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House of Commons Hansard #121 of the 35th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was appointments.

Topics

Vacancy

February 3rd, 1997 / 11 a.m.

The Speaker

Colleagues, it is my duty to inform the House that a vacancy has occurred in the representation, namely Mr. Stephen Harper, member for the Electoral District of Calgary West by resignation effective January 14, 1997.

Pursuant to section 25(1) (b) of the Parliament of Canada Act, I have addressed on Monday, January 20, 1997 my warrant to the Chief Electoral Officer for the issue of a writ for the election of a member to fill this vacancy.

Also, today is the anniversary of the fire in 1916 which destroyed our original House of Commons. It is the wooden Mace but it will serve, of course, today as always our symbol of our authority to make laws.

The House resumed from November 25, 1996 consideration of the motion that Bill C-300, an act respecting the establishment and award of a Canadian volunteer service medal and clasp for United Nations peacekeeping to Canadians serving with a United Nations peacekeeping force, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Canadian Volunteer Service Medal For United Nations Peacekeeping ActPrivate Members' Business

11 a.m.

Reform

Deborah Grey Reform Beaver River, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is good to be back again for another session. I am sure you have had many anxious moments over the last few weeks wondering just what was going to greet you when you got back to the House. To think that I would be the first person to wish you a happy new year, what a way to go. Happy new year, Mr. Speaker. It is only going to get better after this in this parliamentary session.

This bill before us, Bill C-300, is a fascinating one which has gone through Parliaments before. One of my colleagues, the member for Saanich-Gulf Islands, thought that it was important enough to bring it up again and finally do something about it before the turn of the century. Therefore I am pleased that hopefully we in this House will find unanimity and be able to move forward on this.

When we talk about peacekeepers we talk about an amazing group of people willing to put their lives on the line, perhaps not in active duty but in what we would call a safe zone. One wonders if there is such a thing as a safe zone in this world. It is one thing for a peacekeeper to say "I am going in there to try to hold two groups apart", but when there has been strife and a great deal of human pain and tragedy, it is very difficult to be the person who walks into the middle to say "here I am to try to keep peace". It is essential to make peace at the beginning but it is also important to be able to keep the peace.

Canadian peacekeepers have an incredible reputation around the world. Therefore to honour them and give them a medal for their service is something that is long overdue. Hopefully we will be able to put this bill through the House very quickly.

This medal would provide a distinct Canadian recognition for all Canadians who have served with the United Nations peacekeeping force by awarding a Canadian volunteer service medal for peacekeeping, which is what we are focusing on today.

If we want to talk about the difference between active soldiers or those who are involved in a fight, we may consider that peacekeepers may not necessarily be involved in active fighting. However, when the question is asked whether peacekeepers fight, I think the answer is yes, they do. They fight for many things. They fight for justice, order and maintaining the peace. One may say that they do not have weapons in their hands but I think they have an even more tenuous task because they do not have those defence mechanisms but they do fight.

They fight fear and terror. There is no guarantee that they are going to be safe in a safe zone. They may be lunged upon from either side or both sides. Therefore when we say they are not active fighters I would have to disagree with that. They fight fear, terror and the unknown. The unknown is probably more frightening than anything else.

Those of House sitting in the House of Commons came in here for our first day at one point, whether it was two or three years ago or whether it was eight, nine, twelve or even thirty-three years ago, but there was a first day for all of us and it was unknown. It is the same for any student or teacher going into a new school or someone going into a new business. It is the same for a peacekeeper going on to a peacekeeping mission. They have a fear because they are fighting the unknown. They are not sure what is going to meet them there.

It is one thing to come in here and face adversaries in the House of Commons but surely that is not as terrifying, although some days it seems like it, perhaps even uncivil. However, to know that you are there on the line trying to hold peace and being there as a Canadian peacekeeper, one of the proudest in the world, not knowing if either side that you are trying to hold apart is going to go after each other, that is unknown and it is fear. It is also very difficult.

Probably the most important fight that peacekeepers have is the fight of loneliness. Perhaps they are not engaged in active battle, but they battle loneliness. I believe that is one of the most insidious forms of fighting that anyone ever faces. For those peacekeepers who are thousands of miles away from home, family and friends they do not have a cell phone at their beck and call to just ring someone up and say "Hi, I just wanted to tell you I love you today". They fight that loneliness of knowing if and when they will ever get home again.

Mr. Speaker, you are not terribly far from this place, but for those of us who come from a great distance I think we have the same analogy in this House as well.

I have drawn parallels to that in some of these other areas, about fear and the unknown, something which is a new situation. We battle that as well here in the House of Commons. We battle and fight against loneliness because we are thousands of miles from home. We are away from friends. We are away from the people who support us. That plane ride every Sunday is difficult for all of us to take. We could multiply that for every peacekeeper who has left our country's soil and gone on a UN peacekeeping mission. Imagine how we would feel as we climbed on that plane.

I want to take my hat off today and talk about how important it is that we recognize these peacekeepers.

Probably first and foremost, peacekeepers need to be honoured because they have to work with a government which is unfocused. The peacekeepers are not sure exactly what it is they are supposed to be doing. How do they know they are doing their job when their job description is not clearly laid out? They need to know what their mission is. They need to know what their support system is. They need to know what their staffing is. They need to know what their equipment level is. If we were to ask many of them, they would probably shrug their shoulders and say they are not quite sure, but because they have pride and passion in what they are doing to defend their country they are going to go ahead anyway and do as much as they can.

Without trying to sound cynical, maybe it is harder for the peacekeepers to work for and deal with the government than it is to work in their peacekeeping situations. Maybe they deserve a medal for that.

There are many veterans on the government side. It is important for them to finally realize that we could give ourselves credit in the 35th Parliament for being the group of people who had the nerve and the fortitude, the parallels, to be able to say yes, let us honour these peacekeepers.

