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House of Commons Hansard #85 of the 35th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was israel.

Topics

Canadian Food Inspection Agency ActGovernment Orders

3:05 p.m.

Dauphin—Swan River Manitoba

Liberal

Marlene Cowling LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Natural Resources

Madam Speaker, as a lifelong farmer and a member of parliament who represents the people of Dauphin-Swan River, it is a pleasure to have this chance to speak on Bill C-60, the Canadian food inspection agency act.

Food inspection and quarantine services have always been a priority in Canada. Canada has one of the most effective food inspection and quarantine systems in the world. The confidence of Canadians in the quality and safety of their food is among the highest anywhere. However, our food inspection and quarantine system is facing many new pressures. How effectively Canada meets those challenges will have a major impact on the food industry and on all Canadians.

Agriculture and agri-food accounts for 8 per cent of our gross domestic product and directly and indirectly employs some 1.9 million people. In addition, Canada has one of the largest commercial fisheries in the world with fisheries and aquaculture valued at about $4 billion a year and employing some 120,000 workers.

In our cities and in rural areas like the constituency of Dauphin-Swan River, the food industry is an integral part of our day to day lives and forms the backbone of many communities. These contributions cannot be taken for granted. The future growth and success of the food industry from fishing and farming to food service and retail depends on the continued high quality of our products and strong consumer confidence in the safety of our food supply. In the face of today's many pressures, that requires changes, less duplication and overlap, and greater responsiveness to changing ways of doing business.

In 1994 federal, provincial and territorial agricultural ministers committed themselves to addressing those challenges by endorsing a blueprint document for the Canadian food inspection system, CFIS. CFIS involves all levels of government in looking at harmonizing food standards, inspection and quarantine services into a single integrated system for all of Canada. The CFIS objectives are: to protect the health and safety of Canadian consumers; to sustain our international reputation for safe high quality food; and to maintain an efficient and effective food inspection and quarantine system.

In May the office of food inspection systems, OFIS, was established to assess the feasibility of setting up a single food inspection and quarantine system at the federal level, a first step toward a Canadian food inspection system.

In July 1995, OFIS issued a discussion paper entitled: "Federal Food Inspection System-Organizational Options", and it presented four possibilities. The discussion paper was widely distributed to industry stakeholders who further dialogued on the proposed changes. These discussions were fundamental to the decision making process that led to the announcement of the Canadian food inspection agency in the 1996 budget.

The legislation we are introducing today is widely supported by the provinces and the industry. The agency will reduce costs and ensure greater consistency in inspection and quarantine methods and standards. Under the legislation, the Canadian food inspection agency's responsibilities are clearly defined. They will be centred in six key areas: animal and plant health programs; trade and commerce and economic fraud; inspection and quarantine policy; assessment, evaluation and verification of inspection and related activities; registration, certification and approval; and enforcement and compliance actions.

The new agency will also be responsible for enforcing food safety standards and regulations. It will play a lead role in the risk management options dealing with food related health issues.

As stated in the 1996 budget, Health Canada will retain responsibility for food safety policy and setting standards. It will also be responsible for auditing the agency's inspection and quarantine activities.

With the creation of the Canadian food inspection agency, roles and accountability will be more clearly defined, strengthening the decision making process. The agency will maintain close links

with the OFIS to ensure that work toward a Canadian food inspection system is continued and expanded.

The agency will improve government responsiveness with a more private sector type financial framework. This framework incorporates multiyear flexibility and a simplified vote structure; reconciles the information requirements of Parliament and other client groups; and minimizes administration and financial systems costs. In order to encourage efficiency, the agency will have the option of selecting service providers in areas such as payroll and accommodation services.

Removing food inspection and quarantine services from the departmental system will also have many other benefits. A stand alone agency will encourage a new corporate culture which will help transcend old approaches and build new partnerships with the private sector. Staff will work in a more flexible, client focused environment and will deliver more uniform procedures whether for bread, chocolate, canned salmon or beef stew.

In addition, the new agency will have the flexibility to build on existing federal-provincial agreements by streamlining and negotiating new ways of delivering services such as delivering provincial inspection and quarantine functions by federal inspectors and vice versa, and establishing federal-provincial corporations for joint delivery of federal and provincial inspection and quarantine programs.

Federal and provincial ministers would, however, remain accountable for their respective statutory responsibilities. Clearly, this more streamlined, efficient and responsive approach to food inspection and quarantine is an important avenue to ensure continued confidence in the safety and in the quality of our food supply.

