Mr. Speaker, it is very clear from the comments of the last speaker that he shares the same concerns as our ministry, the safe food supply for Canadians. There is no question that issue will never be compromised by this government or any other group of people who represent people in this country. I would certainly say that we have shown a record in the past and we continue to show a record that the safety of Canadians is number one.
However, only in government would someone suggest that the people responsible for a whole operation, the people responsible for the operation of government, are not the people who should be setting fees, looking at the costs and looking at the expenses. But that they would take the setting of fees, they would take the operations and push them off to somebody else on a side group. I find that suggestion quite disconcerting.
There is no question that the minister must retain the responsibility of setting fees to any operations in government, not just this agency, but all other operations of government because circumstances change, times change and with those changes there need to be adjustments. Who better than one who consults with industry, the provincial parliaments across this country, with every part of the country to make certain they are up to date with all actions? Who better than the minister to set the fees and set a proper structure in place?
I certainly question the thought raised here that the minister should give up the whole operation of setting fees and making sure that our operations are efficient. At the same time I must point out very clearly that there were concerns raised about how quickly fees would be changed and therefore the minister made a very clear commitment that once the agency is up in operation, in order to study and analyze what is happening, internally with our fee structure, the kinds of consultations that are required, he would not
alter or change those fees until the year 2000, which is a pretty strong commitment by the minister.
The minister therefore has said once we have the agency up and operating we will look very carefully at how the system operates and we will take a long time to consult with people, making certain that the abuse of industry, other governments in the provinces and others who are affected across this country, namely the consumers, all have their voices heard and brought forward to the ministry.
It is consistent with our policies in health, in industry and in heritage. We have similar processes in place. As a result, the processes that we are talking about here are consistent with the other government agencies and therefore I believe it makes our whole operation in government much easier to understand.
The amendment to the bill suggests consultation is an important part of fee structuring. It suggests in that change that every group affected be consulted before any changes occur. Imagine the legal ramification if someone comes forward and says "I am a consumer and I was not consulted, therefore any change to that fee structure is illegitimate". It certainly does not make sense to say that every person who possibly could have a concern must be consulted.
At the same time, consultation is extremely important and we have various vehicles by which we do that consultation on a daily, monthly, weekly basis all weeks of the year.
There is no question we try to make certain the industry is kept aware by newsletters we send out, by professional publications and by gazetting information. We make certain we have face to face meetings with the people who are affected. Certainly if we make changes within any industry, we have consultations with them. We take their concerns into account. We definitely make certain that the consumer organizations are involved in these processes. There is no question the government takes very elaborate steps to make sure the consultation process is always ongoing and that the concerns of industry, governments and consumers are always filled.
I must say that this consultation has proven to be very good for the government. As I stated before, with this legislation coming forward we know we have all provincial governments onside, we have the industry itself onside. We have allowed it to come and consult. We also had open hearings at the House of Commons agriculture committee in which all kinds of concerns came forward. The government acted upon those concerns and tried to make certain that those concerns raised were dealt with properly in this legislation.
There is no question we look at this in a very serious way. We want to make certain that everyone in this country who is affected is treated properly with open information and that we act upon their concerns. There is no question the minister places a priority in making certain that the health of this industry is maintained. Through his consultations he takes into account their concerns and acts upon them in a very quick and important way.
When we deal with issues that affect public safety though, we must make certain that all cautions are there to make certain we still maintain as a world reputation food safety and we make certain that the supply of food is there. From our track record over the years, we have and are looked upon as the best food production country in the world. That is why we can ship products anywhere in the world. Certainly they are well respected and well received everywhere they go. There has never been a question nor will there be a question because we put a top priority on inspection and safety.