There are members in the House today who are nodding in agreement. They are saying yes, we have watched this for several years. As we get closer to the turn of the century it is important that we finally do it. We should not just think about it and talk about it; we should do it.

Let me say again that the last Parliament supported this initiative through the introduction of two private members' bills and the House of Commons Standing Committee on Defence and Veterans Affairs. They talked about the Canadian volunteer service medal for United Nations peacekeeping. Some wars have begun and ended while we have been talking about this in these hallowed halls.

Let us do it. As we get closer to an election, the government has the mandate to get this done now and put its stamp of approval on it. Also, as we get closer to the turn of the century, we will be able to say to our Canadian peacekeepers "way to go, well done, you have done a super job".

At a time when the military has been going through such pain, this would be a way of saying "we celebrate you and we appreciate the many things that you have done on our behalf".

I want to talk about another thing that went through this Parliament in June of 1991. At that time the Canadian voluntary service medal for Korea was approved for the Canadian military personnel who participated in that conflict. It was in addition to the UN medal awarded to the veterans of the Korean war. It was a terrific job and certainly something we needed to see action taken on.

We are speaking specifically of our Canadian peacekeepers. They have done a superb job in their United Nations peacekeeping missions. They have fought well. They have fought nobly. They have fought fear. They have fought terror. They have fought the unknown. They have fought loneliness. They have fought the battle for all proud and passionate Canadians when they were not quite sure what their mandate was. I take my hat off to them. I trust that all of us in the House will take our hats off to them today. I urge the government to move ahead quickly and say "yes, we will bind

together in this House, regardless of political background, regardless of political persuasion". We are Canadians. Let us join together under our Canadian flag, link arms and say "yes, peacekeepers, you have done a good job, we will award you with the Canadian volunteer peacekeeping service medal". We rejoice because we trust that is happening.

I am a woman of faith. I am a woman of optimism. Therefore I trust it will happen in this House today.

Canadian Volunteer Service Medal For United Nations Peacekeeping ActPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Perth—Wellington—Waterloo Ontario

Liberal

John Richardson LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of National Defence and Minister of Veterans Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for Beaver River for her kind words in support of this medal. I would also like to recognize the person whose bill is on the table, the member for Saanich-Gulf Islands, for his hard work to produce this program.

This medal has a lot of merit. It is long overdue. The thought that is behind it is genuine. It is universal in nature and will certainly fill a gap in the rights of those who serve to receive a medal.

Some things regarding the design elements will have to be corrected, but that does not mean we are against the bill. Some small amendments have to be made. Some of the design elements of the bill are a little too specific, aside from usurping the authority of the chancellery which it would like to maintain. The final design needs to ensure that it will serve for some time and that it will not just create another problem in a couple of years.

We want to see that this bill passes. The hon. member for Saanich-Gulf Islands has put his whole heart into this. Without question the intent is honourable.

There are some the things we would like to see which could be corrected very simply. If this bill could be moved to committee, the committee could make the minor amendments that would be necessary to take it forward. Then it could be brought back to the House where I am sure it will receive passage on its return.

Certain things have to be looked at and I will pick up on them more specifically: the protocol dealing with the chancellery, some of the design elements which are minor and would require minimal discussion. The rightful place to do that would be at the defence committee. When the bill is brought back to the House with those minor details amended, I am sure it will have the support of the whole committee and of the whole House.

Other features this bill has deserve a lot of commendation. It fills a gap. It recognizes the winning of the Nobel peace prize. It recognizes actions thereafter. We would have to look at this being fundamentally a base medal because Canada is getting so many volunteer service medals or related medals that we would like to be able to indicate the theatre, the area specifically. This medal would continue to be given with a clasp designating the theatre of operation. People could have the basic medal and pick up a fair number of the theatre operation designations.

I commend the hon. member for bringing this forward and I hope he will understand that if we could make these small changes the House will give the bill speedy passage.

Canadian Volunteer Service Medal For United Nations Peacekeeping ActPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Reform

Art Hanger Reform Calgary Northeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am excited to be back here. I am as excited as I can possibly get to come back to Ottawa. I am so comfortable when I go back to my riding, if I can use those terms, that it definitely feels like I am away from home when I come back to Ottawa. I will get on with my presentation, Mr. Speaker.

It is encouraging to hear the parliamentary secretary support the creation of this peacekeeping medal. I trust he will follow through with his suggestion of just looking after some minor amendments to make it happen.

It is my distinct honour to speak to Bill C-300 which is the design of my colleague from Saanich-Gulf Islands. I support without reservation the spirit and the substance of the proposed legislation before the House today.

It has been said that this bill seeks to correct a wrong, to correct a very serious omission of not awarding recognition in a formal sense to the tremendous contribution that Canadian peacekeepers have made. The bill asks that the Canadian government make available a medallion and clasp in recognition of the bravery of our peacekeepers.

If there is any question of the appropriateness of bestowing such recognition one should consult history. I quote Commander General Guy Simonds in 1942. He surmised: "The final criterion of a good or bad award is the reaction of the troops. If the troops feel it is a good award, it is a good award. If the awards are criticized by the troops, they are bad awards". He goes on to say: "Before forwarding any recommendation, at each level the commander should ask himself the question `would the front line soldier, if he knew the facts, consider this well deserved?"'

In light of General Simonds recommendation for the criterion one should use in consideration of an award to the peacekeeping personnel, there can be no question of the course of action we, as parliamentarians, should pursue. We know that it was input from the Canadian Peacekeeping Veterans Association that moved my colleague from Saanich-Gulf Islands to introduce Bill C-300.

I suggest that everyone in this House has a friend, an acquaintance, who has served on a peacekeeping mission. In fact, in my own riding, I have a consistent visitor, Mr. Ron Howard, who has conversed frequently with the Department of National Defence over this peacekeeping initiative. He has been keeping me up to date on the feelings of the veterans, those who really laid their lives down to make this world a better place. I respect him for his persistence. I respect him for his consideration of his fellow soldiers, his colleagues. I certainly respect him for his dealings with myself in pushing me forward and keeping me abreast of the concerns that many of the veterans have, especially the peacekeeping veterans.

