That, in the opinion of the House, the government should make available directly to farmers the 2% strychnine solution.
Mr. Speaker, it is encouraging that we start off this session of Parliament with an issue that is probably the most important issue we will deal with in this Parliament. The issue of controlling the Richardson's ground squirrel, which is commonly known as the gopher, is an important issue for some of my constituents and for many people in western Canada.
I have been pursuing this issue for many years. When I first brought it to the House many members laughed that such an issue would be brought before this place. The fact is that the Richardson's ground squirrel causes damage of up to $200 million a year in western Canada. We do not know the exact cost but $200 million is a rough estimate which seems to make sense when one considers the crop damage, the extra labour involved in trying to control the Richardson's ground squirrel with the limited and ineffective products that are available, the damage to equipment and machinery due to the holes and the mounds made by gophers, and the livestock that have to be put down because they broke their legs stepping into a gopher hole. In a bad year, $200 million is certainly a realistic number and it shows the importance of this issue.
Two hundred million dollars is a cost that farmers simply cannot stand to bear on top of the other increased costs that they have felt over the past months and years. Along with skyrocketing costs, prices of their crops have been declining steadily. The price of wheat, barley, canola, peas and all commodities are as low as I have ever seen them in the time I have been farming.
At the same time, due to a move made by the government in 1993, carried out over the last few years, a move that removed the only effective control of the Richardson's ground squirrel, farmers have been forced to bear this extra cost of possibly $200 million a year. That is a lot of money, and it is a serious problem.
I will just read my motion for the record. It is simple, direct and short.
That, in the opinion of the House, the government should make available directly to farmers the 2% strychnine solution.
I get a bit uncomfortable standing before the House knowing that Canadians are listening to us talk about using a poison to control gophers. Quite frankly, with the kind of damage that has been done, they have to be controlled in some fashion. The strychnine solution mixed by farmers themselves is the only effective product that could be made available. That is why it is important that we return this product to farmers.
Back in about 1997, I put forward two motions for the production of papers. The Department of Agriculture provided about 200 pages of information that was supposed to explain why it had removed this product from the market in the first place. Quite frankly, it was embarrassing and completely unacceptable. The reasons the government gave for removing this product were completely unconvincing, and that is putting it mildly.
There were a few complaints by a few animal rights people and a few complaints that non-targeted species had been poisoned, and particularly that the poison had been used illegally on neighbours' dogs and that type of thing. A lot of other substances could be used to poison a neighbour's dog if someone chose to do that. Since it is against the law to do that why do we not uphold the law instead of removing this product that is so important to farmers? That is the issue and that is the issue the government has not dealt with.
Just to show how unimportant agriculture is to the government I would like to point out that this issue is being spearheaded by the Minister of Health instead of the Minister of Agriculture. I understand that both departments are involved in making this decision but the Department of Agriculture has a lot more information on this product and on its importance than anyone else. It should have received the information from the Department of Health but there is not much there.
Last Thursday I received a backgrounder put out by the Department of Health on this product. Obviously my continual interventions on behalf of farmers are having an impact. What is in the backgrounder is embarrassing. No reasons were given for removing the product and no excuses for not returning it. The department acknowledges that it is the only truly effective product available to farmers but it makes two absolutely incorrect statements and one is false.
One statement is that there are two products available to farmers, one being a premix that is done by the municipalities. In fact, that has not been available over the past year.
The other statement is that there is a premix that is done in the Toronto area which is then shipped out west. This product is simply mixed with farmers' grain and then shipped back. It is extremely expensive. The department says that it is an effective product for control. If one were to talk to my neighbours and people across the Prairies they would hear that it is not effective. that it is extremely expensive and that it is impractical.
All farmers are asking for is to have this 2% strychnine solution returned to them so they can mix it with their own grain and effectively control this terrible pest that costs up to $200 million or more in a bad year. It should not be that difficult for the government to deliver on this. I certainly hope the government will be supporting the motion as we go along in the process to adopt the motion.
If the motion is passed, the issue will be given to the appropriate committee which I assume will be the agriculture committee as it is the committee that makes sense. It would deal with it, put legislation together and then have the legislation once again come before House and hopefully passed by the House. The farmers would then have this product returned to them, a product that would safely control the Richardson's ground squirrel, commonly called the gopher.
