House of Commons Hansard #145 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was price.


Energy Costs Assistance Measures Act
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.


Peter Stoffer Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I hate to admit this but there are some parts of that speech with which I agree. I have a very simple question for the member.

The government has brought forth a bill, not only to assist in retrofitting to reduce emissions and help people lower their cost for energy, but also to give money those who need assistance to pay for their energy. It is similar to what Liberals did a few years ago, and he was around at that time.

Does the member not believe that it is very possible the government will fall into that same trap again. People who do not use energy or purchase energy, or people who are in prison, or people who have died will also receive money as they did the last time? It was very bureaucratic and costly to run. I do not know how many millions of dollars was wasted on that.

We think a simpler solution to assist everybody, regardless of class of income, is to remove the tax from home heating essentials, even if it is done just for the winter. This would give everybody who uses energy an immediate break. Would he not agree with that?

Energy Costs Assistance Measures Act
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.


Paul Forseth New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is very pleasing to hear an NDP member beginning to espouse Conservative basic policy. He must be getting the message.

These are stop gap measures. We should have a long term plan to look at Canadian society's use of energy. We know where the direction of the cost of energy will be and those on the economic margin will always have difficulty facing that prospect.

The hon. member's fears of administrative bureaucracy and inefficiency are quite correct. Every speaker from the Conservative side today has talked about how inequitable is this plan. I mentioned a number of categories of individuals who would receive no benefit whatsoever.

The general comment I made is that a large federal government program, driven from the top down, is inherently inefficient, does not work and does not change the underlying problem. He has got the Conservative principle right. Do not take the dollar in the first place. That has a much better multiplier effect for the economy.

One of the suggestions I came up with, besides these small micro programs that are market driven and private society driven, is to simply raise the basic exemption for those on the economic margins. That would help people right across the country and it would absolutely cost no dollars to administer, unlike this series of programs.

Energy Costs Assistance Measures Act
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.


Peter Stoffer Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I do not want to repeat myself, but I thought I asked a very straightforward and simple question. The hon. member may have answered in a round about way.

In Atlantic Canada we suffer the indignation of the HST. We call it the hated sales tax. It is the GST and PST combined. It is 15%. It is a killer for people who are purchasing energy in our province of Nova Scotia. Many people, regardless of income, have asked us to take the tax off.

If the hon. member wants to give the people in the country, especially in Atlantic Canada, an energy break, would he support taking the tax off home essentials like wood, gas and oil immediately, so everybody who purchases energy in our province would receive an immediate break?

Energy Costs Assistance Measures Act
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.


Paul Forseth New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, I think the principle is great. We would have to do some calculation as to the cost. We must look at regional fairness. In British Columbia we rely on natural gas where other areas of the country do not. However, the principle of not taxing in the first place is what I said in my speech, and the hon. member has something of a good idea.

Energy Costs Assistance Measures Act
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca


Keith Martin Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, this is a very important issue for Canadians, particularly since we are going into winter.

When I initially dealt with this issue, as part of the desire of my constituents of Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, we asked how we could reduce the impact of the increasing fuel costs on Canadians, particularly those who are of modest means. We know that as the costs go up, we all pay the same at the pump. Those of modest means are the ones who are hurt much more.

Therefore, as a party we have implemented some solutions that will help relieve the financial burden on Canadians, particularly those in the lower socio-economic groups, directly, effectively and quickly.

I thought initially that we might be able to achieve this at the pump, by reducing the 10% federal tax on every litre of fuel, for example. On the surface it seemed like a good idea. When we examined this, and there has been some experience in the United States, we found that if we reduced the entire 10% per litre tax, the cost at the pump would be reduced by a very small amount, much less than 10¢, and the benefit would accrue to the oil and gas producer. That is not what we want to accomplish. We want to achieve a net savings for consumers tomorrow, and that is what we have done.

In summary, through the energy cost benefit, families who are entitled to receive the national child benefit, starting 2006, would receive $250. Seniors couples where both spouses are entitled to receive the guaranteed income supplement would receive $250. Single seniors entitled to receive the GIS in January 2006 would receive $125. About 3.1 million payments or $365 million will be given to those individuals. It will provide a net savings to them as the burden of the increase in gas prices falls upon their shoulders. This is a direct saving and help to those groups.

We also have tried to improve the energy efficiency of our buildings. If we are to reduce the amount of fossil fuels we burn, the best way to do that is to insulate our homes and buildings. If we are to meet our Kyoto requirements and go beyond them, the most efficient and effective way of accomplishing is improve the insulation in our buildings. We have the technology today.