They appreciate their United Nations medals and it is their hope and desire that Canada provide a distinctive recognition for their peacekeeping efforts. It is therefore only fitting that a volunteer service medal be awarded by the Government of Canada to peacekeepers who have served our nation well. This legislation would authorize the issuance of such a medallion.

I would also like to state for the record that there can be no question that Canadians soldiers are the bravest in the world. Time and time again our personnel have demonstrated ability and courage under difficult circumstances and in perilous situations. I think of Bosnia and some of the very tense moments when our peacekeepers were nailed down and sequestered, even entrapped in some areas in a very dangerous situation. They are recognized for their bravery and courage.

It is noteworthy that in this legislation there are provisions for the recognition of members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and other Canadian citizens who qualify. This is a significant and proper recognition, given the increasingly perilous situations RCMP officers find themselves in overseas.

I had the opportunity to ride back on a plane with a troop of RCMP officers who had served in Bosnia. I do not think it is well known that we have RCMP officers serving in that capacity, teaching the rule of law to those in other nations where there is conflict. Of course there is more recognition in Haiti.

It is a tough situation to be in an area of conflict without any weapons. Those officers inform me that often they were sequestered in one room with really nothing to defend themselves because of the conflict raging on around them. That is a tough situation to be in. I believe that it is fitting to recognize them for those brave acts. They are jeopardizing their lives by falling into those circumstances.

The RCMP troops were sent over overseas to train fledgling police departments the principles that are central to our democracy, for example, the fair and unbiased application of the law and the separation of politics from policing, something that is unfortunately deteriorating in this part of the world. For that reason the RCMP officers should, for their contribution to Canada's peacekeeping efforts, be recognized.

In summary, I would like to state some of the obvious. There is justification for looking at history and bringing it forward in a manner so that it can be recognized by the public that there is a need to recognize our soldiers. Among the reasons for supporting this legislation is providing a distinctive Canadian recognition to all Canadians who have served with the United Nations peacekeeping force by awarding a Canadian volunteer service medal, and to give recognition for the September 30, 1988 Nobel peace prize awarded to Canadian peacekeepers signified by a clasp on the medal's ribbon.

The 34th Parliament supported this initiative through the introduction of two private members' bills. The standing committee on defence and veterans affairs in a peacekeeping report called for the establishment of a Canadian volunteer service medal for United Nations peacekeeping. Another reason for support is the endorsement of a distinct Canadian recognition for our peacekeepers comes from the Canadian Peacekeeping Veterans Association and the Canadian Association United Nations Peacekeeping Chapter.

There is a lot of support at all levels. Other countries, Belgium, the Netherlands, Ireland, Ghana and the United States already have distinctive national medal awards for peacekeeping. We would not be alone.

Parliament set a precedent in June 1991 by approving the award of the Canadian Volunteer Service Medal for Korea to its Canadian personnel. This is, in addition to the UN medal, awarded to veterans of the Korean war and a Canadian medal worn with a ribbon shared with the Commonwealth countries of Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand.

Recognition would not be limited to the Canadian forces but would include the RCMP and other Canadians who qualify. I believe that would be a wonderful addition because so many others within our different agencies are risking their lives to support world peace.

Finally, other nations such as Sweden and Finland are establishing a medallion award for their peacekeepers. New Zealand and Australia are also considering such an award. It is therefore only fitting that Canada not be left out.

I urge my colleagues on the opposite side of the House to quickly rush through whatever amendments would be deemed necessary to quickly finalize this initiative by my colleague for Saanich-Gulf Islands.

Canadian Volunteer Service Medal For United Nations Peacekeeping ActPrivate Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Hillsborough P.E.I.

Liberal

George Proud LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Labour

Mr. Speaker, I begin by welcoming everyone back to the House. I am sure we have all enjoyed a tremendous break and

look forward, as the hon. member who just spoke, to very eagerly returning to the House and working together in an enthusiastic and co-operative manner.

Before I address the matter at hand I would like to congratulate the hon. member for Saanich-Gulf Islands for reaching this far with his private members' bill. I know full well the hurdles one has to jump in order to get this far. Mr. Speaker, let me tell you it is not easy.

Moreover I would like to pay tribute to the hon. member for Saanich-Gulf Islands. As I understand it he will not be seeking re-election and I am sorry to hear that. He certainly is an honourable member and a good friend. I enjoyed working with him while serving on the Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs, particularly on the Special Joint Committee on Canada's Defence Policy. He has been a competent adversary and a diligent politician. The House will miss him.

We know the member for Saanich-Gulf Islands put forward the same bill in the previous session of Parliament. Unfortunately, like so many other worthwhile private members' bills, it never reached the end of the legislative process. As many members also know, I spoke in favour of that bill then and I am happy to say that I support this bill now.

However, I must qualify that by saying that the bill before us now is not perfect. The concept behind the bill is commendable and I agree with it. Our troops need to be treated with respect and as such should be decorated for their service.

As we all know, Canada is world renowned for its international efforts. That reputation has been over a century in the making. Moreover since the second world war our participation in international peacekeeping missions has enhanced our reputation, as was said earlier here. I am not ignoring the recent revelations about several incidents but I do think our entire Canadian forces should not be marred by it.

The high quality of Canada's troops is envied around the world. In fact it mirrors the quality of life in Canada in general. When travelling abroad Canadians are welcomed more than people of any other nation. The reason for that is our outlook on life. By nature Canadians are fair, patient people. This applies equally well to our troops.

We should not forget the accomplishments of the Canadian forces. We should embrace them. A nation proud of its military is a strong and united nation. I am not suggesting that we become more like the Americans. I do not want us to look at our forces as flexing our muscles. We leave that to the thinking of others. But we should look at our forces as an example of what we can accomplish if we agree to work together.

