Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to make a few comments on this bill.
This is a bill which if passed will implement a food inspection agency that should be streamlined somewhat. What really scares me is that the agriculture minister is going to be in control of this agency. When I see that it has taken three years for the agriculture minister to decide that we are going to have a referendum on barley marketing and within those three years he still has not been able to come up with a proper question on what to ask farmers, I am just wondering how he is going to regulate this big agency and how cost effective it will be.
When the new agency comes into effect in 1997 it will become one of Ottawa's largest bureaucracies with 4,500 employees and a budget of $300 million. That is a lot of peanuts, $300 million for a regulatory body. When we look at deficit reduction and we look at the total debt in this country of $600 billion I guess it is the Liberals' idea that another $300 million is not that significant.
Federal officials contend that ending the interdepartmental overlap and duplication in such areas as enforcement, risk management, laboratory services, informatic systems and communications will save taxpayers $44 million annually starting in 1998-99. It always astounds me that whenever we see projections and they are somewhat down the road we can usually expect that somehow the manipulation of the system will be there so that they can come within that figure even when it means transferring costs to other agencies. However the detailed breakdown of this estimate has not yet been provided by the government. That is interesting.
Also, no decisions have been made on the staff reductions or details given on the new agency's surplus laboratories. There is a lot of money involved in those laboratories. What is going to happen to them is a big question. I hope the government finally realizes that if there is going to be disposable assets that it gets a fair market value for them.
Although the Reform Party supports consolidating and downsizing the operations of the federal government, we fear that this bill will accomplish little except to shuffle names and titles. Instead the government should be considering the advantages of privatizing a significant portion of Canada's food, plant and animal inspection services.
This is one of the big issues we have been debating for the last three years, harmonizing and privatizing. We know that each province has its own inspection services and there is always conflict between the two agencies. It is time we realized that harmonization has to happen or the conflict will increase and we will spend more dollars instead of less.
Only $40 million or 13.3 per cent of the agency's $300 million budget is currently cost recovered. The agency already plans to dramatically increase this amount to more than $70 million. We know who is going to bear these costs. It is going to be the taxpayer, the processor or the primary producer. It is tremendously important that we start downsizing and becoming more efficient and productive in these agencies as well as in our food processing and primary production.
Where the Reform Party supports user pay and cost recovery, the cost of the service must reflect the true costs of providing the service and not the added expense of maintaining the government bureaucracy. The bill should ensure that a greater priority is placed on cost avoidance and cost reduction. This is important as the agency created by this bill will be responsible for enforcing and administrating several federal statutes which regulate food, animal and plant health and related products. These include the Feed Act,
the Fertilizer Act, the Health of Animals Act, the Meat Inspection Act, the Plant Breeders Rights Act and the Seeds Act.
This bill will also continue to centralize authority for food inspection in the hands of the federal government. The Reform Party believes the government should acknowledge that since the provinces already provide many of these same inspection services, the emphasis should be on decentralization and encouraging common inspection standards.
For these reasons the Reform Party opposes the bill.
Turning to the bill itself, we have specific concerns. Provisions in the bill seem to create an environment for empire building.
Clause 5 of the bill states that the governor in council shall appoint a president and an executive vice-president to the new agency. These individuals will be responsible for the day to day operations of the agency and will provide advice to the minister on matters relating to the mandate of the agency. There is no mention of the qualifications which will be required by these people. This type of situation opens itself up to pork barrel politics.
Clause 8 of the bill states that the president and the executive vice-president shall be paid such remuneration as is fixed by the governor in council. We do not even know the salary amounts for these two positions.
Clause 10 states that each member of the advisory board shall be paid such fees for his or her services as are fixed by the minister. Again, we cannot tell Canadian taxpayers how much they will be paying for these salaries.
This is a very good example of what we are experiencing with the Canadian Wheat Board. We have appointed commissioners who have received severance packages. We do not know what those severance packages are. There are positions which have pension plans and nobody really knows what the cost is. When I look at this regulatory agency which is being set up very much like the Canadian Wheat Board, I find it to be scary.
I know also that the Manitoba food inspection agency is always in conflict with the federal agency. It is costing us jobs. It is costing us exports. For example, there is a small sausage manufacturing plant in my constituency. The manufacturer is allowed to sell his product all across Manitoba; however, he cannot sell it to federal agencies, such as CN or the military. I do not know why it would pose a health risk to the federal agencies; Manitobans eat the sausage and it is delicious. I am told that we could save almost a dollar a kilogram if people in the federal agencies ate the Manitoba sausage instead of importing sausages from federal agencies in a different province.
If we want to become efficient and if we want to harmonize, we do not have to harmonize just with foreign countries, we have to harmonize within our own boundaries. We have to make sure it is cost effective and that the taxpayer as well as the primary producer gets the benefit. We should also give a break to the processors. They are the people who are creating the jobs. It is the small businessmen and the entrepreneurs who really make this industrial machine work.