Therefore, we are providing people with $500 million in direct financial assistance, which will be between $3,500 to $5,000 per home, to insulate their homes, improve their windows and draught proof. By insulating our homes more effectively, we will burn less fossil fuels. We will have less emissions of carbon dioxide and small particulate matter, nitrous oxide, sulphur dioxide and other pollutants which produce smog. Carbon dioxide is the prime generator of greenhouse gas emissions which affect global warming.

We are accomplishing this in two ways. We are reducing greenhouse gas emissions to address the issue of global warming and we are reducing the burning of fossil fuels which will assist in our air quality.

This is part and parcel of the much larger green budget that the Minister of the Environment has put together. This initiative is part of a larger package of solutions put together by the minister, which involves air quality, water quality and land. The Minister of the Environment has put together effective solutions to reduce the amount of pollutants. This ties into that.

Between 1990 and 2003 we reduced the number of pollutants in the air by about 90%. This includes significant pollutants such as dioxins, furans and other toxic substances. We have had a significant decrease over the last 12 or 13 years, which has helped improve our air quality.

Over the last year we have also implemented a number of solutions with respect to transparency and how government works. It is appropriate that we are speaking about this because the first Gomery report was released today. It is wise to look at the number of initiatives that have been put in place over the last year and a half to ensure that taxpayers' hard-earned money is spent wisely and effectively.

It is important that the viewers out there hear this and actually delve into the solutions and exciting initiatives that our federal government has implemented. They include a comptroller system and an internal audit system, an entirely new audit system that will examine in a very transparent and public way how and where the taxpayers' hard-earned money is being spent.

There is also the expenditure review system which forces every single department and every single minister to ensure that 5% of the expenditures are redirected from the lower priorities to the higher priorities. Every year there will be a constant weeding out of those projects that are not performing well. The people's money will be redirected into those initiatives that are more important for Canadians.

The audit system is extremely important. The comptroller general system is important because, in combination with the internal audit system, every single department will have an oversight mechanism to ensure that Canadian taxpayers' money will be spent effectively and where it should be spent.

We also have implemented new changes for crown corporations. There is a new system of how the crown corporation heads are selected. We have also made sure the crown corporations are under the Access to Information Act. Furthermore, the Auditor General will have the power to review the activities of some of those crown corporations. That has never happened in the history of our country.

I would encourage Canadians to look at the initiatives that we have put together and provide us with solutions as to how we can make the people's money work better for Canadians and make sure the process is more transparent and effective. At the end of the day we want to ensure that the people are getting the best bang for their buck with respect to our expenditures.

These initiatives have taken place over the last year and a bit. It is the responsible thing to do. These initiatives will ensure that in the future the moneys people give to the Canadian government will be spent responsibly, effectively and transparently.

Energy Costs Assistance Measures Act
Government Orders

5:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

It being 5:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

The House resumed from September 26 consideration of the motion.

Private Members' Business

November 1st, 2005 / 5:30 p.m.


Lloyd St. Amand Brant, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in this debate and to once again articulate the government's commitment to our agricultural producers and to helping them maintain profitable and sustainable operations, and to reiterate our continuing commitment to the protection of our environment and the health and safety of all Canadians.

I would like to assure members of the House, and indeed all Canadians, that the Government of Canada understands just how significant the Richardson's ground squirrel problem is for Canadian producers.

Management of ground squirrels has been a long-standing challenge for our agricultural producers in the Prairies. Through recent initiatives, the government is going beyond its traditional role as a pesticide regulator and is working actively to find solutions to the issue of ground squirrel control. Let there be no doubt that ground squirrel control is the issue.

The motion put forward by the member for Vegreville--Wainwright proposes to once again make a 2% strychnine solution directly available to farmers for the purpose of formulating their own bait to control ground squirrels. That would be a mistake.

I would like to remind the House that when the restrictions on the availability of the 2% strychnine concentrate were put into place in 1992, the government at that time undertook this action to protect Canadians' health, safety and their environment from possible serious adverse effects of this very dangerous poison.

Freshly prepared moist strychnine baits comparable to those which used to be prepared from the 2% liquid concentrate have been commercially available since 2004. This ready to use format means the mixing and diluting is done under controlled conditions in the safety of closed manufacturing facilities in both eastern and western Canada. Provincial agriculture departments are satisfied with the effectiveness of these new fresh bait products, and these ready to use products are safer for the farmer to use.

The government is not looking to move backward on this issue. Most OECD countries are moving away from the use of strychnine in any form. By this time next year, strychnine will not be used for pest control in any EU countries. It is also worth noting that all above ground uses of strychnine in the United States have been prohibited since 1988.

