Mr. Speaker, I rise a second time this afternoon in the debate on Bill C-60 to establish the food inspection agency to point out not an anomaly, in my opinion, but rather a precedent.
At least it will represent a precedent in the federal public service. When I rose earlier, I said that, like my colleagues, I was against the minister having sole responsibility for appointing the members of the advisory board, because of an extremely high risk of patronage, which could discredit the advisory board and, consequently, any study submitted to this board and any opinion provided by the board to the minister.
Clause 12 of the bill, regarding human resources, states that:
The agency is a separate employer under the Public Service Staff Relations Act.
It says "separate", and each word is important because, normally, the legislator is not supposed to use a word or phrase that does not mean anything. When Parliament speaks, it is supposed to mean something.
If clause 12 states that the agency is a separate employer, that means that the agency will not be subject to the Public Service of Canada Act.
It states further, at clause 13, that "the president has the authority to appoint the employees of the agency". It is there in black and white. So, it is obvious that the president, as several members said-and the hon. member for Frontenac just did-who is appointed by the governor in Council, in other words by cabinet,
with all the risks attached to such appointments, such as appointing partisan individuals whose only qualifications would be their membership in the Liberal Party, once this president has been appointed, carefully chosen because he is one of their own-so he will do exactly as told-, this president will be totally free to appoint whomever he wants as an employee of the agency. They are civil servants. We are talking about civil servants who will go everywhere, in restaurants, in businesses, to inspect the food quality, the cleanliness of the premises.
Those are the people referred to. The bill provides:
The Agency is a separate employer under the Public Service Staff Relations Act.
(1) The President has the authority to appoint the employees of the Agency.
(2) The President may set the terms and conditions of employment for employees of the Agency and assign duties to them.
This is really a first. I would like a member of the government to stand in the House and explain who, when a minister gets such legislation adopted, gives such extravagant powers to an individual who can be appointed on account of his political views.
This means that not only is the advisory committee mentioned previously-which could be essentially partisan-thus discredited, but that the agency as a whole can lose its credibility. This is very serious. This means that any individual, any business owner or institution could question the quality of these inspectors' work.
I am convinced that no union, no shop steward representing public servants was consulted about this clause, which exempts the food inspection agency from the application of the Public Service Staff Relations Act. In other words, these people will not be public servants. They will be employees of the agency and they will always be governed by its terms and conditions of employment. This is what clause 13, which reads as follows, provides:
13.(1) The President has the authority to appoint the employees of the Agency.
(2) The President may set the terms and conditions of employment
This is unprecedented. Such a clause must be condemned. This cannot be tolerated. We must have absolute confidence in the inspectors' work, given the importance of their role in our society, which is to ensure that the food consumed at home or in public places is of good quality, and that it is prepared in a clean and healthy environment.
The agency must not become a haven for patronage. We not let this happen, otherwise the work of all these people, the work of the whole agency will come into question. This would prove that Quebecers are right to demand-not merely ask-that this inspection work be done by inspectors accountable to the Government of Quebec. We experienced a similar situation of distrust in the seventies.
Some will remember the tainted meat scandal in Quebec. At the time, food inspections were not conducted properly, and hardly anything was checked. The situation was brought to light and it was found that organized crime had infiltrated the food inspection sector.
Following a commission of inquiry, the Quebec government took a number of measures to correct the situation, including the grouping of all inspectors under a single organization, and the implementation of strict measures to give credibility to this activity.
The most serious harm that has been done at the time is that, because of some laxness in food inspection, for many years and even still today, some people have doubts when they see the seal "Quebec approved".
After 10 or 15, I do not know how many years, people in some circles still hesitate to put their faith in inspections by the Quebec government. That is exactly what will happen once we have an agency run by the government's buddies, those who contribute to its slush fund. Moreover, inspectors will be selected by these people.
I do not have to tell you what will happen when the time comes to hire inspectors. The first card one will have to show is not the qualification card granted by some college, but a small red card with a maple leaf on. That is the one to be shown. That is the way things will work.
And then, they want the agency to have some credibility. They want inspectors to go do their inspections anywhere they please and would have us believe that, after the officer from the Liberal Party has visited their business, people will feel really secure. That is sheer nonsense.
I cannot think for a single moment that such provisions will be maintained. My colleague from the agriculture committee is right to criticize the way Liberal government is proceeding in that regard. The government seems intent not on dealing with problems but on creating a lot more. They think the solution lies in leaving any future decision making to people they alone have confidence in, that is Liberal hacks. That seems to be the solution.
They could change the title of the bill and call it the Liberal Food Inspection Agency instead of calling it the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Then at least it would reflect a de facto situation and people dealing with those inspectors would know what is what. With the provisions as they are, there will be some doubts. People will wonder if the inspector is qualified, competent, if he took courses and was trained for the job, who hired him, and so forth.
We cannot accept such a situation. That is why, unless the amendments put forward by my colleague are accepted, we will not be able to support such a decision.