This new agency will not only benefit rural constituencies like Dauphin-Swan River. It will help all Canadians. I would like to call on all members to lend their support for this important legislation.

Canadian Food Inspection Agency ActGovernment Orders

3:15 p.m.

Bloc

Jean Landry Bloc Lotbinière, QC

Madam Speaker, Bill C-60 proposes the creation of a public agency called the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. As its name indicates, this agency will be responsible for providing federal food inspection services, and related services, such as recalls and food poisoning investigations, as well as managing food safety-related emergencies.

In the government documentation, we are told that this new agency will "make it possible to eliminate duplication and overlap and to consolidate resources, while increasing efficiency and decreasing by approximately 10 per cent the overall federal costs relating to food inspection".

What is, in fact, involved is consolidation and rationalization. The overall objective of this measure is to create a more efficient and more effective inspection system.

The fusion of federal activities will facilitate implementation of an inspection system that conforms to the HACCP-hazard analysis at critical control points-approach to food inspection. The motto of the new agency would be "protecting the Canadian consumer".

Already, a sizeable number of Canadian food processing firms have adopted some elements of the HACCP approach. While, at present, this represents a preventive approach, it has some obvious advantages: first, a guarantee of exceptional safety for the consumer; second, an internationally accepted standard for export sales; third, an economical means of reducing recalls and waste.

The HACCP approach involves a hazard analysis at critical control points. In other words, we must identify risks, list preventive measures and express criticism as the situation unfolds.

To get back to the idea of creating the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, we agree there should be a single federal food inspection authority in the future. On the other hand, we cannot support this bill in its current form, and I will tell you why.

Note that there are 94 clauses in this bill. As presented by the government, this bill might become a real patronage haven. Since clause 5 allows the governor in council to appoint a president and an executive vice-president of the agency to hold office during pleasure for a term not exceeding five years, the minister might be tempted to appoint a friend.

And if that were not enough, clause 10 enables the governor to appoint an advisory board of 12 members.

Worse yet, clause 22 allows the minister to approve the agency's corporate or five-year business plan. As we know, as soon as possible after it is established and at least once every five years after that, the agency must submit a corporate business plan.

In fact, if we let the minister choose the president and vice-president of the agency as well as the 12 members of the advisory board, he can also control the agency by directing its key policies. All this does not put the government's transparency in a very good light.

That is not all. Under clause 17 in the bill, the government gives the agency and its executives the power to license, sell or otherwise make available any patent, copyright, industrial design, and so on. In this regard, I did not see any sales or allocation criteria. Would the cost be lower to a contributor to the Liberal campaign fund? As

I said earlier, the government is trying to control the agency and turn it into quite the patronage haven.

With Bill C-60, the government is looking to consolidate inspection activities relating to food as well as animal and plant health, and related activities including food recalls, the investigation of instances of food poisoning and the management of emergency situations related to food safety. To fulfil its mandate, the agency will have a staff of approximately 4,500 and an initial budget of $300 million. It should be operational early next year, in 1997.

Its 4,500 employees will come from three departments: some 3,900 from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada; 400 from Fisheries and Oceans Canada; and 200 from Health Canada. The jobs of these 4,500 employees will be secured for two years. One wonders now what will happen to them after. And where it says that the new agency will look into the need to introduce voluntary leave incentives, I hope the agency will reduce its staff through attrition only, that is to say, as people retire.

At present, the federal government spends approximately $340 million per year to fulfil its duties and responsibilities regarding food inspection across the country. This figure is taken from schedule B to the working paper on the federal food inspection system-organizational choices of July 1995. This expenditure is shared three ways between Health Canada, Agriculture Canada and Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

Under Bill C-60, total costs will be reduced by approximately 10 per cent or $44 million annually as of 1998-1999. With such a reduction of the food inspection budget, the status quo is not in the least guaranteed as regards cost recovery.

The Canadian Federation of Agriculture supports the establishment of one food inspection agency, as proposed by the Minister of Agriculture in this bill. It did express some reservations, however.

It gives its support on the condition that this reorganization not lead to new cost recovery measures. Moreover, it expresses the strong desire to see producers represented on the advisory council. In this regard, I think the proposal is excellent.

