Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-60 at report stage. Members will recall that this is the bill that will establish the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
Before we broke for the holidays, we saw that under this bill the federal government's involvement in this sector would be reduced from three services to a single agency. Members will also recall that this sector comes under provincial jurisdiction. It was nonetheless felt that at last the federal government was doing something constructive after years of being urged to take action.
The bill needs to be improved, however. It is with this in mind that the Bloc Quebecois has presented the series of amendments regarding the corporate business plan and the form of consultations to be held in connection with the plan.
Why is the corporate business plan important? It is important because the Canadian Food Inspection Agency must submit to the minister a multi-year plan outlining what it intends to do, its planning strategy. In the bill as it appears, without the amendments, this plan is submitted to the minister. There is no other form of consultation. It is not submitted to the House of Commons, or even the agriculture committee. Nor is there any obligation to consult industry or the provinces. There is not, in our view, sufficient consultation of the auditor general.
Often, viewers wonder what the purpose of this consultation will be. It must be remembered that the agency will play an important role in the competitive aspect of the agri-food industry in Canada. Now that we have an increasing number of international markets, and the prospect of increasing trade in agri-food products, the way the government structures its inspection activities will have a direct impact on the entire industry's production costs.
It is therefore important that this corporate business plan meet more than just the agency's criteria of efficiency and effectiveness, perhaps very, very stringent standards, which is desirable, but which would not, however, necessarily take into account the situation in the various regions of Canada, and of Quebec. It would also not take into account comments from industry. This can be seen in a number of sectors.
I will give you an example that I think is significant. In the dairy production sector, the milk subsidy is quietly being phased out. More and more pressure is being put on the dairy industry to be cost-effective, yet there are fewer and fewer positive federal government programs. Such programs will be absolutely necessary where inspection is concerned.
When the Food Inspection Agency submits its action plan to the government, it will be important for that plan to take into account
that, yes, cost savings must be made, but our industry also needs to be given sufficient support. A balance must be struck between these two elements.
The present wording of the bill does not do this. It does not, for instance, allow the agriculture committee, on which all parties, as well as all regions of Canada, are represented, to gather input from MPs who have been given all manner of comments and suggestions by their constituents. If the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's business plan were tabled in that committee, that would be the time for this to be done.
Let me take the question of slaughterhouses as an example. The Food Inspection Agency will, perhaps, have a Canada-wide view. There may be a regulatory approach to slaughterhouses which meets the requirements of the major ones in Canada, but consultation with the MPs might perhaps provide a different point of view, a view of the particular situations of regional slaughterhouses. This type of consultation by the agriculture committee would, in our opinion, make a substantial positive contribution to the quality of the Food Inspection Agency's business plan, which would then clearly reflect the reality in all parts of the country.
The provinces are another sector it is important to consult. Let us keep in mind that both levels of government are involved in food inspection.
Years ago, provincial governments, and especially the Government of Quebec, did their homework and established adequate systems for monitoring the quality of food inspection services.
The federal government is restructuring, but if there is no proper consultation when the corporate business plan is drafted, as there is in any system, this may cause the following problem: the federal agency will want to expand and take its responsibilities very seriously, and there will be areas of friction with the provinces. If these areas are not cleared up before, as part of a consultation process that is not necessarily costly, this may lead to legal problems, court proceedings and confrontation.
The agency may also be in a situation that often makes no sense at all, where you have two inspectors at different levels of government doing a job that is practically the same or very similar. The private sector is sick and tired of this duplication.
I think that with proper consultation before the corporate business plan is implemented, we could avoid a lot of grief. Quebecers and Canadians would certainly be better off with food inspection services that reflect the real situation.
Elected representatives should be asked about the situation that exists in their ridings, the provinces should be consulted to avoid friction between the federal government and the provincial govern-
ments and we must ensure that all programs that are supposed to assist companies are helpful and not a source of red tape.
Look what happened in England with mad cow disease. Since we may face a similar emergency in the future, the agency's corporate business plan must allow for such contingencies. Because of financial constraints, the plan may tend to overlook such situations and fail to provide for these exceptional cases, but it is important to allow for such occurrences and include provisions in the agency's action plan.
Why can we not rely on the minister alone? This is no reflection on the competence of the minister or on any person who will be in that position. Open consultation on food inspection is just as important as the heart of the question.
This is an area where the appearance of justice and equality and the fair handling of situations are just as important as the essence of the issues. We must make sure that Canadians and Quebecers have faith in their quality control system, know it is closely monitored and understand that it is beyond the grasp of political meddling.
If the agency submits its business plan to the minister only, obviously, the minister will try to protect the government and its interests. He does not necessarily always have all the information he needs to monitor a sector like this one countrywide. Our international reputation is at stake. We must make sure that at any given point our system is beyond reproach and provides a satisfactory guarantee to consumers not only in Quebec and Canada but around the world. It has an impact on various other sectors. We must not forget that food inspection is part of an industry's development programs.
We often speak of genetics programs and of research and development. If the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's corporate plan makes minimal provision for research and development and the sector's monitoring methods, we risk, in the medium term, running into problems.
Some things are not of primary concern to the people in food inspection-that is as it should be-but they are to the people in research and development in the agri-food sector. These people must be given the opportunity to express their views and the fact that experiments may need to be conducted, but not necessarily under the same rules as a product to be marketed.
There are all sorts of considerations like this, which, in our opinion-and I think the Reform Party shares our opinion-point to the fact that consultation as planned with the minister only is inadequate. This bill requires considerable improvement. It requires improvement to ensure that Canadians who see the agency's business plan can say: "This plan has been seen by members of the standing committee, the industry and the provinces. The result is truly the product of a consensus and of the actions proposed by the entire population".
In conclusion, I consider the amendments very reasonable and I hope the Liberal majority will accept them so that, in the end, we will have a better bill.