The regulatory proposal on which Health Canada is currently consulting only extends the use of strychnine for Richardson's ground squirrel control for the next three years.

This government wishes to move forward. It is time for a new approach. We have already informed the House that work has commenced on an integrated pest management strategy to help producers better manage the ground squirrel problem while offering a safer approach for the environment and the farmers who actually handle the strychnine treated bait and other toxic substances available to control ground squirrels.

Through the implementation of an integrated pest management strategy, producers will be able to reduce the amount of toxic chemicals being used. At the same time, producers can be confident that when they are using pesticides, they are being used in a way which maximizes their impact on the ground squirrel problem while minimizing their effects on human health and on the environment.

The experts developing the integrated pest management strategy come from many areas, including ranchers and crop producers, the provincial governments of Alberta and Saskatchewan, rural municipality associations, Health Canada's own Pest Management Regulatory Agency, the Canadian Wildlife Service, the University of Lethbridge, and even chemical companies. Developing the integrated pest management strategy will be a very thorough process, and work done to date has already added to our knowledge of the ground squirrel problem.

It is through the research and development of an integrated pest management strategy that we will be able to attain a healthy balance between pest control and a safe environment.

I want to assure the House that there are other products registered for use in Canada for controlling ground squirrels. Canadian producers are not without alternative products.

The government recognizes that currently, strychnine remains the control product of choice for Richardson's ground squirrel. However, reliance on strychnine is not sustainable in the long term. The dwindling global market for strychnine pest control products likely means that the cost of strychnine for Canadian producers will continue to rise. Science and research into new pest control products will play a critical role in ensuring the future competitiveness and prosperity of producers and for the entire agriculture and agri-food industry.

On September 22, my colleague, the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, announced broad based national consultations on a new strategy for Canadian agri-food science and research. This strategy should help provide innovative solutions to meet new challenges and to prevent catastrophic losses in agriculture from pests such as ground squirrels. I congratulate the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food for launching these consultations. It is only through science and research that we will be able to develop new strategies and new techniques to deal with problems that have plagued our farmers for decades.

These scientific advancements need to be combined with the knowledge of local experts and producers in the development of an integrated pest management approach to this issue. This is the modern and progressive way of tackling these sorts of problems. It is not by going back to old methods which have been rejected by other modern agriculturally developed countries.

It is through the use of modern science and research and integrated pest management approaches that we will find solutions which benefit producers while protecting the environment and the health of pesticide users and non-target animals and birds.

I urge all members of the House to reject the proposed motion.

Private Members' Business

5:35 p.m.


Réal Lapierre Lévis—Bellechasse, QC

Mr. Speaker, allow me to say a few words about the bill introduced by my colleague, the member for Vegreville—Wainwright, regarding the distribution of 2% strychnine solution to farmers.

I would like to congratulate my colleague on his desire to fight the animal pests that infest farmland and cause damage, which is hard for us to comprehend and evaluate when we do not personally face the problems they cause.

When people are wrestling with an affliction like this and see the effects on their hard work, threatened by vermin, using 2% strychnine seems like a panacea. I can understand why farmers who see their land invaded by rodents, their machinery in danger of breaking, and their crops being destroyed would be tempted to resort to this product.

It seems to me, though, that we should take a closer look, regardless of what it says in a recent report of the PMRA, the Pest Management Regulatory Agency, which concluded that using strychnine to fight northern pocket gophers, skunks, pigeons, wolves, coyotes and black bears does not pose an unacceptable risk to human health or the environment.

It says that this does not pose an unacceptable risk. Even if only interim, this permission from the agency could hardly be more dubious.

I am sure that if nothing is ventured, nothing is gained, but I cannot understand how exposing oneself to a poison can be considered an acceptable risk. The document issued on September 22 states that the current use of strychnine to combat Richardson's ground squirrel is of real concern to the environment. We know very well that human health is closely connected to the quality of the environment in general and the quality of the land, especially regarding food production for animals and humans.

Yes, it does state that this is an interim regulatory decision on strychnine while we await the adoption of a strategy for fighting the Richardson's ground squirrel. The caution that has prevailed so far is relegated to the back seat, and for how long? I know very well that there are imperatives related to the extent of the damage that may be caused by rodents. I can understand that farmers feel they have their backs to the wall and are ready to defend their property and the fruits of their labour whatever the cost. I acknowledge the consequences for farmers of an epidemic of predators but also what this means from the social and economic standpoints.

That said, after looking at the danger from every angle, is the risk not too great? Some would argue that the PRMA has taken that into account, which would explain why only temporary permission has been granted until further results or comments are received. What is more, government agencies have been talking about this issue for 25 years now and they always come back to the same conclusions.