The Canadian Federation of Agriculture also strongly hopes that, as far as compensation to be paid for costs incurred with respect to treatment is concerned, clause 71 will include "and for other measures". Thus, additional costs will be included, such as with respect to quarantine, cleaning, replacement of damaged or ruined property, restocking, etc.

The impact of such an addition to the legislation would ensure farmers do not lose out because they have reported a disease. As we all know, the riding of Lotbinière, which I am honoured to represent, is Quebec's largest agricultural riding.

Quebec supports the establishment of the agency because it amalgamates the inspection services. From now on, there will be only one interlocutor. But it would be contrary to Quebec's position if the federal government, through this agency, unilaterally established national standards. It would be a very good thing to have a new sharing of administrative responsibilities in the food inspection sector, while making sure no one has to give up its own fields of jurisdiction, and no change is made to the division of powers provided in the Constitution.

The Union des producteurs agricoles, the UPA, agrees with the Quebec government. It does not want the provinces, particularly Quebec, to have a say regarding the activities of the future agency.

The Bloc asks that the provinces, including Quebec of course, be consulted and listened to regarding the agency's activities in the coming years. It makes sense and it is only normal for the federal government to act with the agreement of the provinces in the food inspection sector, since consumers' health and interests are at stake. However, the federal government must respect the existing fields of jurisdiction.

Costly overlap must be reduced. Grouping together the inspection services of the Department of Agriculture and Agri-food, Health Canada, and Fisheries and Oceans Canada is a step in the right direction. We must promote harmonization and streamline standards so as to reduce the burden of regulatory requirements and promote the competitiveness of our businesses.

In closing, we must, I repeat, promote joint action, but according to the partners' respective fields of jurisdiction. In this regard, I refer government members to sections 91 to 95 of the Constitution Act of 1867.

Canadian Food Inspection Agency ActGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

Eglinton—Lawrence Ontario

Liberal

Joe Volpe LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Health

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak in support of this legislation along with my other colleagues.

The Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, as members know, has tabled a bill which is a fine example of the government's commitment to protect the health of Canadians. That bill introduces a new food inspection system. It is one that is built on the same overriding priority that we have always held high, good health for Canadians through the safest possible food sources.

Canadian Food Inspection Agency ActGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Jerry Pickard Liberal Essex—Kent, ON

That is right.

Canadian Food Inspection Agency ActGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Joe Volpe Liberal Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

My colleague who comes from the agricultural area of Essex-Kent will bear me out.

This new system keeps that goal front and centre while achieving efficiencies, savings and increased effectiveness for everyone with a stake in the process and most especially, consumers and taxpayers. The minister has introduced legislation that creates the foundation for a Canadian system, one with greater harmonization of both standards and inspection.

As the speech from the throne noted, the government is prepared to work with interested provinces so that the new food inspection system co-ordinates these activities at the federal and provincial levels.

In my comments today I want to speak about the role of Health Canada in the new food inspection system. Hon. colleagues should know that Health Canada has a strong and firm role in protecting the health of Canadians and this bill fits that role. It draws on the unique strengths of the department.

The legislation will first of all eliminate the overlap that has existed among Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Health Canada regarding food inspection. This is not a trivial matter. The agency will be solely responsible for the delivery of food inspection and related services.

Health Canada will focus its attention on the food safety policy, standard setting and research necessary to support the system. It will assess the effectiveness of the agency's food safety activities. In short, Health Canada will focus on the science that is the foundation of a credible and effective inspection system.

You will forgive me if I applaud the initiative because this new approach makes sense. It fits with the government's emphasis on addressing the key determinants of health and few things are more important than good, healthy and nutritious food. It also fits with the other health protection functions of Health Canada has and the scientific resources it uses to carry out those functions.

These policy development and standard setting functions will draw on the strengths and resources that the department has built up over the years. We are going to apply both experience and expertise.

It will continue to use an approach that is based on good science. It will continue to use risk assessment as a framework for our activities so that our food inspection priorities are right.

These functions will continue to draw on the substantial laboratory infrastructure of Health Canada. Our national network of facilities and experts will allow the food system to identify hazards and assess them effectively through toxicology, disease surveillance and human health impact investigations. These facilities will form the practical basis of the department's abilities to set standards and create appropriate policies. This kind of work is the foundation of any modern, credible food inspection system.

Health Canada's staff deals with a wide range of food health hazards. Its scientists and analysts track chemical risks as a threat of allergens. They go after biological threats such as salmonella and they deal with physical issues such as the occasional presence of metal fragments in food products. That is not a very pleasant thought.

