Mr. Speaker, the amendments we are suggesting in this group are along the same lines as those in the previous group.
As you may recall, the food inspection agency will replace three government services with somewhat overlapping responsibilities. There is a concern on the part of the government to clarify these roles.
However, much remains to be improved in this bill. I hope the government will listen to our suggestions on how to make this legislation the best of its kind. The purpose of the group of amendments now before the House is, first of all, to ensure these changes are not sprung without warning on the agri-food industry and thus ensure there will be no cost recovery before the year 2000, so that companies have time to adjust, to consider the
changes that will be made and make their operating costs reflect the fees to be introduced by the food inspection agency.
I think it would be very wise on the part of the government to include such an amendment in the bill. Just look at what is happening in another sector where cost recovery has been introduced in a way I would call somewhat ruthless. I am referring to all the fees connected with navigation, especially on the St. Lawrence.
In this sector, the government decided to recover the cost of de-icing, of navigation aids, buoy maintenance, and so forth. The government proposed certain measures which were directly opposed to what the industry wanted, by obliging the industry to absorb year after year additional costs which had not been included in their planning.
In the food inspection sector, we have a wonderful opportunity to avoid this kind of mistake. Let us send a message to the agri-food industry, telling them that until the year 2000, there will be no recovery of additional costs. Tell them they will receive fair warning and there will be consultations. That is what we are proposing in the other amendments requested by the Bloc Quebecois in group 9, in other words, to ensure that consultations are held on service fees and on facilities, products and the rights of the agency, so that everyone who has something to say on the subject can do so. We must not end up with absurdities like we have in the case of ice breaking fees, where the industry says it is quite prepared to pay the cost, but perhaps things ought to be cleaned up a bit first.
I think that the food inspection agency in its first year, just starting out, and having to integrate the three government authorities that existed before, would have a hard time increasing fees and asking people to pay more in its start up year, when things have to be amalgamated and operational decisions made.
As there was a certain desire to privatize food inspection, we must make sure that market rules are obeyed and that when agri-food businesses are asked to pay they receive a quality product, guaranteed at the best price, without the fee structure being used to justify an inflated cost. Once the three government authorities involved in this sector are integrated, there should necessarily be economies of scale. Otherwise, the entire bill would be a waste of time and nothing would be settled.
We must make sure that savings are made where there were three authorities in the same sector or in parallel sectors, with similar functions. Let us give the industry time to adjust. Let us send it a clear message.
Let us tell it that, as of the year 2000, significant changes will be made and that there will be consultations on the matter so that, on both sides of the table, industry, government and consumers are clear about the standard for services in food inspection, what their cost will be and who will pay for them. Industry may have some interesting suggestions.
We might perhaps even contract out to the industry the inspection of certain products and then monitor afterwards, while, in other sectors, the monitoring should come first. There should be a daily production. It depends on the agri-food industry sectors.
I think the government would come out ahead if it set itself a period for consultation to ensure that the fee structure reflected what people want.
We must ensure that there is adequate consultation of another group, the provinces, because the establishment of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency does not change the fact that both the provincial and the federal levels are involved here. We have already congratulated the federal government for having said that, from now on, at least there will be only one player instead of three, but there are still a lot of areas where both levels of government will be working in very close proximity, and it would be utterly ridiculous to end up with completely different fee schedules for similar tasks. It would be illogical, for example, for a province to charge $100 for one type of activity while the government charged $150 or $200 for the same type of activity; the industry would have difficulty understanding such a thing.
Moreover, consultations could lead to one of the two levels of government dropping its activities in one area; for instance, there could be only one inspector acting on behalf of both governments, and, by completing the proper forms, a firm would not have to provide information simultaneously to both governments on different forms, as is now the case for the environment. We must make every effort to avoid this type of situation. The way to do so is to hold proper consultations with provinces. Once the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is created, it will integrate the various government services in its first year of operation. It should therefore be given enough time to consult with provincial stakeholders to ensure the industry's interests are protected.
The last amendment seeks to ensure that the proposed regulations will be studied by a parliamentary committee. In the area of food inspection, it is not enough to be right and to conduct the inspections properly; the process must also appear to be fair so that the general public can have confidence in the tools they are given. For the people's representatives, that is, the members of Parliament, parliamentary committees are a very good forum for this type of consultation.
We believe that, when the government thinks about proposing regulations concerning tariffs, for example, these regulations
should be submitted to a parliamentary committee so it can express its views as a public advocate. It would present its arguments for or against the proposed tariffs and consider the benefits of having different tariffs for different regions or different products. These are some of the issues that the people's representatives, or members of Parliament, can discuss. They can ask questions and cast a critical eye on the government's actions and on tariffs, so that consideration of the relevant views expressed will give greater legitimacy to the government policy on tariff regulations. This will prevent any subsequent criticism. It will also prevent legal battles because the fee structure will have been submitted to the public through the consultation process; therefore, when it takes effect, it will be impossible to accuse the government of having acted unilaterally.
I ask the government to look at this group of amendments from the same viewpoint as the previous one, where we said we must ensure that food safety standards are adequately covered in the agency's corporate business plan, and that proper consultations are held with regard to this corporate business plan, to ensure its credibility throughout Quebec and Canada. Moreover, in the context of that corporate business plan, the present group of amendments is more precise on the subject of fees because it deals with the issue of whether the corporate business plan will ensure that no one will pull a fast one on the processors, that people will not be surprised by a fee structure causing such cost increases that businesses could question their own future.
Let us say for example that we propose an inadequate fee structure for regional slaughterhouses which would make these businesses non competitive; will we have helped the agri-food industry with such a measure? I think not. The way to prevent such a situation is to submit the fee structure to public scrutiny.
Let us hope the government will support our amendments on this point.