Strychnine is a potent poison.

Who can say that an individual needing to be in a hazardous area will not suffer consequences some day, even if exposed to an infinitesimal amount? Who can guarantee there will not be any side effects? Who can predict the environmental consequences of its ingestion by farm animals or wild animals or birds? There were lessons to learn from the mad cow crisis.

And who will manage this new problem? Keep in mind that this is not an issue of resolving an occasional problem of rodents, a squirrel here and a rat there. We are talking about infested land. We are therefore also talking about very significant doses of a deadly poison scattered across land used to grow food.

We are facing a serious dilemma. We absolutely must help the farmers who are dealing with the Richardson's ground squirrels and all the other predators.

However, it is not for nothing that in 1992, Canada limited the concentration of the product to 0.3% and 0.4%. It is not for nothing that 2% strychnine concentrate can only be mixed under the supervision of an authorized official.

Just look at the assessments conducted by recognized experts. I will cite just two. The results of a study on the possibility of secondary poisoning of scavengers clearly show that there is indeed primary poisoning of non targeted birds when bait containing strychnine is used on ground squirrels and that this can lead to a considerable number of secondary poisoning cases.

Another study on the possibility of primary poisoning of non targeted species was done in Saskatchewan. The results clearly show that this serious risk is considerable for non targeted birds and mammals.

What more can I say other than the risks are real. We could add to the list of recommendations on labelling, increase the number of operating tips, add to the regulatory measures on human health or even the environment, but that does not change the fact that using a potent poison is deadly.

Whatever precautionary rules are written or enforced, the risks involved in the use of a 2% strychnine solution are so high that we must, as the representatives of the people, insist on a search for other drastic solutions to a problem, which, I understand, is causing farmers grief.

The fact that this product concentration was prohibited in the US and Canada indicates doubt, to say the least, about its use on the part of governments and the appropriate study and research bodies. In Europe, the Bern convention on the conservation of European wildlife and natural habitats has made the use of strychnine in pest control illegal.

We can only be grateful that the Pest Management Regulatory Agency is continuing its studies. I hope everyone seeking viable, effective and safe solutions to the spread of all sorts of predators to epidemic proportions will make their voices heard.

As a member of Parliament, I cannot permit the acceptance of such high risks and by means of legislation, at that. Regrettably, I am firmly convinced that it is our duty to put an immediate end to this motion, because its scope is too broad. I add that no interim arrangement is acceptable when human life is at stake and more importantly when the risk is present at various levels, including direct and indirect poisoning and when the environmental effects are hard to measure in the short, medium and long terms.

No risk is acceptable in this matter, whatever the circumstances that moved my colleague to introduce this bill. We must await solutions that do not threaten the integrity of life, at any level. I truly hope that this will come about as soon as possible.

In the meantime, lacking anything better, I prefer the use of 2% strychnine remain solely in the hands of the duly authorized and trained experts, even if it means the government approves, indeed insists on, emergency training for additional personnel to help farmers control the spread of crop-destroying pests. I propose this measure solely on compassionate grounds, since the situation is desperate. It would be much preferable to have lower concentrations used out of respect for nature.

It would be even better to have a clean solution put forward by our eminent researchers.

I regret it, but I must, in all conscience and for the reasons I have given, vote against my colleague's motion.

Private Members' Business

5:45 p.m.


Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak against the motion. I recognize that there are some very serious issues facing our farmers in terms of dealing with rodents that destroy crops and make it very difficult for farmers to maintain their livelihood. However I think it is very important that we talk about the context.

My colleague from the Bloc referred to the Pest Management Regulatory Agency. It would be great if we could have faith that this agency actually would protect the health and welfare of Canadians.

I point to a former pesticide that has recently been approved, 2,4-D. Its end use products were approved to treat lawns and turf. It was re-reviewed and it was determined that it did not entail an unacceptable risk of harm to human health or the environment. Perhaps Europeans are different from Canadians because 2,4-D is banned in Denmark, Norway and Kuwait and the registration is cancelled in Sweden and is severely restricted in Belize.

In 2002 a new Pest Control Products Act was proclaimed and yet the regulations were not promulgated for that act. Now if we did all of the work and the reviews and we developed regulations but never implemented them, one could question whether the process is rigorous enough for Canadians.

When we are talking about strychnine, one of the issues concerns the harm it does to other species. We know that rodents, squirrels and all manner of other creatures are eaten by other animals. There is also a chance for this kind of a product to actually get into water tables. We therefore must be very careful when we look at approving the use of such a high concentrate of a deadly substance.

