Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to Bill C-48, perhaps not for what is in it, but for what is not in it. I also want to mention Bill C-43 because of what is in it and what is not in it.
Bill C-43 was delivered as a good news budget and everything was great, but a line item in Bill C-43 indicates that the government is going to close the agricultural experimental farms in Canada. Four experimental farms are going to be closed at a time when farmers need more help than they have ever needed before. They need more research, more help and the government is quietly going to close the farms. I was hoping that those farms would come back in Bill C-48 but they did not.
I want to talk about the farm in my riding as it applies to Bill C-48. Nappan Experimental Farm has been in my riding since 1880. It has been a cornerstone of the agricultural community. It has been part of our lifestyle in the maritime provinces. It is located in the exact geographic centre of the Maritimes. The Liberals have announced they are going to close it. What is their reason? They gave us the reason of cost saving.
Before I get into that, I want to acknowledge that the Cumberland County Federation of Agriculture has made an incredible effort to try to stop the decision to close the Nappan Experimental Farm. Those people have put the rest of us to shame. They have dropped their farming needs and all the work they have to do and have gone at this with a vengeance. They have circulated a petition on which they have obtained 2,667 signatures. I will be tabling that petition eventually.
I want to congratulate the president of the Cumberland County Federation of Agriculture, Frank Foster, the secretary, Marilyn Clark, who did a lot of the work, and board members Carl Woodworth, Leon Smith, my friend Kurt Sherman and all the other members. They have done an exemplary job. It is extraordinary what they have done in spearheading this and I take my hat off to them.
I also want to thank my local newspaper which has done a great job in raising this issue. All the media in the area have been very supportive in every way. They have helped us a lot. I also want to thank our agriculture critic, the member for Haldimand--Norfolk, for her tremendous support, and our leader for the efforts to stop the closure of Nappan Experimental Farm.
We were blindsided. We were told at one point that the farm was not going to close. It was not that long ago the government said that there were no plans to close the farm and that everybody could rest easy. Two months later in the budget, the government announced that it was closing the farm. The Liberals did not tell anybody. They did not have a press conference.
I want to compliment the Amherst Daily News on an article it published yesterday. In her article “Whatever happened to Ottawa's commitment to farm?” Sandra Bales describes how just a few years ago a Liberal senator came to the farm and announced that the government was spending $500,000 and made a total commitment to the farm. She describes it as a hot day in the summer. The senator was holding a press conference at Nappan to hand out $500,000 for the Nappan federal beef research station. She describes how communications officers were handing out press releases, and how the personal assistants to the politicians were handing out business cards.
There was a big flurry when this was announced, but in February, after the Liberals had said a couple of weeks earlier that there were no plans to close the farm, they did not come to the riding. They did not come to the farm. They did not tell anybody. They called in the staff at the Nappan Experimental Farm and gave them their walking papers while the minister was reading the budget speech. I think that was so offensive.
Sandra Bales of the Amherst Daily News points out how, the Liberals will come to the region in a big flurry with their assistants, business cards and press releases when they have good news, but when they are firing people, they hide in their ivory towers of Ottawa. That was the way she said it. I thought it was an excellent article and I compliment her. I could not have said it anywhere near as well.
First I want to talk about the decision to close the farms. Our critics and our members of the agriculture committee recently were questioning the minister who acknowledged, and it is written up in the The Western Producer , that the effort to centralize decision making on budget and research for agriculture is wrong and he has agreed to review it. He said, “I have asked for, and it is being done, a review of how we approach science in the department”. He is already acknowledging that the system that makes decisions is flawed. Overall the whole system that makes the decisions is flawed.
Now I will talk about the decision regarding Nappan. I was told that they had to cut it because they needed to cut costs to maintain research. I believe them for what they say, but I made an access to information request and did I ever get a surprise when I got the information. Not only am I surprised, I am angry. The decision was made for wrong reasons. Obviously the department is in disarray, in chaos. The reasons are inconsistent. I want to read a few things from this access to information.
In an internal memo, 11 Department of Agriculture officials go through all the reasons they are going to save money and the justifications and then it says that all of this casts some doubt on the savings but scientists are saying that this will be guaranteed.
They are saying it is going to save $250,000. It is $250,000 and they will not do it. I noticed in the paper the other day the Liberals are spending over $402,000 on the legal fees for Alfonso Gagliano, but they will not spend $250,000 on research for the agricultural community in Atlantic Canada. Even internally they question the numbers and the savings. It goes on and then on another page of this document from two years ago exactly, they announced:
[The Department of Agriculture] has made a long-term commitment to the future of the experimental farm and has no intention of closing it. Last year, we invested $800,000 to enhance [the facility].
Last year the government spent $800,000 and now the government says it is going to save some money, but even the department doubts that.
The most offensive thing in the access to information is a memo to the deputy minister. It says:
Purpose. To inform you of an opportunity for [the Department of Agriculture] to demonstrate leadership on Expenditure Review. The department wants to discontinue the research at its experimental farm in Nappan.
And get this:
This exercise could demonstrate exemplary behaviour with respect to Expenditure Management Review (EMR) and position [the department] as a leader.
The government is closing the Nappan Experimental Farm to make the department and the officials look good. I cannot believe it. Exemplary behaviour in the Liberals' point of view is firing 14 people and closing down a farm that has been serving the agricultural community for over 100 years. To position the department as a leader is not what this is about. This is about agriculture. It is about research. It is about science and it is about the future. They are trying to impress the expenditure review committee, but on another page the expenditure review committee is reluctant to accept that position.
Some of them say they are going to save money. The department says they question that. The expenditure review says that they do not believe it, that they do not accept it, but the department wants to do it so the department looks good. That argument about saving money does not hold water.
There are other things that are totally inconsistent in this document which really make me angry. I was told that research was going to go from one place in Nova Scotia, Nappan, to Kentville in Nova Scotia. Throughout this document it says that research on forage and diets and meat quality currently at Nappan could move to Lacombe, Alberta. In another place it says:
Nappan is one of the four original experimental farms created by legislation in the 1880s. Research here could be shifted to Lacombe, Alberta.
Then in another part it says:
The beef research from Nappan would move to the University of Guelph at New Liskeard.
My point is that the department does not know what it is doing. It does not know whether it is saving money. It does not know if it is not saving money. It does not know if it is going to move the research to somewhere else in Nova Scotia, or to Ontario, or to Alberta.
The minister has already agreed that the process is flawed. I contend that the decision on Nappan farm is flawed as well.
I met with the minister today. I asked him to stop this decision, to put a moratorium on the decision. I asked him to allow the people to have input, which they were denied totally. We were told on December 8 that the farm was not going to close. There was a great big headline in the newspaper, “Nappan station to stay open”. Then two months later in the budget the Nappan research station is to close.
We should have an opportunity to present a case for the Nappan Experimental Farm. It has been a key component of the agricultural community in all the maritime provinces. It is absolutely necessary more now than ever, as is the beef research more necessary now than ever. I am asking the minister to put a moratorium on this closure until he knows what is going on. I do not think he knows.
The information that I gave him this morning was the first time he had seen it. I take total, absolute exception to the department saying that this is exemplary behaviour and if it closes Nappan it will show the department as a leader.