We should look at our forces as one common attribute. Our military is a joint effort by Canadians from coast to coast to coast. Without the participation from all regions, from all provinces and yes, even from all communities, we have no national military.

Our reserves play a major role in providing a link between our communities and our Canadian forces. This particularly was an important aspect which received a lot of attention in 1995 when the Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs reviewed the report by the commission on the restructuring of the reserves. Numerous members of this House spoke out on how the reserves expose the community to the military. Without it Canadians would think less of the military than they do now.

Our military can be the foundation to rebuilding our national unity. We should not look down upon them; in fact, we should look up to them. They are willing to risk everything for the sake of not only their country but someone else's.

Millions of Canadians during our history have given their lives to protecting their country, but there have also been countless Canadians who have given their lives going further than that. They have given their lives to protecting not Canada but a foreign country. It would be hard enough to put one's life on the line for one's own country, but to put it on the line for a foreign country, a foreign land, is an entirely different thing. For that reason we should ensure that we properly decorate that service.

Some may say that there are a multitude of medals to award the services of our forces. However there still exist some missions that have yet to receive the proper decoration. Certainly our troops serving abroad in UN led missions do receive United Nations medals and ribbons, but I ask and the hon. member across asks, is that enough? Should we ourselves not recognize that service in the name of this country? Is it not appropriate for Canada to do like other United Nations member countries and present its forces with a distinctive Canadian medal for service in the United Nations peacekeeping missions?

What is proposed here today can alleviate that problem. But as legislators it is our privilege and duty to ensure that we do not create one problem while trying to resolve another. Rarely is anything as simple as it first seems, and this is no different. It is for that reason that I am suggesting that we refer this bill to the Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs or better yet, to a subcommittee thereof.

It has been said before in the House and elsewhere that this bill has the support of various associations representing current and retired members of the Canadian forces. I need not list them all for

I believe their names have already been mentioned. But suffice it to say that if these organizations and all the members within support this bill, then perhaps it does deserve a thorough study.

This is further evidence for why the bill should be referred to the committee because it deserves that. It deserves a close examination of its objective, the process of achieving that objective, and whether it will have the intended result.

With the indulgence of the House I would like to spend a few moments providing some positive criticism of the bill. The member's bill as it now stands dictates a very specific medal as was mentioned earlier. However it does not include missions that are not UN led. This may exclude people who I am sure the hon. member intended to include.

What about our troops who have participated in NATO led missions such as IFOR, the peace implementation force in Bosnia? That, as we all know was a very difficult mission. It has been said the mission was to uphold a very fragile peace. In fact, it has been said that there was no peace at all at the time. However, I will leave that debate to another time.

Nevertheless I think we have to be very careful not to exclude some members of our forces who have participated in peacekeeping missions led by either the United Nations or the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. I firmly believe that if this bill were to be adopted and such a medal awarded, it would be a grave mistake to exclude some soldiers because their mission was led by NATO and not by the UN and I do not think we should bias ourselves on this issue.

Another aspect of the bill that we can improve is the detailed specifications of the design of the medal. I mean the hon. member for Saanich-Gulf Islands no disrespect when I say he has put too much into this bill. The design of the medal as contained in the bill is too specific. I hope the hon. member is open to some alternative design specifications. This could be further examined during committee hearings and a mutually agreed to compromise can be achieved. There the committee members and the hon. member for Saanich-Gulf Islands himself could hear testimony from various witnesses and the list could include many people.

I also appreciate that several members have given consideration to the cost of such an initiative, but I do not think we should lose sight of why we want to do this. We should not let money considerations prevent us from doing this properly. Yes, we should look at ways of keeping the cost down but not to the extent of negating the whole exercise.

Canadian Volunteer Service Medal For United Nations Peacekeeping ActPrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

NDP

Bill Blaikie NDP Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would also like to speak in support of Bill C-300 and commend the hon. member for Saanich-Gulf Islands for bringing it forward. I hope that, as has been suggested, it will pass second reading possibly without a vote, if we can all agree to send it off to committee in a spirit of unanimity, to be studied there and possibly improved.

However, to echo some of the concerns I have heard expressed, I hope this is not a means by which the government, or at least some members on the government side, hope to bury it in committee. I hope it is a genuine desire to see the bill improved to address some of its alleged imperfections and have it come back to the House and passed so that indeed we can as a Parliament express through the establishment of this medal the fact that as a Parliament and as a country we appreciate and want to recognize Canadians who have served in Canadian peacekeeping operations and perhaps in other operations which are perceived in the same way but which may not be technically peacekeeping or technically UN peacekeeping.

I hope we can do this quickly because we do not want to see a situation that other veterans have found themselves in. It was not so long ago, at the beginning of this Parliament, that I had a private members' motion, not a bill, calling for the awarding of a medal that would recognize the service of veterans of the Dieppe raid, who for a variety of reasons did not receive the medal other veterans received for serving in World War II. They waited for over 50 years for this kind of recognition. It eventually came as a result of my private members' motion. It was not exactly what the motion called for but it was a form of recognition.

It may indeed be the case that a similar thing will happen here where the outcome will not be exactly what the hon. member for Saanich-Gulf Islands has in mind. However, hopefully it will be close enough or perhaps even improved in such a way that we will all be satisfied with the result.

I commend the member and express my support and I am sure the support of my colleagues in the NDP caucus. We look forward to seeing this matter expeditiously dealt with.

Canadian Volunteer Service Medal For United Nations Peacekeeping ActPrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Milliken)

It is my duty to inform the House that if the hon. member for Saanich-Gulf Islands speaks now, he will close the debate.

Canadian Volunteer Service Medal For United Nations Peacekeeping ActPrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

Reform

Jack Frazer Reform Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, as you will no doubt detect, there is a substantial amount of support for Bill C-300 in this House. It is my fervent hope that the bill can be referred to committee taking into account the thoughtful and constructive criticism that has been presented not only in this House but from people across the country who have familiarized themselves with the bill and that we can bring it to fruition before the 35th Parliament is dissolved for the election.

