Mr. Speaker, there are certain positive elements in Bill C-60, an act to establish the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and to repeal and amend other Acts as a consequence, which we are looking at this afternoon.
The idea of creating a national agency is a good one in itself. Reducing the duplication in services of the three departments, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Health Canada and Fisheries and Oceans Canada will bring about savings.
We in the Bloc have long been calling for elimination of the duplication between the various departments. However, the Liberals' strategy of referring this bill to a committee before second reading prevents us from making any constructive amendments to Bill C-60 at this point.
For instance, there seems to be some latent patronage with respect to the appointment of agency executives. Under clause 5, the president and the executive vice-president shall be appointed by the governor in council.
We all know what it means when someone is appointed by the governor in council. These are friends of the government, like former minister André Ouellet, for instance, and we can refer to him by name since he has left the House, who was appointed to an executive position with a fantastic salary. The process is not exactly transparent.
Appointments should be made in accordance with the rules of the House and should be examined before the Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food. Staff should be hired on the basis of competence, not on a partisan basis. Just because someone is a card-carrying member of the Liberal Party does not mean he is competent. Of course, just because someone is a card-carrying member does not mean he is incompetent, but being a member of the party should not be a conditio sine qua non .
So the Bloc Quebecois cannot give its approval to what is, in fact, an opportunity for patronage, because it would also mean approving of government interference in areas under provincial jurisdiction.
Still on the subject of political appointments, we can read the following in clause 10 of Bill C-60:
10.(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.
Again, this is unacceptable, for two reasons. First, here again it is the minister who appoints those who will sit on the advisory board. Second, this means that Quebec has no guarantees as to its representation on this board.
A little further we read in clauses 12 and 13:
- The Agency is a separate employer under the Public Service Staff Relations Act.
However, in clause 13, it says:
13.(1) The President has the authority to appoint the employees of the Agency.
Now, the president is appointed on a partisan basis, and he is supposed to appoint the employees of the agency. We will have to see how these appointments are made and whether the process is politically proper.
In clause 16, we read that the agency may procure goods and services from outside the public service, including legal services.
Of course these bills are drafted by lawyers, and a good lawyer looks after his own. So the agency will be able to procure legal services as it sees fit.
In clauses 20 and 21 there are two more issues we could raise. First, if federal agreements are entered into, we must ensure that Quebec does not end up in a position where it indirectly subsidizes the food inspection services obtained from the federal government by a province or provinces.
If a service is provided to another province by the federal government, it will be necessary to ensure that the work done in this province is not done with federal money. Otherwise, Quebec taxpayers will be paying for services in other provinces.
Two examples come to mind, including the RCMP. Everyone knows that, in Canada, two provinces-Quebec and Ontario-have their own police force: the OPP in Ontario and the SQ in Quebec, while the federal government, through the RCMP, provides police services to municipalities and also to other provinces. Well, do you know, dear colleagues, that Quebec foots part of the bill for the services rendered by the RCMP in the maritimes and in the western provinces? Ontario does also.
The federal government recovers only about 75 per cent of the real costs of the services provided, through the RCMP, to provinces and municipalities. The other 25 per cent are paid by all the provinces, including, of course, Quebec and Ontario. Since Quebec pays 24 per cent of federal taxes, it can be assumed that, we are subsidizing 24 per cent of that 25 per cent for RCMP services in provinces and territories other than Quebec and Ontario. This is an example of unfair treatment.
Similarly, Quebec, which harmonized its sales tax with the federal GST four years ago, must again pay 24 per cent of the $960 million which the federal government gave to the maritimes so they could harmonize their provincial sales tax with the GST, while we got nothing. We did not get a cent to harmonize our sales tax with the GST.
Those are two examples of unfair treatment. This agency should not be a further source of unfairness.
Secondly, care must be taken to ensure that clause 71 does not open the door to any other form of federal interference in areas under provincial jurisdiction. The Canadian Federation of Agriculture said, and I quote: "Bill C-60 states that the compensation to be paid to cattle owners following the destruction of their animals or things under the Health of Animals Act must be taken from the Consolidated Revenue Fund".
For example, if your herd is hit by brucellosis and a decision is made to destroy the whole herd, the Consolidated Revenue Fund must compensate the loss. The CFA goes even farther, considering that the cost incurred for cure, quarantine, cleaning and replacement of damaged or destroyed goods, restocking, etc., should be included and mentioned in the bill, and included in clause 71. Such a clause will guarantee that farmers will not be disadvantaged because they reported their cattle to be ill.
As agriculture critic, I worked with a farmer living near Rivière-du-Loup whose flock developed scrapie. The quarantine imposed was not 40 days, as most Canadians probably think, but five years. During this time, the farmer could not sell, kill, eat or make money in any way with his sheep. Most farmers must withdraw from business when confronted to that situation.
That is why the Bloc Quebecois will propose a series of amendments to Bill C-60 to try to improve it. We will also invite the government party to co-operate so this bill will benefit the general public.