These experts are connected to Canada's broader public health intelligence system. They are linked to a network of people and places such as the Laboratory Centre for Disease Control. They are linked to physicians and public health specialists across Canada. That means that our national disease surveillance system includes the capacity to quickly assess and check if an emerging health problem is food related.

As Health Canada's scientists and researchers work in their labs, they are not working in isolation. In this new model they will be in constant touch with the agency. They will work in a way that recognizes industries' interests in sound standards that earn the trust of Canadian and international consumers alike.

Health Canada brings together another advantage to the new food inspection system, its international contributions and contacts. In a world where trade is increasingly open and where our food products find buyers around the world we need consistent and fair standards, as identified in our debate earlier this morning on the bilateral agreement with Israel. My colleague, who comes from a very vibrant farming community in southwestern Ontario, Essex-Kent, will affirm that.

The department will see that Canada plays a full role in this process. Health Canada has a long and respected tradition of results in helping Canadians to enjoy one of the safest, healthiest food supplies in the world. Under this legislation that tradition will continue. Canadians will have a strong, credible team of medical, scientific and research professionals at work in labs and in the field to ensure solid standards and sound policies backed by the very best of research.

With this bill Canadians will get food of the highest possible quality and an inspection system which will be efficient and well organized. I believe that is has the support of the provinces and the stakeholders. I believe it deserves the support of all members of the House.

Canadian Food Inspection Agency ActGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Bloc

Pauline Picard Bloc Drummond, QC

Madam Speaker, Bill C-60 is entitled an act to establish the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and to repeal and amend other Acts as a consequence. It sets up the Canadian Food Inspection Agency in order to consolidate and enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of federal inspection services related to food and animal and plant health as well as to increase co-operation between the federal and provincial governments in this area.

This agency will take over from the old Interdepartmental Committee on Food Regulation established in 1986. Thus there will be only one body in this area at the federal level.

The bill also sets out the responsibilities, accountability regime, organization, human and financial resources regime, powers and reporting framework of the agency. It also amends some of the enforcement provisions and penalties in federal statutes that the agency will enforce or administer, with regard to food and animal and plant health.

Simplifying the food inspection system in order to eliminate duplication, to enhance trade and improve enforcement of regulations relating to food safety is a very commendable objective. It has been set forth in the last federal budget and relatively well accepted by Quebec as well as other provincial governments.

I should mention that the auditor general, in his 1994 report, strongly recommended that the food safety assurance system be reviewed in order to deal with its numerous flaws. More specifically, he singled out the Interdepartmental Committee on Food Regulation for its lack of consistency. This committee, made up of representatives from Health Canada, Agriculture and Agri-Food, Fisheries and Oceans and Revenue Canada, has not always fulfilled its mandate of bringing specific changes to the food safety assurance system and of enhancing innovation and efficiency in relation to inspection methods.

Moreover, the committee has failed to report the results of its investigation as required in its mandate. The auditor general has also emphasized the inability of Health Canada to guarantee complete and effective enforcement. In a nutshell, the auditor general and most stakeholders think our food inspection system should be reviewed.

The goal of having in the federal government a single window for food inspection is commendable, but the way the federal government wants to go about it is totally unacceptable and is just one more example of federal intrusion into areas of provincial jurisdiction. In a way, Bill C-60 flies directly in the face of the repeatedly expressed will of Quebec to take on all its responsibilities under the Constitution.

Even if this bill did recognize the existing areas of jurisdiction, the present wording of several clauses still makes Bill C-60 a bad bill that would not meet the goals expressed therein, and it would still incur the official opposition's condemnation.

For example, the government maintains it is looking for a more efficient federal service for food, animal and plant inspection. In a system such as ours, with elected representatives, efficiency and openness often go hand in hand. When things are done behind closed doors, the interests of people behind the door are often well looked after at the expense of the public left outside.

In Bill C-60, the government had many opportunities to show it cares for openness. For example, clause 5 stipulates:

The Governor in Council shall appoint a President and an Executive Vice-President of the Agency to hold office during pleasure for a term not exceeding five years, which term may be renewed for one or more further terms.

There is no consultation, no consideration in committee, nothing of the kind. Only unilateral appointments made at the whim of the government.