As my colleague from Beaver River mentioned, this bill has been proposed on a number of occasions by the Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs and by two private members' bills in the previous Parliament. I think it would be absolutely abhorrent to have this bill die before it was passed into law.

With that I will conclude my address and seek the support of the House for Bill C-300.

Canadian Volunteer Service Medal For United Nations Peacekeeping ActPrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Milliken)

Is the House ready for the question?

Canadian Volunteer Service Medal For United Nations Peacekeeping ActPrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

Canadian Volunteer Service Medal For United Nations Peacekeeping ActPrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Milliken)

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Canadian Volunteer Service Medal For United Nations Peacekeeping ActPrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Canadian Volunteer Service Medal For United Nations Peacekeeping ActPrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Milliken)

I declare the motion carried. Accordingly, this bill is referred to the Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the second time and referred to a committee.)

Canadian Volunteer Service Medal For United Nations Peacekeeping ActPrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Milliken)

Is it the pleasure of the House to suspend the sitting until noon?

Canadian Volunteer Service Medal For United Nations Peacekeeping ActPrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(The sitting of the House was suspended at 11.40 a.m)

The House resumed at 11.56 a.m.

The House resumed, from December 13, 1996, consideration of Bill C-60, an act to establish the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and to repeal and amend other acts as a consequence, as reported (with amendments) from the committee; and of Motions Nos. 24, 25 and 26.

Canadian Food Inspection Agency ActGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

Bloc

Jean-Guy Chrétien Bloc Frontenac, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have an opportunity this morning to speak to Bill C-60 at report stage.

I think we need to refresh our memories, because it has been more than a month and a half since we last discussed Bill C-60, a bill that will have the effect of creating a Canadian food inspection agency.

It will be a parapublic agency, rather like those school boards we have in Quebec. This parapublic agency will be responsible for setting standards for the safety, quality and manufacture of food products.

The purpose of this bill is to consolidate the food inspection services of three departments, which are the departments of health, fisheries and oceans and agriculture and agri-food.

You will probably recall that in December, there was an aspect of the bill that bothered opposition members, and I mean both the Reform Party and the official opposition, the Bloc Quebecois. I am referring to the manner in which the executives of this parapublic agency will be appointed. The president and the vice-president will be appointed by the governor in council, and the president can appoint an advisory board of 12 members.

You know as well as I do that the government of the Prime Minister, the member for Saint-Maurice, will appoint a Liberal, and that the president will appoint a vice-president who will be a Liberal as well. I hardly need to tell you what political affiliation the members of the advisory board will have. So we have a nice little board which the minister of agriculture or the governor in council, in other words, cabinet, will be able to control.

This parapublic agency is a very important body because it will employ some 4,500 people. I remind you as well that, to properly prepare everything, under Bill C-60, the hiring rules would be suspended for a period of up to two years. So the new agency, which in theory is to begin operations by the first of April, is being readied as a patronage haven.

We in the Bloc Quebecois have proposed amendments that would significantly improve it, because there is obviously some merit in the objectives. We do not, however, agree with the government's underhanded approach to achieving its ends. I hope the government takes a lot of interest in passing our amendments, for the welfare of our fellow Canadians across the country.

By combining the food inspection services of these three departments, we could save a lot of money. Overlap is often criticized, but with this measure, if it is well administered, we could save up to $40 million annually. That is a significant amount. We salute the initiative, but not so much the way of going about it. There is the issue of transparency.

The aim of the amendments we proposed in group No. 8 is to have the new food inspection agency submit its business plan annually to the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food.

Bill C-60 provides for the president of the new agency to submit his business plan to the minister of agriculture, who will have to approve the plan within 15 days. In other words, the minister may, as I said earlier, pull some strings in order to concoct a business plan to his liking.

So, here is what we propose to do to amend clause 22. I would like to read it to you so that all elected members of this House can realize how important this debate is.

As soon as possible after the Agency is established and at least once every five years after that, the Agency must submit a corporate business plan, for study, to such committee of the House of Commons as designated or established to consider agricultural matters for study by that committee.

After reviewing the agency's business plan, the committee referred to in the subsection I just read either approves or rejects the plan.

The Minister of Agriculture should not fear the Standing Committee on Agriculture. Do not think for a moment that the agriculture committee is controlled by Quebec sovereignists, or by Reformers from western Canada; this committee is made up of eight members of the Liberal Party, two members of the Bloc Quebecois and two members of the Reform Party. Simple mathematics indicates an easy Liberal majority of eight against four, not to mention the fact that the Chair is also a Liberal. That makes nine Liberals against four opposition members. It would not be such a big deal, since it would involve not just a single individual, but the committee as a whole. So we are dealing with 13 members. This way, the committee could become less of a babysitting service for members and more useful as a place where members of the various committees can take their responsibilities and provide thoughtful advice to their-I am talking about Liberal members of course-Minister of Agriculture, who is, unfortunately, often out of touch with the realities faced by farming communities across Canada.

The Minister of Agriculture, who hails from Saskatchewan, is familiar with the particular difficulties associated with farming in that western province. But when it comes to a highly diversified agriculture like we have in the maritimes, in Ontario and in Quebec, we have to forgive the minister because he really does not know much about that type of agriculture.

So, this is the amendment I proposed in this House with the support of the hon. member for Matapédia-Matane.

Another suggestion we are making here also has to do with clause 22, but at line 9. I will read the amendment that we propose and I hope Liberal members will consider it. I also hope they will not follow the party line dictated by their minister and will not all vote against the amendments proposed by the Bloc Quebecois.

any person from the agriculture, fisheries, food processing, food distribution and public health sectors whom the Agency considers appropriate to consult;

The agency would not have to ask the minister's authorization to consult groups other than those scheduled to be included in the new agency. It would also be in a position to consult any provincial government that makes a written request to that effect to the agency.

