Mr. Speaker, I move that the third report of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-food, presented on Tuesday, April 19, be concurred in. It is a pleasure to rise today to discuss this tremendous report.
I would be remiss if I did not at this point thank the clerk of the committee, Ms. Bibiane Ouellette, and our researcher from the Library of Parliament, Jean-Denis Fréchette, who have done a fantastic job in putting this report together. J.D., in a side comment to me the other day, said that in his 20-some years on the Hill this is by far and away the best report he has ever been part of and has seen. I take that as a real compliment to the yeoman's service in the work done by the chair and members.
This report actually came about at the direction of the soon to be retired member for Langley—Abbotsford. It was in his riding, and of course the Deputy Speaker shares some of that area, that the tremendous impact of the avian flu crisis was felt, an impact that it is still undergoing. We felt we had to get out there and hold some hearings to get the viewpoint of the actual producers affected by this.
A report was to come from the CFIA, which was to have been tabled by the end of 2004. That report did not show up, and get this, it did not show up until the night before we were to hold public hearings in the latter part of January in Abbotsford. Was it just a coincidence that the CFIA finally got around to tabling that report?
A tremendous amount of viewpoints note that the CFIA report is really no more than a grandiose scheme to pat itself on the back. When we look at who had input into that lessons learned report the CFIA finally got around to putting out, we see that there are 122 different interventions, if I counted the numbers properly, but all of them are basically in house. Even such experts as the people from the PCO were getting in their two cents' worth, but nowhere in that CFIA report is there any mention of the producers who would have liked to have put something forward or of the SPCA folks from greater Vancouver who wanted things on the record.
We felt there was a tremendous void and decided to take action. The committee travelled to Abbotsford in January and held hearings.
I would also at this point like to say that I will split my time with the member for Selkirk—Interlake.
We travelled to Abbotsford and heard interventions. Let me say that a lot of what we heard was really damning evidence. I think the biggest underlying reason that I wanted to go there and hear these interventions is that in my riding we faced the brunt of the chronic wasting disease with elk, to begin with, and then of the BSE crisis, which is still ongoing. Of course nothing has really been resolved on the CWD or BSE fronts and here we are on the third strike with the CFIA.
I knew from personal experience in my riding how the CFIA handled the crises on CWD and BSE. They were not farm gate friendly, not at all. Their inspectors on the ground were tremendous people. Some of them live within my riding and I know them on a first name basis. They have done yeomen's work in trying to cover the bureaucratic butts here in Ottawa and the decisions that went sideways a lot of time or took us in a misdirection because of a political agenda as opposed to a practical “let us get to the bottom of this” agenda.
A lot of the concerns we heard on CWD and BSE, and now avian flu, speak to the whole idea of compensation. If this is for the greater good of the Canadian public, for food safety and security, then everybody has to take a part of the hit, not just the farm gate, not just the farms affected and of course the collateral damage on the industries around them, but everybody.
We have seen the numbers on BSE escalating to the point where we are talking about $7 billion of hurt, an amount that is going to take some producers down. They will never recover. We are also seeing it rippling out onto main street, to small towns that are not going to recover from that hit. It is just not in the cards.
Having these hearings in Abbotsford I think really reinforced the idea that Bill C-27, now before the agriculture committee, basically underscores and gives the nod of approval to the CFIA for a lot of the action and inaction it has shown us over the last short term; it really underscores the fact that the CFIA be allowed to continue doing that. There is no recourse mechanism. There is no appeals mechanism. There is nothing in the bill that speaks to compensatory value for beyond just an ordinary run of the mill animal.
We have to look at these things on a case by case basis. We have to become much more proactive in the way that the CFIA under Agriculture Canada reacts to these. One of the recommendations we brought forward I think is a great one. It is that we must have an early warning team that goes in with the mandate, the authority and the responsibility to stop these crises dead in their tracks.
We saw that example when both Delaware and Texas in the U.S had an avian flu crisis. They went in, took the barns down and did away with the birds right away. What we saw in Abbotsford was a month and a half of nothing happening as they ran up the flagpole here to Ottawa to make decisions that took that long getting back down to the ground.
In that very first barn, the farmer himself told officials to get rid of it but they just did not quite get around to making that political decision. I guess they knew they would be calling an election and nobody wanted that blight on their record. However it is there and it will show up again as we go into another election mode.
It is just unbelievable that the best interests of producers are not paramount in any of this. These are the guys taking the economic hits and we do not see that in this so-called lessons learned from the CFIA. The only lesson that the CFIA seems to learn is to become more private and go more underground with its decisions and actions so that there will not be the fallout.
We as politicians have to step up and say that is not going to happen. We need to take a more indepth look at Bill C-27 to make sure we get this right because we have already seen that the CFIA is answerable to no one at this point. That needs to change as we increase its powers.
I want to get back to this report. Two internationally recognized experts, who were within spitting distance of the first barn, were not even consulted nor were they allowed to take part in the trace-out and the action that needed to follow. They were the ones who said and kept saying that this was high path avian flu, so the red flag went up right there.
However it took the minister and his henchmen at the CFIA weeks to decide to do that test and then to do something about that barn. When they finally did, they actually exacerbated the problem by taking those birds out of quarantine and leaving them sitting on the driveway of the farmyard for three days in plastic bins inside of a truck trailer. They did not seem to know the science, which everybody else around the world has learned, that the avian flu can be airborne and waterborne. After three days of these birds being left in the parked truck there was this yucky stuff oozing out of the trailer onto the ground and mixing into the groundwater.
When they first brought the birds outside of the barn to do things with them, the birds, of course, flap their wings and when they do that fluff and dander go into the air and downstream the next barn gets infected, and they wonder how the heck that happened. These guys really have to answer for a lot of those political, bureaucratic decisions that were made. The inspectors on the ground are carrying out their jobs.
I would like to put some quotes into the record that are in this report.
Bruce Arabskyi, with the group on behalf of primary poultry producers, said:
If there is another outbreak? There should be a total lock-down--no movement of birds or manure. Compensation must be in place to allow drastic action.
That is something that is not in Bill C-27 at this point and must be put in there so we can make those movements when it is required.
The second quote is from Dr. Neil Ambrose, a veterinarian who made presentations on January 19. He said:
It is ludicrous that the disease was not contained in the Matsqui flat area. Again it is because of procrastination and lack of common sense. We spent a huge amount of time waiting for decisions to come from Ottawa, and most of the time local CFIA staff didn’t know how to interpret those decisions.
This particular report goes on to make seven very good recommendations. We were maybe shy on one thing but I know it came out with the BSE problems and so on which is why it is not in these recommendations. However I would like to put it on the record so the government will have a look at this. When a barn or a farm goes down and its stock is completely done away with no compensation package is paid out. Right now they are allowed a year's revenue holiday to get restocked and so on but that is not long enough.
I know Mel McRae, who had the search-out herd in my area for BSE, is asking for a three year Revenue Canada break so that he can pay it out in thirds and get a chance to restock his farm and so on without paying those horrendous penalties on moneys that basically are in the common good. We have to start looking at things like that as well.
This is a report that is long past its time. It really points out the flaws in that we have politicized and bureaucratized the CFIA.