Of course, the official opposition cannot support that section the way it is drafted. It would open the door to discrimination and patronage. If the federal government really wanted to be transparent, it would have ensured that these appointments could be examined by Parliament. These appointments should be submitted to the Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food at least for consideration, if not for final approval.

The same thing goes for clause 10, which deals with the advisory board and reads as follows:

(1) The Minister shall appoint an advisory board of not more than twelve members to hold office during pleasure for a term not exceeding three years, which term may be renewed for one or more further terms.

Again, it is unacceptable for a minister to act alone in appointing the members of the advisory board. Since this board is responsible for helping the minister choose the policies he has to implement, it is important that all the appointments referred to in this clause be reviewed by the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food. Therefore, the minister will not be able to yield to temptation and appoint his buddies or people who share his philosophy.

Another bit of lip service on the part of the government is co-operation with the government of Quebec and of all the other provinces. However, there is absolutely no mention of this in Bill C-60. Yet, this was a great opportunity. When appointing a board to advise the minister, the government could have guaranteed representation for Quebec, which accounts for 25 per cent of the Canadian population, and ensured that at least one member of the advisory board out of four is from Quebec so that the Quebec's point of view would be well represented on the board. Moreover, these appointments could have been approved by the provinces.

But, once more, the lip service expressed loud and long does not translate into government action. Subclause 4 of this clause provides that the minister shall appoint one of the members as chairperson of the advisory board. Again, the minister wants to

control the agency by appointing himself the chairperson of the advisory board.

Instead of letting competent people in the field who have to work with the food inspection staff choose a chairperson themselves, the minister will probably appoint one of his friends or one of his devotees who will defend his point of view at all times. This lack of transparency is apparent in the phrasing of several of Bill C-60's clauses: clause 22-corporate business plan, clause 23-annual report, clause 26-consultation, clause 32-annual audit, or any other clause concerning appointments or reports.

These actions must be examined and approved by the standing committee. Then, these appointments and changes could be submitted to the House, to all hon. members. This is not unreasonable. In a democratic system, there is never enough transparency, and prevention is better than cure.

Finally, clause 11 deals with the responsibilities of the new Canadian Food Inspection Agency. This agency would be responsible for the administration and enforcement of various existing federal statutes. So far, so good.

However, subclause 4 of this section reads as follows: "The Minister of Health is responsible for establishing policies and standards relating to the safety and nutritional quality of food sold in Canada." In this regard, the position of the Quebec government and of the official opposition is crystal clear.

I do not know how many times in the last three years I have quoted this section, which is part of the Constitution: "Under section 92, subsections 7 and 5 of the Constitution Act of 1867, and pursuant to the interpretation of many courts, health and social services are the exclusive jurisdiction of the provinces".

In closing, the Bloc Quebecois has always demanded that the federal government respect the jurisdiction of the provinces regarding health care and we intend to call upon the Liberals to withdraw from this field and to transfer to the province of Quebec all federal moneys regarding Quebec's health care. I think that the Bloc Quebecois will not support Bill C-60 in its present form.

Canadian Food Inspection Agency ActGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Bloc

Antoine Dubé Bloc Lévis, QC

Madam Speaker, first, allow me to note the lack of interest shown by the government party and the third party on this bill since the Bloc Quebevois-

Canadian Food Inspection Agency ActGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Joe Volpe Liberal Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Why do you say that? Where are the members of the Bloc? We are here.

Canadian Food Inspection Agency ActGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Bloc

Antoine Dubé Bloc Lévis, QC

Only the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health seems to be interested.

I note also that the Liberal government is proceeding in a rather unusual way. It did the same thing in the case of employment insurance, that is it resorted to the pre-examination process in order to skip second reading, which is essential in a democracy, under our parliamentary procedure, as we could have suggested amendments at this stage.

But no, once again, the government is trying to ram things through Parliament and flouts democracy. Like my colleagues, I am in favour of the establishment, by the federal government, of a single food inspection agency.

Members may find it strange that a sovereignist is supporting the establishment of a Canadian agency in the health sector. Let me explain. Between 1980 and 1985, I worked for the former Minister of Agriculture of Québec.

Canadian Food Inspection Agency ActGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Bloc Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup, QC

The best.

Canadian Food Inspection Agency ActGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Bloc

Antoine Dubé Bloc Lévis, QC

Yes, at the time, everything was working fine in the agriculture sector. You will recall that, since 1978 at least, Quebec has been combining, various services in the agri-food sector. Quebec's agriculture department is called Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food, and is also responsible for fishing and marketing.