All these reasons should convince hon. members opposite to support these motions in amendment, which seek to improve Bill C-60.

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12:10 p.m.

Reform

John Williams Reform St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join the debate on Bill C-60, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency Act, and to lend our support to the credible proposals put forward by our colleagues in the Bloc Quebecois.

While we do not always support them, and in fact object to many of the principles for which they stand, it is enlightening to hear they want to participate in amending legislation to make it good legislation for the benefit of all Canadians. Therefore, we like to see these types of proposals coming forward from our colleagues in the Bloc.

In general terms, Bill C-60, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency Act, unfortunately is another smoke and mirror policy by the federal government where it says that it is doing something but when you take a real good close look at it you find that it has done next to nothing other than shuffle the numbers.

I think back to when the government created NavCan, an agency to handle air navigation in Canada. It cost $200 million to provide severance pay to the civil servants who lost their jobs on Friday. Each and every one of those civil servants was hired back by NavCan on Monday morning. The Canadian taxpayers came up with $200 million in severance pay for those people and not one of them lost his or her job.

The President of the Treasury Board could stand up in the House and claim: "We have reduced the size of the civil service by 6,400 people. That is a great and wonderful accomplishment". In fact nothing really changed except the name on the letterhead and the name on the pay stub of the cheque. This is what I mean by smoke and mirrors.

Once again an agency is going to be set up and these civil servants are going to lose their jobs. They are no longer going to be civil servants. They are going to get severance pay on Friday and start working for the agency on Monday. Nothing will be changed except the taxpayer will be poorer. We have been taken to the cleaners once more courtesy of the policies put forward by the government.

The motions we are debating at the moment call for a business plan to be put before the agricultural committee to tell committee members how the agency wishes to follow through. Since the agency is a creation of this House it seems only appropriate that agency would come back to the House and tell us its business plan because this House is going to be giving the agency or has been giving the agency about $300 million a year to do its job.

With that kind of money we expect to know what the agency intends to do and how it intends to do it. How is it going to do the job better than it did it in the past? How is it going to be more efficient? How is it going to be more productive? How are the farmers going to be better served by this agency? If we, as parliamentarians, are being asked to vote on this bill to give the authority to spend taxpayers' money in some new way, then surely we would expect the agency to come to this House and tell us how it can do it so we can pass comment.

It seems to me, since this is a motion being put forward by the opposition party, that the Liberals in a knee jerk reaction are going to say no we do not want to hear about this. We do not want to see if there is common sense or a lack of common sense in the way this agency is being run. We do not want to know if there is waste, mismanagement and incompetence in this organization. But there will be because I have not seen accountability built into this organization.

A group of farmers came to me some months ago complaining about the way the government is building in the cost recovery to these situations. I agree that if the government, through its agencies, is providing service to a group of people, there should be some element of cost recovery thought about and maybe built into the system. That cost recovery program dealt with farmers. The situation was the approval and the licensing of animal feed to ensure that it met the appropriate standards.

I have no problem with our regulating to ensure that the feed we give to animals will not harm individuals as it flows through the food chain for human consumption. However, on the cost recovery methodology that is built in, there is a huge bureaucracy that they wanted to recover the cost of. If they had five applications a year for a new feed to be licensed, the cost of this huge bureaucracy was spread over five applications. If they had 50 applications in another year the cost was spread over the 50 applications. The size of the bureaucracy did not change whether it was five or fifty applications. They were just going to pass their cost on to the unfortunate consumer of their service who happened to pick a bad year for applying for a licence.

That is not being accountable to the consumer. That is being arrogant in the way we can dictate and legislate what people have to pay. It means that they do not give a hoot about the service they provide. They are just going to legislate that everyone will pay for their costs but will have no input into their cost. People will pay the bill because they cannot avoid the service being provided by government. That is wrong because we need accountability.

The private sector has accountability through competition. I have attended seminars in Victoria where we had public accounts committees from across Canada and representatives from the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and various other countries to try to wrestle with the issue of accountability.

I found that in other areas of the world the capacity to create the kind of competition in a market where civil servants have to ensure that they are delivering a competent service, that the price is reasonable, that the quality is good in order for them to keep their job, because that is how it works in the private sector, it does not matter what service or product one produces or sells, if one does not provide good service and quality at a reasonable price they will not be in business.

Government has to learn the same attitude. We need to have good quality, good prices and good services. However, it comes all the way back to what we have talked about here for the last three years, the lack of accountability in this House, the lack of accountability by the government over there and the fact that it has ignored the needs and desires of Canadians, the lack of integrity that we have seen from over there, the fact that it has not been responsible in managing the affairs of this country with the $600 billion debt that we have accumulated.

We see it more again in the way the government has addressed this bill. Accountability, integrity and responsibility are three individual words that this government has not heard of, has not thought about and has no intention of living by. However, if we were to have that in the legislation that has been brought before this House we would have a government that listens to the people and meets the needs of the people in food inspection, in eliminating the GST, in expense accounts that are proper and just everywhere, in inquiries that are set up because the government wants to shuffle paper and bad press on to an inquiry and then when the inquiry-I am thinking of the Somali inquiry-becomes an embarrassment, the government shuts it down.

Accountability, integrity and responsibility, the overarching theme that every government should think about but which this government has never thought about. We see it again in Bill C-60. I cannot think of anything more accountable for an agency than to have a business plan brought before Parliament for our opinions and input in order that we can see that it is going in the direction that we had anticipated when we gave it this authority. That speaks volumes in the way this government, even in the small things, ignores the wishes of Canadians. That is why we need to see real change. If there is not a change in this government then let us change the government at the next election.

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12:20 p.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Bloc Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup, QC

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.

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12:30 p.m.

Essex—Kent Ontario

Liberal

Jerry Pickard LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food

Mr. Speaker, I commend the opposition for bringing forth amendments which they feel will improve the bill. That being said, there is a little misinformation about what the roles in Parliament are and the latitudes each has.