I know this has come up in the House in the past and it has been a number of years since farmers have asked the government to take a look at their needs and to ensure the protection of their livelihood. I go back to a former member of the House, Dick Proctor from Palliser, who comes from a part of the country where this is very much a serious problem. I will quote from one of his former speeches in 2001. He stated:

I remind members, in the words of David Suzuki, that the human race is the most predatory animal in the history of the world. We have a phobia about eliminating anything and everything that gets in our way. Some day that is going to come back and cost us in a very large way.

This is a problem and I do not want to minimize it, but I think we need to and should look at alternatives. The issue has been around for 10 years. The government has absolutely failed to develop alternatives that would work as a replacement for liquid strychnine.

In that particular context, I think it is incumbent upon us to make a couple of points. Restrictions on the use of liquid strychnine were strengthened in 1993 due to its lethal effects on non-target animals that assist in controlling the gopher population, including raptors.

In our current context, just to say what is available for farmers, strychnine is currently available pre-mixed to farmers. As of April 17, 2005, there were 16 Canadian strychnine products registered. Ten were aimed at ground squirrels or gophers and were available in 0.4% concentrations. Two other products aimed at ground squirrels, one with 2% and one with 10% concentration, were available but both of them were listed as manufacturing concentrate.

All of the above uses of strychnine have been prohibited in the United States since 1988, so our neighbours to the south for a number of years have prohibited the use of this type of strychnine. It is illegal to use strychnine for pest control in most European countries and its use is prohibited by the Berne Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats. When we hear citizens in many other countries of the world say that the use of strychnine is not acceptable in their countries, why would we consider it in Canada?

In Canada, farmers have to put the bait in the ground at least 18 inches. They have to bury the carcasses, so that the eagles, dogs and other animals would not be contaminated and spread the problem. We acknowledge that there is a danger of contaminating other animals that could have access to this.

Strychnine is highly toxic or very highly toxic to birds, frogs and mammals. In humans, the symptoms of strychnine poisoning begin 15 to 30 minutes after ingestion. It is important to talk about what happens to people when they ingest this product.

There may be an initial violent convulsion or minor stimulation may trigger violent convulsions. Breathing stops and the patient turns blue. The muscles relax completely between convulsions. There is cold sweat and the pupils may contract. After 10 to 15 minutes hypersensitivity returns with further convulsions. There may be one to 10 such attacks before recovery or death from respiratory arrest, otherwise known as suffocation. The fatal dose is usually in the range of 100 to 200 mg, but as little as 30 mg in adults and 15 mg in children has proven fatal.

This is a highly toxic substance. To talk about making it available in higher concentrations where it could impact on other parts of the population, both human and animal, is highly questionable.

On September 26, 2005, the Pest Management Regulatory Agency, PMRA, a branch of Health Canada, issued notice that it had re-evaluated the use of strychnine to control certain pest populations, such as northern pocket gophers, skunks, pigeons, wolves, coyotes and black bears, stating that evidence did not show that its use for these animals did not pose an unacceptable risk for human health or for the environment.

As I noted earlier, there had been some concerns around the PMRA process in taking a look at how it approves pesticides in Canada, and again, the fact that the regulations from the 2002 act have not been put in place.

However, the PMRA maintained that the use of strychnine to control ground squirrels like Richardson's, Columbian and Franklin was still a concern from an environmental perspective. It was agreeing that there was a concern around this. It issued a proposed acceptability for continued registration, PACR, which stated that due to the damage caused by ground squirrels and the lack of practical alternatives, it was recommending the continued use of strychnine for the next three years.

This proposal included a re-evaluation in three years, during which there would be work on an integrated pest management program for Richardson's ground squirrels by a group of stakeholders and some new regulations relating to enhanced labelling.

This problem has been going on for a number of years. Why has it taken so long to get adequate action for our farmers, so that they can protect their livelihoods without resorting to such a highly toxic substance.

The concerns of the PMRA were that the current use of strychnine resulted in appreciable amount of poisoned bait being available to non-target organisms, including songbirds. This is that old collateral damage. Let us call it what it is. Other creatures are dying because they are ingesting this poison and it was a use to which it was never intended.

Based on carcass counts, it was estimated that 1,950 songbirds were poisoned in southern Saskatchewan in the 2001 season. As well, a large number of poisoned carcasses would be available to predators and scavengers, including endangered species common to the area where strychnine is regularly used, like the swift fox and the burrowing owl.

The PMRA determined that new forms of bait and/or ways to reduce user reliance on strychnine need to be explored and we would concur. It is incumbent again upon the government to propose a solution that is going to meet the needs of the farmers and include farmers in this discussion.

