Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from Vegreville--Wainwright for raising an issue that is important to many agriculture producers in various parts of Canada, especially the Prairies.
The government has been very unresponsive to the problems that it created back in 1993. These problems may appear to affect a small group of people, but they are significant and affect the bottom line of farmers at a time when they are struggling against many other forces as well. The government always wants to deal with big programs and address huge problems, but here we have concerns by a large number of people who the government may regard as only 1% of the population, but it is a problem we must address.
I want to make a few comments about the previous speakers who have gone before and point out that what they are saying is factually incorrect. This is not a danger to human life and it is not a significant risk to the environment.
The government's own Pest Management Regulatory Agency has said that it is not a risk to the environment and it is not a significant risk to other birds of prey or other animals. If we look at this objectively, it in fact prevents pain and suffering for animals such as cattle and horses that break their legs stepping in gopher holes. The report also says it is not a risk to groundwater supplies.
I notice members make their speeches and then run out, but I hope they will read Hansard and some of the things that I will be saying in my speech.
Presently there are no alternatives. Other supplies that are being given and made available do not work and the government has not proposed any alternative. There is no viable alternative at the present time.
My colleague's Motion No. 253, for those who have been watching on television, says:
That, in the opinion of the House, the government should make available directly to farmers the 2% strychnine solution.
Let me give a little background, so people watching this will understand. Back in 1993, farmers were denied the use of liquid strychnine to control the growing population of gophers by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. It was decided that ready to use bait containing 0.4% strychnine would be the option available to farmers, and the reports indicate that it is totally ineffective and essentially too weak to do anything.
Gophers have become a plague in some areas, wreaking havoc on farmland and the environment. Many people have said they are concerned about the environment. Here we have something that is really having a very negative effect on the environment.
My colleague from Vegreville--Wainwright needs to be complimented because he has been working on this for quite some time and has not had an opportunity to have this voted upon. I am glad that we have this now and I am hoping members will read the record here, so that they will have their facts straight before they vote on this.
The damage that is done to crop, pasture and range land is in the neighbourhood of $200 million in some years. That is a very significant amount and it is a cost that farmers cannot afford. What they are asking is that the 2% liquid be allowed for use by them, that they can mix it themselves and not have to get it from Toronto or some other place. There is really no valid reason for the government to have removed this effective tool from farmers in the first place.
I want to now focus on the PMRA report. This is the government's regulatory agency. The summation of this report is that there is no good reason for not allowing farmers to use this particular solution to control pests that really have no other way of being controlled.
The PMRA, the Pest Management Regulatory Agency, which is a federal government agency, is responsible for registering pesticides. It stated that it had some concerns about the use of strychnine baits to control Richardson's ground squirrels, or gophers. However, a careful look at its evaluation document shows that these concerns are limited, specific, and can be easily managed by western farmers. That is the bottom line. Members should read the whole report.
There are several positive points that are made in this PMRA report. It includes:
Producers and the governments of Alberta and Saskatchewan consider Richardson’s ground squirrels to be the major mammalian pest impacting croplands, pastures and rangelands over the past several decades, for which the control option of choice has remained strychnine-treated food baits.
It goes on to say there is “the lack of practical alternatives at this time”, so “it is proposed that the use of strychnine to control ground squirrels be maintained for the short term”.
This report gives no reason for not returning to the 2% liquid strychnine for farmers to use except possibly in certain limited settings, such as areas where there are burrowing owls and the swift fox. Even in these areas, studies must be done quickly to determine whether the proper use of the 2% solution, or 0.4% when mixed with grain, has any negative impact on these endangered species. We are as determined as anybody to protect these endangered species and the environment.
One of the previous speakers said this was a risk to humans. This is not. If members read the report, it makes it clear this is not a risk to people. Neither is it a risk to other species of animals. Environmental assessment says there is no danger of movement in the soil. It will be persistent in the soil unless “specialized microbial populations are present”.
Somebody said previously that this was a risk to groundwater. It makes it absolutely clear in the report that it is not a risk in this area. The report says, “it is unlikely that aquatic organisms will be exposed to substantial quantities of strychnine”.
I wish I could go into more of the report, but I think members get the drift. A study in Saskatchewan, my home province, found three key things that I want to mention at this point.
First, freshly mixed bait is more effective than premixed bait. But only the premixed bait is being made available to farmers. This is a strong argument for a return to the 2% liquid which farmers themselves can mix.
Another point that the Saskatchewan report discusses is that there is a potential for non-target poisoning, but there was no actual evidence of this. Previous speakers have claimed that there is. There is not. If there is a limited non-target damage, is this acceptable? No. And if there is, it would possibly be with mice.
Any possible impact on scavengers was not determined. There was in fact, and listen carefully, no evidence of harm to birds of prey. Many people have made the claim that there is. There is not. The use of strychnine was deemed to be safe for use on northern pocket gophers, pigeons, skunks, et cetera.
There has been no attempt to measure the costs to farmers in terms of damage to crops, pastures and rangelands, and the high cost of purchasing the premix solution and of the labour costs of this ineffective premix.
I see no good reason for not supporting this motion. I think that we need to take a close look at this. This affects a significant number of people across the Prairies. Farmers are watching this debate today. They would like to be here themselves to tell the government how desperately they need this 2% liquid strychnine solution to control the gopher population.
The government has done nothing in the last 12 years. As a result, we as the Conservative Party and my colleague from Vegreville—Wainwright and farmers across Canada are trying to put pressure on the current government to do something. Until November 24, everyone who had lost crops and livestock, and suffered equipment and property damage can submit their briefs to the Pest Management Regulatory Agency here in Ottawa. They can get the address from my colleague. They should tell the government the damage that has been caused by gophers and the fact that they want to have this restriction removed from them.
I appreciate having the time to address this issue. I am hoping that people will have open minds on this and support my constituents.