When we look at the bill and the agency which is being formed in this case, the ultimate person responsible is the minister. There is absolutely no question that if there is a problem with the agency, if corrections have to made, if budgets have to be altered and if some things have to be changed, the ultimate responsibility falls on the minister and the government. In the amendment the suggestion is that the House of Commons Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food be the committee to deal with the approval of the administrative budgets and the approval of the annual reports.

Quite frankly, it is the responsibility of the committee of the House of Commons to examine every aspect of operations in government affairs. Very clearly, the standing committee on agriculture can bring forth any issue. It can bring forward the issue of a business plan. It can deal with that with every industry across the country. It can deal with that with every provincial government across the country. And it can clearly deal with the agency. It is the standing committee's authority given by the House to deal with those issues and bring them forward to the public, discuss them and allow public input.

In fact what is being suggested in the bill goes beyond the latitude of standing committee operations. It is being suggested that the standing committee must approve government operations for which it is not responsible if something goes wrong. It is responsible to the House to investigate issues and make recommendations to the ministry and to the House. There is a misconception about the responsible role of each person in this type of government. That is unfortunate. Again I would point out it is extremely important that the final approval be given to the minister so that the minister can act very quickly.

Food inspection is very, very important to that industry in this country. There is no question that when we ran into some difficulties over food inspection, the minister and his ministry acted very quickly and immediately to make certain the problems were dealt with properly. That is why it is important for the minister to be

ready to act at any time. We do not put other vehicles in the way of swift action.

The Canadian government has always put food safety as a priority and will continue to do so. There is no question that we have a worldwide reputation for dealing with issues swiftly and conclusively and making certain that Canadians have the safest and best food supply in the world. The minister and his ministry are responsible for that.

If it happened that the House of Commons standing committee would deal with those issues as has been suggested by the opposition, we would have to set up a very large portion of full time staff to deal with consultations across the country, with added expenses to the government and to make certain that hearings are held across the country.

This has been particularly well set out in Bill C-60. It is my understanding that every province in the country supports the fact that this agency will be of crucial importance to the agricultural community in those provinces. All industries across this country support our position with regard to agencies. When we look at it, we have consulted with all of the provinces and the industry. We are accountable through the minister and through the questioning in this House as well as the public hearings that are carried on in the House of Commons standing committee.

Clearly, the support of the provinces and industry in this agency is very important. I might underline the fact too that there is no question that outside reporting agencies such as the auditor general have to comment on the concerns within this bill. Therefore, there is no question that the accountability for this agency is there through the minister's office, through the auditor general's office, through the processes of public consultation, through the department as well as through the standing committee.

I cannot see how we can support this motion. It certainly does not fulfil what I would suggest is the role of responsible government.

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12:35 p.m.

Bloc

Antoine Dubé Bloc Lévis, QC

After a break of several weeks, Mr. Speaker, the names of the various ridings do not come to us as easily. Mr. Speaker, I would like to take this opportunity to wish you happy New Year.

The three motions made by the Bloc Quebecois regarding this bill, which are part of Group No. 8, are very worthwhile motions. Why is that? Because as the legislation stands at present, all that is required is for the agency to submit a business plan to the minister. That is not enough in our opinion because these provisions have caused considerable controversy within the industry. There is a distinct lack of transparency.

This is why, concerned with improving the bill and making a positive contribution to the legislative process, the Bloc Quebecois asks that everything be submitted to the Standing Committee on Agriculture. This seems to be the thing to do because this is all new: three former federal inspection services amalgamated into a single one coming under the agriculture minister's authority. Granted, that is a good thing. And the opposition did not object to the consolidation of three federal agencies. That is not the problem.

In this whole process, it is clear that the Minister of Agriculture wants to retain as much power as possible. This is a tendency we have been noticing for a few months with this government, a tendency to have responsibility rest with a minister instead of with the governor in council. You know as well as I do that the expression "governor in council" means cabinet.

Now, under Bill C-25, I think, for what had been the normal process so far to be operative, the phrase "by order of the governor in council" will have to be included, for particular matters to be discussed in cabinet from now on. More importantly our motions seek to ensure that they at least be submitted to the members of this House who sit on the agriculture committee so that they can examine whatever changes the minister may want to make from time to time.

We will support the good ones; opposition members do not sit either on the various committees or in this House to object to changes that may be positive, worthwhile. There is a another condition however, and that is the drift of the second motion. The agency should be required to consult both the farming industry or the agri-food sector as a whole and the provinces; in fact, all concerned.

Should this amendment be rejected, there is currently no such guarantee provided in the legislation. We believe such a measure would protect the future of the agri-food industry. It also concerns the health sector, however, since the inspection of food has an impact on health.

I am a now member of the Standing Committee on Health, and I care a lot about public health. It is necessary to inspect food. Just think of what happened in certain countries, Great Britain, for instance, with the whole problem of the mad cow disease. An agency such as this one must be able to protect public health; it must have public health as its main concern. This is why it must operate properly and have credibility. And in order to have credibility, consultation and transparency are required.

We could make other analogies. When it comes to controversial issues relating to health, such as the tainted blood scandal-and I am not only thinking of Canada, but of the western countries-any

process relating to health, including the inspection of food, must be credible and transparent. People must have confidence in it.

We are not trying to be aggressive. We are not proposing things to make a big fuss. We want the public to feel confident about the food it consumes, thanks to the presence of a federal agency. I am from Quebec and I am still a sovereignist, but I care about public health.

Again, we do not oppose the agency, particularly since such a change was made in Quebec in 1978. I know what I am talking about because at the time I was the press secretary of Quebec's agriculture minister, Jean Garon. I can name him, since he does not sit in this House. Jean Garon set out specifically to eliminate duplication.

Before the holiday season, I rose in this House, not to lambast the government, but to express a regret that the proposed change had not yet taken place. As I said, such a cleanup was done almost 20 years ago, by merging responsibilities in the food inspection sector.