John Worgan of the federal Pest Management Regulatory Agency said the long term plan is to look at phasing out the use of strychnine for gopher control, with a short term goal to reduce reliance on strychnine. Paul Laflamme, Alberta's director of pest management, said, “There is a danger someone's pet or kids will come into contact with strychnine bait that was put out for the squirrels”.

Clearly, we need to be concerned about the interrelatedness of our environment. The strychnine does not stop at the rodent. It gets into all kinds of other systems. We must find another way to help our farmers and support them in looking at different ways to deal with this rodent population. I urge members of this House to vote against this motion.

Private Members' Business

5:55 p.m.


Garry Breitkreuz Yorkton—Melville, SK

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.

Private Members' Business

6:05 p.m.


Dale Johnston Wetaskiwin, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to the motion of my colleague from Vegreville—Wainwright, the goal of which is to put a tool in the hands of farmers to combat this very destructive pest. This may not be the sort of issue that makes a lot of impact in downtown Ottawa or Toronto, but it is a very important issue for farmers.

The Richardson's ground squirrel, otherwise referred to on the Prairies as a gopher, does a lot of damage to farmers' crops and machinery and does so in many different ways. They are burrowing pests that dig holes in the earth, which could actually be construed as aeration of the soil, I suppose, but they put up big mounds of dirt behind the hole and they attract predators.

The main predator is the badger. The gopher makes a hole about the size of a drinking glass, just large enough for him to slip down into an enlarged borrow at the end of that where there is a very complex maze of tunnels. The badger comes along and digs out the gopher, because the badger is a meat eating animal and the gopher is his prey.

However, the badger digs a hole about the size of your head, Mr. Speaker, or maybe larger, and that is what really causes damage to machinery and livestock. When people ride their horses across their pastures in pursuit of cattle, for instance, and the horse steps in that hole, not only is it damaging to the horse, it is very perilous for the person who happens to be riding the horse.

One of the tools that farmers have traditionally used for decades and decades, with good results and with safety, is the 2% strychnine. Over the last few years we have been able to purchase a 0.4% strychnine premixed base. This comes in small pails, a 20 litre pail or a 10 litre pail, at a cost of $75 a pail, and there is only enough to use on a few acres.

Two of the biggest problems with the premixed strychnine are, number one, the solution is so weak that it is not all that effective, and number two, the grain is damp and sealed up, so if we do not have timely delivery of the stuff in the first place and the proper weather to put out the bait or if we are delayed in putting it out, it very rapidly moulds, making it worthless.

Then the farmer has a $75 per pail investment in a product that is, number one, useless and, number two, difficult to dispose of. Thus, it has to be disposed of properly and if the farmer tries to use it he gets very poor if not negligible results.

Some people who have talked about this have made it quite clear to me that they have no idea of what a gopher even is. They hear “squirrel”. It is not the red squirrel, which we have in western Canada. It is not the grey squirrel, which is common to most of the boreal forest across Canada. It is certainly not the big black squirrel that people see around the Parliament buildings here in Ottawa. These are just nice furry little friends that basically live in the trees. They do not do any harm. They do not do a whole lot of good. They are just there.

What we are talking about is a Richardson's ground squirrel. They are prolific breeders. They have two and three broods a year. If left unchecked, they can ruin a farmer's cropland. Their method of living is to graze off the grain as it comes out of the ground. Each family of gophers will clear off an area that is probably 40 by 40 feet square. They will completely graze that grain off when it is growing up. The reason they do this is that most of their predators come from the air, so they like to be able to see their predators coming. If they are in high grass, it is difficult to get away from their predators and they rely on their speed and the fact that they can go down into their burrow to get away from their predator.

Therefore, when the crop grows up, not only is there the danger to livestock of stepping in the holes made by the badgers that go down digging for the gophers, but there is a loss of crop and a loss of grade.

“Grade” means the quality of the grain that is harvested. There was a grade of oats years ago called “gopher oats”, because after a while the crop did get ahead of the gopher and it headed out way too late to be harvested. When it was harvested the crop had immature and green kernels of oats, so the grade went down the drain. Of course it reduces the yield.

That is the problem. What is the solution?

For years and years the solution has been to use strychnine. Every agricultural service board in the provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, in the areas affected by Richardson's ground squirrels, has been utilizing these poisons very reliably and very responsibly with good results for decades and decades.

This problem has resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue for the farmers who cannot really afford to lose any more money. The farm community is really struggling now with poor commodity prices and high input costs. Farmers do not need another blow like this that restricts their control of this rodent.

