Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today in support of Bill C-38. The bill respects the implementation of an international trade commitment by Canada regarding wines and spirit drinks.
The bilateral agreement between Canada and the European Union affords the Canadian industry recognition and protection to signature products. This is important because the value of this industry is tied to the inherent value in Canadian brands.
The Conservative Party supports the intent of the bill as an export strategy for the Canadian wine and spirits industry. Conservatives are very supportive of rules based trading systems, especially ones that help secure international markets for Canadian products and that help ensure that Canadian consumers have access to high quality products produced in other countries.
As such, we support the general thrust of the bill and the agreement that it helps implement.
Formal recognition by the European Union of rye whiskey exclusively as Canadian will provide Canadian industry participants the opportunity to invest and grow knowing that their investments will not be undermined.
The bill is good for many reasons; for the wine industry and for the distilleries. It also is good for rural Canada. Why rural Canada specifically? Many of Canada's distilleries, wineries and breweries are based in rural Canada, so they provide jobs which are good. Also it is agriculture which takes place in rural Canada that provides all the ingredients for these beverages. After all I have not seen many corn fields or grape fields in the middle of downtown Toronto. Therefore, this is good for rural Canada.
As our brand names become known on the international stage and through this bill, which would protect the integrity of those products, in other words people from other countries would be unable produce copycat products, the integrity of our products will be preserved. That will encourage our Canadian distillers and wineries to continue using Canadian product that comes from rural Canada.
Rural Canada does not just feed the cities, it also provides power. Rural Canada also provides the key ingredients for all our world famous wines and spirits.
Many people are confused by the bill. I have spoken with different people about it. They are afraid we will be unable to buy Merlot wine again. That is not the case in fact. The bill would is protect Canadian wines on a regional basis and Canadian spirits such as rye whiskey. No matter where we go in the world, if we order rye whiskey, we would be certain that it came from Canada and was made here with Canadian product.
This is a good thing for Canada on the world stage. We have a high quality reputation on the world stage. Our rye whiskey has been available around the world. There has been a demand for it for many years. Our grapes are quality, whether they are from the Annapolis Valley, or southern Ontario including my own riding of Haldimand—Norfolk, particularly the Niagara Peninsula, or the grapevines across the Prairies or the Okanagan Valley. The wines we make in Canada from these grapes are winning first prize awards around the world. It is wonderful for Canadians to be represented that way on the world stage.
I said that there was some confusion. Merlot is a grape, but for many years some thought that was a region. Italy and France have had regional protection of their wines for many years. If we go into a restaurant and order a glass of Bordeaux, we know that it comes from the Bordeaux region in France. Its quality is very carefully controlled. It is the same thing for Burgundy as well as the many great Italian wines. They have regional designations that protect and promote the integrity of the quality that wine.
The proposed bill will open the doors for our wines to have that same promotion and that same protection. This is a good thing. We will be unable to refer to a Bordeaux or a Burgundy because those come from France. We will be able to promote the Niagara Peninsula and the doors will be opened for our great Pelee Island wines as well. There are many other award winning wines produced in Canada, but I do not have the time to go through them all today. I congratulate them for being such ambassadors for us on the world stage
Another benefit of protection and bringing us in compliance is a number of years ago legislation was originally written to protect a product very similar to our rye whiskey, and that is Scotch whisky. Scotch whisky is very special. It is called the water of life. As we know, it comes from Scotland. However, that has not always been a controlled situation.
Many years ago one of the eastern nations decided that it wanted to meet the taste buds of its population by providing a Scotch-like product. The rules at the time on the international stage said that it could only be Scotch whisky if it were made in Scotland. It was a bit loose on the definition. One very ambitious distillery decided to make Scotch-type whisky in a town that it renamed Scotland so all bottles then could say “made in Scotland”. Fortunately the powers that be on the international stage got together and recognized the type of deception that was attempted there. That is why they tightened up the rules. That is why I am so glad that as we proceed with Bill S-38 we are tightening up the rules even more so to protect Canadian product.
Contrary to what the parliamentary secretary said during his speech, we have a few concerns with the bill. When we spoke with Canadian distillers, they indicated that they still had some concerns. While they are generally in support of this bill, there are a few things that they would like to see fixed.