This is basically what I had to say to support the amendments proposed by the hon. member for Frontenac who, like the hon. member for Lotbinière, also a member of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food, made an extraordinary and sustained effort. These two members often raise this issue within our caucus and with members from other parties, to make people more aware of the agriculture and agri-food sector, because it is sometimes forgotten. A large number of us live in urban centres. However, the agri-food industry is very important for all of us, since it has to do with our food, with good food and good health.

Mr. Speaker, I thank you and I wish you a long and healthy life.

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12:40 p.m.

Bloc

Jean Landry Bloc Lotbinière, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-60. The federal Liberal government is giving the minister the power to appoint the president, the vice-president and the 12 members of the advisory board. In addition, the president has the right to review the direction and policies of the agency.

If the minister is allowed to appoint the agency's president, its vice-president and the 12 members of its advisory board, he can also control the agency as well, by influencing its overall policies. None of this is very reassuring when it comes to the transparency of our federal government.

The Bloc Quebecois's amendment quite rightly suggests leaving it up to the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food, a committee of this House, to appoint the 12 members of this advisory board and to see that the agency is run properly.

This will ensure impartiality and transparency, since this committee, like the others, is made up of members of the various parties.

In addition, our partners would be invited to recommend appointees, our partners being the provinces, or representatives from the agricultural sector, in short people for whom agriculture is paramount and who have a stake in the sector.

While we are on the topic, why do we not think the advisory board would be representative of the weight of each province? Democracy means one person, one vote. But in the Canadian confederation, one province does not necessarily mean one vote. Not all provinces carry the same weight. Since the province of Quebec represents 25 per cent of the population of Canada, ought it not to have three representatives out of the twelve on the advisory committee? It would be common sense for there to be proportionality, and therefore greater fairness. Let us not forget that Quebecers who make up this 25 per cent pay 25 per cent, or some $30 billion, to the federal government.

For as long as we are part of Canada, I will defend the interests of my fellow citizens of Quebec. We will come here to seek what is due to us, to demand what is ours. In short, then, Quebec is fully justified in calling for three representatives on this advisory committee and in demanding to be consulted on the other appointments. In business terms, some would say Quebec is a major shareholder, with at least one-quarter of the shares.

I would like to draw your attention to another aspect of Bill C-60: allowing the minister to approve the business plan. Again, why would this not be submitted to the members of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food? This would lend more vitality to that committee, which plays a lead role in drawing up government policies. I say this without a great deal of enthusiasm, since we all know that what Liberals want is to pull a fast one on us. The Liberal government is in a hurry to get its bills passed, so that it can then do favours for its friends.

What we want to see, obviously, is for the positions of president and vice-president, and the others jobs in the agency, to go to those who are best suited for them. Provinces and organizations representing the interests of the farming community should submit candidates for these positions to the committee, and be consulted de facto.

Unfortunately, in this area, as with the Constitution, the approach is unilateral. That is the lesson to be drawn from this. I trust that historians, when dealing with the reign of this current Liberal government, will speak out on this.

We are fed up seeing the federal government use its constitutional prerogative, royal prerogative even, to make appointments. This is not always a good thing. One needs only to look at the unsavoury situation resulting from the appointment of Jean-Louis Roux as Lieutenant-Governor of Quebec. Now we know the disastrous results of that decision, and I shall say no more on the matter. I am not using examples from the time of Sir John A. Macdonald or Sir Wilfrid Laurier, but from the current term of the Liberals. Wait and see the critical analysis of the Liberal years historians will be making a few years from now. It will be a real hoot to read them on

screen, for nothing will be on paper any more by that time. We are entering the era of the information highway, McLuhan's global village.

Still in the same vein, the purpose of our amendments is to give more power to the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food. We want the committee to advise the minister on all matters relating to the mission of the Canadian food inspection agency. We also want the advisory board to respond to all questions submitted by the standing committee of this House.

We think it is very important that not only the minister but also the committee be able to examine the agency's action plan. If two heads are better than one, why rely on what one minister has to say? This is no reflection on the minister, and I am sure he understands that.

To achieve maximum transparency in what the agency does, it is imperative to involve the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food. Why is the government afraid to give this committee a say in the agency's appointments, its business plan and what it does? If we want transparency, if we want everything to be crystal clear, we must be prepared to do what is necessary to achieve this. It is all very well to preach, but we must also practice what we preach.

Consider also that putting the agency's plan before the members of this House may make the public more aware of the meaning of democracy. It is often said that people are losing interest in public affairs, and the result is a lack of involvement. Did you ever wonder why? Could it be because we fail to tell our fellow citizens what we are doing? Because we keep them out of the decision-making process? Because we want to go too fast and consulting them or delegating authority would slow down the process? Sometimes when a decision has to be made by a group, everyone in the group tends to look after his own interests.

Briefly, in addition to its insistence on transparency, the amendment we are seeking is quite straightforward and logical: the corporate business plan is to be submitted to the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food and not only to the minister. Second, the business plan should come before the House of Commons so that the people's elected representatives can give their final approval.

Regarding Motion No. 25, the Bloc's amendment suggests that, before submitting its plan to the minister, to the agriculture and agri-food committee and to this House, the agency should consult its partners, that is to say the farming industry, the provinces and the appropriate unions. This will give a better product, or business plan.

I do not have to remind you that, this way, we will ensure that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's corporate business plan will have a much better chance of striking a consensus. Without these consultations, the public and those who use these services are likely not to be well served.

After all, we are here to serve the public and, furthermore, the agency will reassure Quebecers and Canadians about compliance with food safety regulations and, to a point, about their health.

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12:50 p.m.

The Speaker

My colleagues, pursuant to the order made on Thursday, December 12, 1996, motions in Group No. 8 are deemed to have been put to the House and the recorded divisions deemed to have been requested and deferred.

The House will now proceed to debate on Group No. 9.