What has happened with this product simply demonstrates what happens all too often with this government. I hate to step in here right away sounding so critical of the government. I will acknowledge that over the past 100 years Liberal governments have provided some good government from time to time. They have not always provided bad government but unfortunately they have not provided good government over the past 12 years.
In its 12 year mandate the government has too often used the same knee-jerk type of reaction that it has used in the strychnine problem. This demonstrates part of the problem with the government. It simply made a decision based on input from fewer than a dozen people, according to the papers which I received under production of papers, who had complained about this product. It did no evaluation of the cost to farmers which is why I cannot give a definite number on the costs to farmers in terms of damage to crops, machinery damage, livestock having to be destroyed and that type of thing. A study has never been done. This demonstrates how the government operates. It cares so little for farmers that it has the health minister handling the issue instead of the agriculture minister and the agriculture department. I think I know the reason for that.
I would be willing to bet that if the agriculture department had put together this background information that was sent out last Thursday it would have come out supporting this motion. The government simply cannot admit that it has made a mistake so it made sure it went to the health department which knows nothing about the issue and does not really care about the issue. As a result it probably will not support the motion, although I sincerely hope this time it will do the right thing.
The government should keep in mind that a possible election will be called sometime over the next year if the Prime Minister honours his promise to call an election within a month of the Gomery report coming out. That is the only thing that seems to really cause the government to change its mind or at least to make statements on issues.
Unfortunately, so often those statements are not followed up on, but at least the government will make statements during the pre-election period that it otherwise would not. I am hoping that one of those statements will be that the government will return this product to the hands of farmers.
What I want to do now is tell farmers that they now have a chance to have some input on this issue. I will read for the House a small section of a backgrounder from the Health Department. It states, “Health Canada's Pest Management Regulatory Agency has re-evaluated the available data on strychnine and is inviting comment on the proposals for its continuing use”.
First of all, if the agency has re-evaluated the available data, I want to see that data. I ask the health minister to table that data with the House. If the agency has done an evaluation and a study it only makes sense that the information should be provided to the House and to farmers across the country.
I will continue with the rest of the agency statement. The agency “is inviting comment on the proposals for its continuing use. The comment period begins on September 26, 2005, for a period of 60 days”. Of course it is the wrong time of the year because harvest will be going on during October and probably still in early November this year, but the government has finally provided an opportunity for farmers to have direct input on this issue.
I encourage farmers right across western Canada in areas affected by this terrible plague of Richardson's ground squirrels, gophers, to write to the health minister and the agriculture minister and send copies to their local MPs. A copy to me would be wonderful, as I have been trying for years on their behalf to have this product returned. I encourage farmers to write in with their explanation of why this product is desperately needed. I encourage them to take part and to make sure they do it before the deadline of November 25 or 26.
I will be contacting farmers further on this issue to try to give them the information necessary for them to have input on returning this 2% strychnine solution so they can mix on their own, but I do want to read out for the record the agency address. It is: Pest Management Regulatory Agency, 2720 Riverside Drive, Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 0K9. The number A.L.6606D2 should be put on the letter as a reference number so the people receiving the letter will be able to ensure that the proposals make it directly to the appropriate people.
I strongly encourage farmers not only in my constituency but across western Canada to provide their input now. This will probably be their only chance and it has been a long time in coming. It has been much too slow.
It is interesting that the government has removed this product from the hands of farmers and yet it has given on at least three or four occasions now a special emergency registration for the product. Unfortunately, it has not been done in a fashion that is extremely helpful in that it requires someone else to premix this product for them. Anyone who has used this product knows that if the liquid strychnine is mixed ahead of time with the grain used as bait, the bait will not work. Gophers do not find it appealing and just will not eat it and, as a result, the control measure does not work.
Since the government has reinstated this emergency registration, why does it not do the right thing now and restore to farmers the 2% solution of strychnine? It was used effectively and safely for decades, for most of this past century, in fact. Problems were very rare. Occasionally the product was used illegally to poison neighbours' dogs and other things like that, but any other product could be used for that too. We should deal with that under the law and come down hard on people who use it illegally because that is not acceptable.
Why should our farmers not have this product which is so valuable to them, is very much needed and may save a cost of $200 million a year? Why should it be removed because of the actions of a very few people over the years? It should not. I encourage the government to do the right thing and return the 2% solution of strychnine to farmers to help save up to $200 million a year.