The other method, other than poisoning, was to trap them. Trapping gophers on a thousand acres of land is a formidable task. It is very time-consuming and very labour intensive. If we were to advocate in the House for trapping with leghold traps, there would be a hue and cry even from the speakers we have heard from today who have been opposing the bill. If they oppose the poison, they would certainly oppose using leghold traps. So not only is that ineffective, it is expensive and labour intensive and there would be great resistance to it from our urban friends.

The other method, of course, is to shoot them. The problem with that is that we never get rid of the problem. If even 1% of the gophers are left on the land, they will do what gophers do and that is reproduce. The more they are hunted and the more pressure put on them, the larger their litters are. Then we end up with more gophers, so we would not get the results that we need.

This is a tool that farmers need. The question that we have to ask ourselves is whether the House cares whether farmers need that tool or not. If members do care, then either we should give them this 2% solution strychnine so they can mix it with their own grain, putting it on a timetable so that it is going to be effective and do the job that it is intended to do, or else we should come up with an alternative.

Has anyone offered an alternative in the 12 years that the 2% solution has been outlawed? No. Nobody has come up with any alternatives. Besides that, no one has done any studies to see whether or not birds of prey and pets and other unintended animals get into the poison. No one has done any of those things. They have just made a lot of assumptions. What has been assumed is that it is poison, it has to be dangerous, and therefore it has to be bad.

What has been done is that this tool has been taken away from the farmers. We might just as well take away their fuel as do this. It is one of those things that farmers must have. Farming is a very complex business. It has become a very marginal business as well, so anything farmers can do to improve their bottom line is absolutely essential for the economy of the farm.

Why have there not been any proper studies done on this? The government has to answer that question. There have not been any proper studies and I want to know why. I am certain that my colleague from Vegreville—Wainwright would like to know as well why there have not been any studies on this. I commend him for having stuck with this issue since 1993. Basically he has been the lone voice crying out for a method to control this pest.

If this were a pest causing as much damage to Highway 401 in Toronto, for instance, there would be a solution to this by now. Somebody would have come up with a solution to make sure that the 401 was freed of such a pest if it were causing the same kind of havoc to that highway as the Richardson's ground squirrel is causing for the farmers that my colleague from Vegreville--Wainwright and I represent.

We look forward to the day when we can use 2% strychnine, mix it with our own grain, and create our own bait to get this job done.

Private Members' Business

6:20 p.m.


David Anderson Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Mr. Speaker, we are here discussing gophers this afternoon. I noticed as my colleague from Wetaskiwin was speaking that you were listening intently, Mr. Speaker, and all the pages were paying attention to his informative and educational speech on gophers and what they are about.

I was a little concerned this afternoon, because I heard a couple of colleagues asking what we were doing talking about gophers and I overheard someone saying that just what he came here for was to talk about gophers. I need to remind the folks here of the old saying that all politics is local.

In this situation, I think that applies very strongly, because this is an important issue for a group of people: our farmers and our producers. Although some people may think it is a bit of a joke, I can assure them that it is not a joke for people facing this problem.

This government has really damaged farmers' ability to control these pests through a couple of different means, one of them being Bill C-68, which we are all familiar with. First, the government refuses to back off in its support of a gun registry that is costing Canadians billions of dollars and which in my part of the world is affecting farmers' ability to control these rodents. Second, the government has interfered with our ability to control them by interfering with the application of strychnine.

I have to compliment the member for Vegreville--Wainwright because he has been persistent in this fight to try to make sure that farmers have access to 2% strychnine. I know that it is not a new issue for him. I was here during the last Parliament and this was an issue for him then as well. He has been very persistent. In this Parliament alone he has brought two private members' bills forward, Bill C-377 and Bill C-381, both dealing with this issue. He has also brought this motion forward. My colleague should be commended for his strong work in this area.

I know that my time today will be brief, but I want to make sure, as my colleague from Yorkton--Melville did, that farmers once again are reminded of a call to action. There is an opportunity for them to influence the government's decision in this area. Until November 24, anyone who has been affected by this issue has the right to submit a brief to the government. They can send it to: Publications, Pest Management Regulatory Agency, Health Canada, 2720 Riverside Drive, Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 0K9.

It is essential that people participate in this process. The government needs to know that farmers are being affected by this so that it will take the issue seriously. Those submissions should outline things like the type of damage that has been caused by gophers and the estimated cost for farmers in a bad year. I know that the costs can be huge. We have had areas in my riding where these gophers have wiped out 50, 60 or 70 acres of crop just because there are so many of them in a small area. They can be a significant problem. In 2001 and 2002, they had a huge impact on certain areas in western Canada.