First, they believe that there is a need for the government to eliminate certain provisions currently found within the food and drug regulations that would duplicate provisions in Bill S-38 if passed. Second, they are also requesting, though, that no provisions be deleted from these regulations without a comprehensive and full consultation with the industry.
Quite frankly, that request on the part of the distillers causes me some concern. We have seen all too often in the 12 months that I have been in the House that while the Liberal government has claimed consultations with industry, in fact it has met with maybe one stakeholder, if it is being generous on that given day. However, in terms of doing a cross-spectrum consultation to get the impact of its decisions on others, we have not seen that at all.
We are dealing with this very issue on Bill C-27 these days, where industry has not been considered. The impact of the government's intentions and actions has not been duly considered, and we are looking at a real mess coming up there.
I am not sure that this is the time or place to address it, but my Conservative colleagues and I will be opposing Bill C-27 as hard and as loudly as we possibly can. Someone has to stand up for the producers and processors in our country. Sadly, the Liberal government has not done it. Fortunately, and thankfully, my Conservative colleagues and I are happy to step up and take on that role.
Apart from the elimination of the heavy-handed approach, we would also ask that the government respect the request of the Canadian distillers and this time work in close consultation with them as the changes move forward.
For purposes of due diligence and legislative housekeeping, we are prepared to consider recommendations with regard to improving the legislation, particularly with respect to explicitly defining what constitutes a spirit drink. This is something that is omitted in the bill. Normally in legislation one tends to define what the key subject is and what the parameters are. Nor is there any reference to its definition under things like the Excise Act or whether it is that definition that applies here. We would very much like to see an explicit and unambiguous definition of spirit drink to guide the interpretation of this act for its future and for possible expansion.
Some of the members on the other side of the House are chuckling to themselves as I say that as if to say, “How could anyone not know what a spirit is?”
Let me assure members that definitions change over time. A number of years ago I worked in the wine and spirits industry, and new products came out that caused a lot of concern. Perhaps members will remember the invention and introduction of the cooler. It started out as a wine cooler. Then it moved to become spirit coolers. The industry and the regulating bodies over those industries had real problems. No one could class them as wines, or spirits or beer. They did not fit any of the previous definitions.
There was a great deal of consternation at the time about the tax levels that would apply to them and how they should be priced. The provincial boards that sell their own wines and spirits have different pricing formulas depending on whether the product is classed as a wine or a spirit. No one knew what to apply because these products defied the current definitions. The world moves on. We want to ensure that whatever is in this act is very clearly defined so there can be no ambiguity.
We also will seek clarity on the necessity to reduce legislative and regulatory duplication in the food and drug regulations under the Food and Drugs Act.
We also want to seek assurances from the government about its assumption that there are currently no instances of products in Canada which are non-compliant with the bill, so we can ensure that vendors are not unfairly penalized once the act comes into existence.
The government does not appear to have anticipated what will be done if in fact there are pre-existing inventories of non-compliant spirit drink products once this legislation comes into force. The parliamentary secretary has indicated that he does not believe that there are any known non-conforming products. As we have seen so often, particularly during question period in the last week, just because the government is not aware of something happening does not mean it has not happened and does not exist. We have seen examples all this week where the government claimed not to know anything, and in fact millions of dollars of taxpayer money was being spent. The fact that the government did not know about it does not mean it did not happen.
We want to ensure with this bill that there is a thorough due diligence done to ensure that any pre-existing inventories are dealt with in a proper manner.
Overall, this is a decent bill. It will help promote and protect Canadian wines and spirits. It also will be a boon for rural Canada, both at home and abroad. For that reason, I will be happy to support it. However, we want to ensure that it is done right. For these reasons, we look forward to working on the bill as it is debated in the House.
In closing I would like to add a light note, being that it is the end of the day. I am told this is a true story, and I worked in this industry for a number of years.
The country I mentioned before, which tried to produce a product labelled “made in Scotland”, also did some market research. It decided it wanted to introduce a scotch-type whisky, but it wanted to ensure that it would sell. Therefore, it did a lot of research into popular brand names of the day. They discovered a few. One was Queen Anne. I am sure many members in the House are familiar with that. Another was King George. It thought it would get the best of both worlds so it came out with a product, which it put on the market, called King Anne.
We are trying to ensure that our quality and standards are much higher than that . I believe Bill S-38 will help us achieve that and achieve even more prominence for the quality of our wines and spirits in the world market.