Being bigger, the federal government was slower to react. Finally, in 1996, almost 18 years later, it realized that it had to combine three food inspection services from three different departments. Not so long ago, Industry Canada also had its own inspection service.

We have been told that this ought to be done because it represents savings of $40 million. If the figures are right, and if we add them all together over a period of, let us say, 10 years, it means that because of its lack of efficiency and of duplication in three of its own departments, the government lost $400 million. It now recognizes that it has been inefficient for 18 years. That is unacceptable.

Yes, we want the federal government to put its house in order but, as usual, a number of clauses in this bill will make it possible, through the Department of Agriculture and other departments, for the government to infringe on provincial jurisdiction. The bill reads in part that the federal government may enter into agreements with the provinces, but I doubt that it will because most of the time it does not.

The Quebec government gave its approval to the spirit of the bill, but last summer, at a meeting of agriculture ministers, the Quebec minister, speaking for his government, said: "The premiers urge the ministers concerned to ask that the Canadian food inspection system's implementation group recommend before the end of the year ways to set up a Canadian food inspection system. That is true.

At the annual agriculture ministers' conference held in Victoria on July 3 and 4, the ministers adopted the wording proposed by the Quebec minister, which reminded the federal government that the

Quebec government intended to co-operate in eliminating overlap and duplication, but asked that Quebec's jurisdiction be respected.

Since I am familiar with agriculture, I know that Quebec has about 495 officials working in food inspection and that in the three federal departments mentioned in the bill there are at least 600 officials involved in food inspection in Quebec. I talk about Quebec because it is the province I know best.

So, there is a total of 1,100 federal and provincial employees to inspect food in Quebec. I can understand that the federal government wanted to streamline its services. But it should go a step further and respect provincial jurisdiction.

If the federal government is sincere in its willingness to work with the provinces, it should negotiate with the Quebec agriculture department a way for the provinces to apply the required standards because food products do not only travel from province to province, but also to other countries. So the federal government would set common standards that would be accepted by the provincial agriculture ministers and by the federal minister, and Quebec, which has already integrated its services and which acted a long time ago to eliminate overlap, would apply these standards.

One food inspection service, with responsibilities for municipalities with regard to the third market is the one for distribution in Montreal, Quebec City, Sherbrooke and Trois-Rivières. We have already made arrangements with these municipalities so they can enforce the regulations in restaurants because it is more easily done at the municipal level.

The federal government should do the same thing as Quebec did with its large cities and work out an integrated action plan with Quebec so we no longer have two kinds of food inspectors: type A, B and C laboratories. This system often causes confusion, and some agricultural producers, depending on the region, are affected by this conflict between two jurisdictions.

Yes, this bill is an improvement, or it would be more accurate to describe it as policy of the not so bad, because the federal government has been inefficient in the area of food inspection for at least 20 years. We hope it will be more efficient in the future, and the ideal situation would be a co-operative arrangement between the federal government and the Quebec government to eliminate overlap and create a fully integrated and coherent network.

Canadian Food Inspection Agency ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Bloc Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to the bill establishing the Canadian Food Inspection Agency for a number of reasons. The first is that it is a fine example of the good faith shown by Quebec's sovereignists in their belief in the importance of having a free and open economic association in Canada for the future.

With the federal government, we have a situation where three departments, Health Canada, Agriculture Canada and Fisheries and Oceans, have, for many years now, in the course of their activities, been stepping on each other's feet. We also have horror stories to tell, which, I hope, will no longer be the case with the new legislation. In any event, let us hope that these changes will help to improve matters. I will give you an example.

It concerns a farmer in my riding, a producer of pure-bred sheep, who, last year, was the victim of a completely inexplicable change in behaviour from the Canadian bureaucracy.

In the past, when there were signs of illness in his flock, or in the flock of any other producer, the exposed animals were put down, and the producer was compensated accordingly.

Last year, the regulation was changed, and we spent a long time looking for an explanation. Now, the affected animals are placed in quarantine. That is all very fine and well when you have large flocks, like they do out west, where there are some very large operations. But, when you are looking at small operations, such as in Quebec right now, this jeopardizes the producer's reputation and it does so for several years. There could have been an error at a given time, but small operations must not be shut down and, because of one error, producers prevented from continuing to operate. This was an example of too many cooks spoiling the broth. Certain policies do not necessarily apply in the same way, say as between Quebec and western Canada, but it could be the Maritimes. It could be different between large and small centres. We must continue to have latitude.

