concerns expressed at committee stage by members of the opposition wondering if the previous expressions of support continue to the present time, this week my officials have contacted a number of the groups and organizations previously consulted. This week my officials have also spoken with the Canadian Horticulture Council, the Canadian Egg Marketing Agency, the Canadian Seed Growers' Association, the National Dairy Council and the Canadian Meat Council. All the organizations again reconfirmed their support for the bill.
While I appreciate the question about earlier support and later support being raised by the hon. member for Kindersley-Lloydminster, the evidence before us indicates fairly clearly that a broad measure of support was there in the beginning and continues to the present time.
Specifically Motion No. 1 talks about the possibility of prescribing in regulations the criteria for determining whether any contravention should be considered as an administrative violation or an offence. I have a couple of observations I would like to make.
At the present time, every contravention can be prosecuted through the court system. What this bill does is it gives to the minister of agriculture an administrative option where prosecution is seen to be too harsh or too drastic a measure. In arriving at his or her decision as to whether to proceed immediately through the court system by way of prosecution or proceed under the auspices of administrative monetary penalties, the minister of the day will be guided by a compliance and enforcement policy. That policy establishes criteria to advise and instruct the department in making decisions on the use of the various enforcement options that are available, the more severe and the less severe.
The compliance and enforcement policy is a public document. It would not be prescribed by way of regulation, but it would be on the public record for the public to know about, to understand, to ask questions about, and potentially even to suggest changes to.
The choice to be made by the minister in any given set of circumstances is as to whether to prosecute or whether to issue a monetary penalty. This is akin to a choice that is often before prosecutors in criminal matters where a decision has to be made about whether to proceed by way of indictment, which is a more serious method of proceeding through the court system, or by way of summary conviction, which is a somewhat less serious method of proceeding.
Because the choice in any given case is so heavily dependent upon the individual facts of the situation, there is obviously a requirement here for some degree of flexibility. I would say to my hon. friend across the way that I do not believe it is practical or realistic to have hard and fast rules set down and prescribed by way of regulations. The necessary flexibility that has to be there in making these judgment calls is best offered by relying on a policy statement, a policy document, rather than trying to etch all of that in the more rigid framework of regulations.
I repeat the point I made earlier: The policy document on compliance and enforcement matters dealing with how decisions are to be made on the choice of the various enforcement options that might be available will be open to the public. One of the fundamental things we are trying to achieve by means of this legislation is an open, fair and transparent process.
I would simply conclude by saying that in making these choices, which are difficult choices and require judgment calls to be made and some measure of flexibility, depending on a wide variety of factual situations that may confront the minister of the day, it is important for these matters to be dealt with in the form of a public policy document as opposed to trying to etch them in the more rigid form of regulations. While I understand the general point my hon. friend is trying to make, I would not be in a position to recommend support for Motion No. 1.