In their submissions, farmers need to talk about the effectiveness of the chemicals that are available to them now. The stuff that is 0.4% is just not working and I think is probably more of a danger to the environment than the stronger strychnine solution because it ends up just being left around. The gophers do not eat it. They are not using it up. Farmers need to talk about that.

Farmers also need to talk about the cost savings and the convenience to them of having the 2% liquid strychnine solution that they can mix with their own grain. I encourage as many as possible to send in their submissions.

We only have about four ways to control gophers. Poison is one and we are here talking about it today. We think we need an effective way of doing this. Some people have suggested that we trap the gophers. That might work in somebody's city yard, but it certainly will not work on a large scale. Trapping is barely enough to control gophers in a garden. Some people have tried different methods of fumigation. It has had limited effectiveness. As I mentioned, of course, shooting gophers is getting to be more difficult because of the restrictions this government has brought in. The government does not seem to mind inconveniencing farmers. It is a bit disturbing that the government would continue to make this a problem for them.

In conclusion, let me say that we should step forward and support this bill. The environmental issues certainly can be controlled. It is our obligation to do things to help out our farming community. In a tough situation and tough times, this is something we could do that would not cost the government a lot of money and would be very effective for our producers. It would be an important step forward.

I am eager to hear what my colleague from Vegreville--Wainwright has to say in conclusion on this matter. I ask members to support his motion.

Private Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

The member moving the motion has a five minute right of reply to conclude the debate.

Private Members' Business

6:25 p.m.


Leon Benoit Vegreville—Wainwright, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleagues for their thoughtful presentations on the issue.

I was somewhat disappointed that the Liberal member today gave a departmental speech. It really was not very helpful.

At least the Bloc member expressed some concern about the issue and went on to say that he thought there were some environmental concerns. He obviously had not read the report because it dealt with the possibility of environmental concerns.

Who shocked me was the member from the New Democratic Party. Obviously she does not understand farming and does not care about farmers. I thought she was going to propose that we put in place a program of live capture for gophers, give them counselling and then relocate them. That is where I thought her speech was heading, quite frankly. I do not think that would be too successful.

This problem has been in place since 1993 when the government at that time said that it had to get rid of this liquid strychnine. Under a motion passed in the House, I received all the documentation that was used by the government to make that decision. It was shocking. The information showed that the decision was based on virtually nothing. There were submissions by fewer than a dozen people in total. It should never have been removed. That was clear from the documentation we received.

Finally, the department has done a bit of a study. The problem is its study was based mostly on a larger study done by the environment department in the United States. The government took that information and tried to apply it to the Canadian situation.

Even with that, the report did say some positive things. The report said that the Richardson's ground squirrels are the major mammalian pest for crops. They are the most damaging pests for pastures, range lands and crop lands and that they do cause substantive damage. The report did say that. It went on to say, “there is a lack of practical alternatives at this time”. It will be retained for at least three years and will be reviewed at that time but in the premix form only, which is ineffective. The report did say that and it was somewhat helpful.

The report gave no reason for not returning the 2% solution of strychnine to farmers. It gave no reason at all for not returning it, except possibly this one issue. To be fair, I think this should be pointed out. There is a genuine concern regarding the swift fox and the burrowing owl. In those areas there may be a problem, although the report done by the PMRA in fact had no evidence that it is a problem.

I would suggest to be cautious in this regard where those endangered species are in place, but a study should be done to find out whether or not there is a problem. We will see as time goes on whether or not the PMRA bothers to do that study.

The study went on to say there is no danger to people. It went on to say that bystander exposure is considered to be minimal. The environmental assessment said that there is no danger of movement in the soil, that it will be persistent in the soil, which means it is not going to move anywhere. It went on to say as well that it is unlikely that aquatic organisms will be exposed to substantial levels of strychnine.

What the report did not say is something which I think farmers should put in their presentations to the PMRA. What it did not say is that shipping the mixed product is of some concern. Why ship a mixed product when securely closed little cans of the 2% liquid could be shipped and farmers could mix on their own? That is exactly what I am proposing.

Now is the time for farmers to get involved in this issue. If the PMRA gets enough pressure applied by farmers right now, before November 24 of this year, it may be able to have the 2% liquid solution of strychnine returned to farmers.

A point to be made is if farmers mix the 2% strychnine with their own grain, as they have safely done since 1928, they end up with a .4% solution that the premixed product actually provides. It really would not be doing anything different, except it would be doing it in a safer fashion where farmers mix their own and it would cost them a lot less money.

In summary, I want to encourage farmers to get involved. They have a real opportunity to get back the 2% liquid solution which is effective and which will save a lot of money. We should do it. Let us get on with this issue and save farmers up to $200 million a year.