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.