Therefore, we are in favour, if the food inspection issue can be simplified, and if there can be harmonization so that our operations can be as competitive as possible

The other horror story I would like to tell you is about a small abattoir in my riding, which slaughters a number of different types of animal. It has been systematically hit hard by the department, almost picked on, with a demand that it comply overnight, or nearly, with exactly the same standards as a multinational meat packing plant would have to meet. This causes problems, for it can mean the death of small businesses. Solutions to problems of this kind must be found.

So, if creation of a federal food inspection agency enables us to do away with these picky standards, and to have more appropriate behaviour by inspectors, as well as fewer rules to make problems for organizations, all the better.

There is no question of doing away with food safety standards. Everyone agrees that we need topnotch safety standards, which are exactly what is required for consumer satisfaction, but at the same

time, we must not place businesses in situations that cannot be remedied in the short term. They must be given time to make adjustments, and the type of market they are in also needs to be take into account, so as to not necessarily apply the same standards to a multinational as to a small business.

This is where Bill C-60 falls down. It is a bill which will return management of food inspection once again into the hands of people who are not necessarily experts in the field-which seems to be a trend with this government. There is a good deal of latitude concerning partisan appointments to the board which will administer the act, and corrections are therefore required in this aspect of it.

Indeed, we intend to work on this. I would like to quote the position taken by the Quebec government at a conference of the ministers concerned by the creation of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Quebec, in a show of good faith, said the following: "The Premier urges the ministers concerned to ask that the Canadian food inspection system's implementation group recommend ways to set up a Canadian food inspection system that respects the jurisdictions of all governments". So this was an honest gesture.

In other words, we were saying: At last you are streamlining your operations by having only one agency instead of three. So if you do that properly and respect the jurisdictions of all governments as reflected in a future agreement, we are showing our good faith and are prepared to sit down at the table with representatives of the federal, provincial and territorial governments.

Interestingly, this attitude is inspired by the European Union model, a kind of common legislative basis. If it works, it will be an example of how partnership, for instance, could work between a sovereign Quebec and Canada. It could be a very interesting exercise, and we have already had an example of this-although Diane Francis and the Financial Post may not agree-in the dairy production sector, where Canada's major dairy provinces, with the exception of British Columbia, have created an open market. Irrespective of the status of the Quebec government, there would be this open market, which would continue to develop now and in the future, so that the system would work effectively.

The same option is on the table now. When we say that the sovereignists want to help build a satisfactory economic market in Canada, this is a concrete example.

So we agree with creating only one agency, provided it respects the jurisdictions of each sector. I think that if the federal government does its streamlining but on the other hand continues to infringe on Quebec's jurisdictions, we will not have solved a thing. It will then be up to the federal government to deal with this. However, if creating the agency helps to clarify the situation, if it helps make our businesses more competitive and allows for the fact that the local slaughterhouse in Saint-Pascal-de-Kamouraska cannot be expected to meet the same stringent standards one would apply to a multinational, it could be an interesting development.

But in that case, it will be necessary to respect the various jurisdictions. If the federal government says it is wall to wall from Vancouver to Halifax and the same standards apply everywhere, we will be stuck with the same problems. However, if the government streamlines its operations by creating an agency that will respect the jurisdictions of all concerned and apply standards that are satisfactory to this province within the provincial context, we may get some interesting results.

In concluding, to achieve this the federal government will have to eliminate the partisan aspect of the way it appoints the people who will manage the system.

The commission which will be responsible for management will probably be strongly influenced by the position of the government. People appointed by a province and, within the agency, people coming from a province but appointed by the federal government and provincial authorities could still work at cross purposes. Jurisdictions will have to be clearly respected.

We have an opportunity before us. Sovereignists from Quebec are open to trade with the rest of Canada, they trust Canada and showing their good faith. If the federal government changed some aspects of its act and reviewed its operation, we would have before us an interesting model which could be exported and which would bring Canadians to understand that sovereignty and partnership are the way of future not only of Quebec but of Canada as a whole.

Canadian Food Inspection Agency ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Ringuette-Maltais)

Is the House ready for the question?

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4 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

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4 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Ringuette-Maltais)

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

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4 p.m.

Some hon. Members

Agreed.

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4 p.m.

Some hon. Members

No.

