Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to take part this evening in this extremely important debate. I want to thank the leader of the Progressive Conservatives for having asked for this emergency debate, because it is extremely important for Canada and Quebec.
The priority for the Bloc Quebecois in this matter is to protect the public and preserve the confidence of our trading partners.
The solution to this crisis does not lie in centralization, but rather in adopting a more regional approach to health practices.
Although a single case of mad cow has been diagnosed in Canada, all the provinces were included in the ban by our foreign partners. The U.S. ban on all ruminants is particularly damaging, because that country is our main buyer.
Although the Bloc Quebecois considers the Americans' decision to be reasonable at this stage in the testing, we believe that it would be unfair for this ban to continue and to be applied to provinces not affected.
The Bloc Quebecois notes, as my hon. colleague from Drummond said, that if Quebec were sovereign and controlled its own borders and its own health policies, it would not be affected by the U.S. ban today. The president of the UPA, Mr. Laurent Pellerin, said the exact same thing during a press conference on May 22, 2003:
If we were separate provinces each with its own distinct inspection system and if we had a more regional approach to product marketing systems, only one province would have to deal with this problem.
This situation is particularly frustrating for Quebec producers who have long been subject to a series of constraints aimed at ensuring herd health and irreproachable product quality.
So, for many years, not only have they not imported any products from countries considered “at risk” for mad cow disease, but the detection process for cases of mad cow has been implemented and, in Quebec, mandatory reporting of this disease has existed since 1990. Since 1993, Quebec producers have been prohibited from feeding animal meal to their cattle, well before the federal ban of 1997.
I want to give the House a conclusive example of the superiority of Quebec's system: cattle tagging. Implanting cattle with tags for tracking purposes was established simultaneously in Canada and Quebec. Quebec producers had until June 2002 to tag their cattle.
I will tell the House the difference between the establishment of this practice in Quebec and in Canada. In Quebec, there is a centralized database, but not in Canada.
In Quebec, we collect information on all the comings and goings of an animal: birth, death, participation in an agricultural exhibition, sale to a breeder. This is all done with bar codes. So, when the consumer buys beef at the grocery store, there is a bar code on the packaging, the same one that has followed the animal from birth right up to the consumer's plate. In Canada, they keep information on birth and death only. The animal is not followed throughout its life span. The advantage of what is done in Quebec is clear. It is far superior.
Given the existence of a highly efficient system of prevention in Quebec, the federal government must do everything within its area of jurisdiction to reassure importing countries so Quebec producers can resume exports.
In the weeks to come, once the federal authorities have established the diagnosis and we have a better idea of the scope of the crisis, the Bloc Quebecois will ensue that the new measures implemented in order to regain the confidence of our partners will not be imposed coast to coast. In short, different regions of the country have different practices and must therefore be handled differently.
The federal government has neglected food safety in the last 10 years by neglecting to replace staff at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, and by threatening the funding of faculties of veterinary medicine.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency was created in 1997 in a consolidation of the food safety and inspection components of three federal departments: Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Health Canada, and Fisheries and Oceans Canada. The objective was to facilitate a more uniform and consistent approach to food safety and quality standards and to food product inspection according to risk level. The agency does not have sole responsibility for food safety, but it is at the heart of the Canadian food safety system.
The CFIA estimated it was “short 500 staff positions across all of the Agency's inspection programs”, according to chapter 25 of the December 2000 Auditor General's report. The CFIA has a serious staff recruitment problem.
In 2000, the agency estimated that by 2006, 734 employees would be eligible to retire, including 33% of the veterinary science group and 29% of the inspector group. The Auditor General stated, “The agency has already experienced some difficulty in recruiting for some positions”.
The Auditor General added, and I quote:
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency should take additional action to identify what it needs in a future work force and to develop a plan for creating the work force that it needs to deliver its mandate in the future. The Agency should measure employees' views on whether Agency values are fully practiced.
The federal government has not done its part to compensate workers in the softwood lumber industry affected by the trade dispute between Canada and the United States. My riding is the most heavily affected region in Canada. And, in addition, we are still waiting for federal government assistance for workers affected by the cod moratorium and the crab dispute.
The Bloc Quebecois finds it ironic that the United States is imposing an embargo on Quebec meat when certain American states are closer to Alberta than Quebec. As long as we are a part of the federal system, we will have to live with this kind of paradox.
Here is a brief list of the federal government's responsibilities. First, it must support cattle producers affected by the crisis, as it helped Toronto with the SARS crisis. It must also examine Quebec's practices, which are effective, thanks in large part to its tracking system that is more effective than the federal system. Third, it must ensure that farmers from provinces with higher standards, such as Quebec, are exempt from the American embargo. It must defend the interests of cattle producers. Fourth, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food comes from Quebec, from the riding of Portneuf; he needs to get the message out and ensure that Quebec is not affected by the lower standards put in place by the federal government.
The federal Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food must act quickly to restore confidence in our cattle products. This is what the minister must do, while continuing to assess and analyze whether mad cow disease has spread to other herds.