Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise and talk about Bill C-60, an Act to establish the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and to repeal and amend other Acts as a consequence.
The need for a federal food inspection agency comes from pressure exerted by municipal and provincial governments, the agricultural sector, fisheries and even consumers. The setting up of a single unit in the area of food inspection was therefore awaited anxiously.
Very often those who must deal with the federal system of food inspection do not know to which agency they should refer. Indeed, the present system of federal inspection is such that they must deal with several departments or agencies including Agriculture Canada, Fisheries and Oceans as well as Health Canada. These three departments account for more than $340 million annually in expenditures by the Consolidated Revenue Fund for food inspection.
The creation of a public agency responsible for all federal inspection services was announced in the 1996-97 Budget. This announcement has raised great expectations, and Bill C-60 should now answer them. Unfortunately, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency the federal government is proposing is rather disappointing if you consider its structure, its make up and its mandate.
According to senior officials responsible for setting up the project, the proposed agency is a model of originality. There is no similar agency in the world. However, originality is not necessarily what provinces, municipalities and the agricultural and fishery sectors hoped to get in answer to their requests. These people wanted an end to duplication and in particular they did not want to assume the cost of an agency whose efficiency has yet to be proven.
Bill C-60 says that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is established "in order to consolidate and enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of federal inspection services related to food and
animal and plant health and to increase collaboration with provincial governments in this area". All this is hot air, good intentions and window dressing.
In reality, the future agency will be a patronage haven created to reward the friends of the government of the day. The evidence is in clause 5 of the bill which provides that: "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". We see clearly this appointment procedure is designed to ensure the executive power's political loyalty to the government. This procedure is arbitrary, unfair and highly partisan. It calls into question the objectivity of decisions and actions that will be taken by the future federal food inspection agency. That is what must be expected from the agency.
That is not all. The agency will also have an advisory board of not more than twelve members who this time will be appointed by the minister responsible for the agency. This absolute discretionary power will probably be given to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, since it is he who gave us Bill C-60.
What we must understand in all this is that the choice of policies relating to the agency's mandate will thus be determined by the minister's friends. Once again, this appointment procedure is totally unacceptable. It does not respond in any way to the expectations of provincial and municipal governments and of the people in the farming sector and fisheries.
Furthermore, the membership of this famous advisory board does not provide any guarantee as to the representation of the farming and fisheries sectors on the committee, and even less about the involvement of the provinces and municipalities.
How will the agency be able, as is mentioned in Bill C-60, to pursue a greater degree of collaboration between federal and provincial departments in the area of federal food inspection if the provinces are not permanently represented on the agency? The provinces have their say in this future agency.
At this time, there is no guarantee that they will have a forum where they may heard, and most of all, there is no guarantee that they will be able to actively participate in decisions that will be taken. These decisions affect them directly and we should not ignore the total lack of judgment the government is showing in this issue.
When we look at the mission of the agency, it is not more reassuring. It says that the Minister of Health is responsible, among other things, for establishing policies and standards relating to the safety and the nutritional quality of food sold in Canada. This prerogative given to the Minister of Health allows him to interfere directly in fields of provincial jurisdiction by setting standards and regulations, which will be applied all across Canada. These powers belong rightfully to the provinces and not to the federal government. This situation must be strongly condemned.
Much was expected from the creation of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Once again, the federal government is disappointing us. What we are offered today is obviously, another example of patronage. Once again, the provinces are being pushed aside and, moreover, the government is making sure that it controls everything by exercising provincial powers.
Nobody in the agriculture and fishing sectors, including the provinces and the municipalities, was expecting such a disappointment. They expected at least to be true partners in the decision-making process. This is not the case. Bill C-60 introduced by the Minister of Agriculture has every possible flaw and we must scrap it.