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4 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Ringuette-Maltais)

All those in favour will please say yea.

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4 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

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4 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Ringuette-Maltais)

All those opposed will please say nay.

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4 p.m.

Some hon. Members

Nay.

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4 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Ringuette-Maltais)

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And more than five members having risen:

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4 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Ringuette-Maltais)

Pursuant to Standing Order 76, the division on the motion stands deferred until Monday, October 21.

The House resumed from October 9, 1996, consideration of the motion that Bill C-26, an act respecting the Oceans of Canada, be read the third time and passed.

Oceans ActGovernment Orders

October 10th, 1996 / 4 p.m.

Bloc

Francine Lalonde Bloc Mercier, QC

Madam Speaker, after trying unsuccessfully to amend the bill, after attempting to be heard in committee, the Bloc Quebecois will vote against the bill for several reasons, some of which I am going to mention.

This bill, which is entitled an Act respecting the oceans of Canada, is prefaced by some rather surprising "whereases". This is indeed surprising in a bill that is supposed to outline the way things will be done; these "whereases" are statements of intent, the kind one would expect in the preamble of a policy paper rather than a bill.

I will read a couple of them to give you an idea of what I mean. The first one states:

Whereas Parliament wishes to reaffirm Canada's role as a world leader in oceans and marine resources management;

This bill might have been coloured by the minister who initiated it, but the, not a policy statement, states:

Whereas Parliament wishes to reaffirm Canada's role as a world leader in oceans and marine resources management;

In our opinion, this is not only pompous, but in view of the resources not provided for the implementation of such a policy, rather misleading.

I will read another one:

Whereas Parliament wishes to affirm in Canadian domestic law Canada's sovereign rights, jurisdiction and responsibilities in the exclusive economic zone of Canada;

What is interesting, in this instance, is that Parliament wishes to affirm its sovereignty or Canada's sovereign rights over its exclusive economic zone when, in the first whereas, it was said that Parliament wishes to reaffirm Canada's role.

In committee, the Bloc Quebecois proposed an amendment to clarify that "Whereas" so that this paragraph would not mean we are changing the respective roles of the provinces and the federal government in the control of the territory.

Yes, as Quebecers, we are concerned by this provision and no, the government did not follow-up on our propositions.

Let me quote the bill again:

Whereas the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, in collaboration with other ministers, boards and agencies of the Government of Canada, with provincial and territorial governments and with affected aboriginal organizations, coastal communities and other persons and bodies,-is encouraging the development and implementation of a national strategy for the management of estuarine, coastal and marine ecosystems.

That statement, which appears in various other places in the bill, is quite clear on the role of the provinces in the distribution of powers and responsibilities as the government sees it. Even if it comes from one department, that bill is presumably endorsed by government as a whole.

It is odd that, at this time in the history of Canada, the federal government would present a new bill where it treats provinces as private individuals or corporate bodies with whom it could eventually co-operate if it sees fit to do so, considering that, during the recent Jasper conference, in the absence of Quebec, provincial premiers examined their respective powers, agreed to follow-up on that point and talked about their eventual shared management of canadian federalism in areas like social programs and such, and at a time when there is, all over Canada, and not counting Quebec once again, a great determination to review the dynamics of Canadian powers and responsibilities.

I am talking about this issue because, in Canada, Quebec has been too often identified as the spoilsport, the one making it impossible to come to an agreement, while what we find out is that, on many issues, aside from Quebec which has its partnership project, Canadian provinces or at least a number of them say they want to take part in the management of this country. It is true in the social sector and in many others.

This bill is totally unacceptable to us because it divides the Department of the Environment who is already conflicting with the provinces in some areas of jurisdiction. It seems to divide the department into sectoral components. Thus there would be a sector for fisheries, oceans and ecosystems, which is very surprising and worrisome because it is obvious that, when dealing with ecosystems, even though it says in chapter 2 that this part does not deal with rivers, the department can also meddle throughout the territory.

Since the Department of the Environment is announcing 30 per cent cuts over three years, how can we increase its activities if it does not get any means to do so?

Finally, it has been said time and again that the department's power to impose user fees for the coast guard and the minister's authority to impose registration even on pleasure craft constitute an

outrageous abuse that leads us to foresee further centralization that makes no sense at this time, not only in Quebec, but throughout Canada.

We asked that this bill be postponed; it is definitely in no shape to be passed by this House.