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House of Commons Hansard #125 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was energy.

Topics

Business of the House

11 a.m.

Ottawa—Vanier Ontario

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger LiberalMinister for Internal Trade

Mr. Speaker, let me wish you and all my hon. colleagues a good session.

Consultations have taken place with all the parties and, if you were to seek it, I believe that you would find unanimous consent for the following motion.

That on Tuesday, September 27, 2005, the hours of sitting and order of business shall be those of a Wednesday.

Business of the House

11 a.m.

The Speaker

Does the hon. Deputy Leader of the Government in the House of Commons have the unanimous consent of the House to move this motion?

Business of the House

11 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Business of the House

11 a.m.

The Speaker

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Business of the House

11 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Motion agreed to)

Vacancy

September 26th, 2005 / 11 a.m.

The Speaker

It is my duty to inform the House that a vacancy has occurred in the representation in the House of Commons for the electoral district of Surrey North in the province of British Columbia by reason of the death of our dear colleague, Mr. Chuck Cadman.

Pursuant to subsection 28(1) of the Parliament of Canada Act, I have addressed on Tuesday, July 19, 2005, a warrant to the Chief Electoral Officer for the issue of a writ for the election of a member to fill the vacancy.

Message from the Senate

11 a.m.

The Speaker

I have the honour to inform the House that a message has been received from the Senate informing this House that the Senate has passed Bill S-37, an act to amend the Criminal Code and the Cultural Property Export and Import Act, and Bill S-38, an act respecting the implementation of international trade commitments by Canada regarding spirit drinks of foreign countries, to which the concurrence of this House is desired.

AgriculturePrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Leon Benoit Conservative Vegreville—Wainwright, AB

moved:

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.

AgriculturePrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for raising this issue. It is certainly an important issue for our farmers, who need all the support that they can get given the recent history of the agricultural community.

The research also shows, as a result of a single test case in Saskatchewan, that seven to twelve million lethal doses of the strychnine were available for birds and mammals to eat, not just gophers. In addition, it was found that the carcasses of these birds and mammals were available to their own predators. These animals also died through eating the poison carcasses. It is estimated that in a single season of strychnine use in Saskatchewan some 6,000 strychnine-poisoned carcasses were available to predators.

With that as a starting point, I note that the motion calls for the 2% solution of fresh bait formulations, yet the government allows producers access to a ready-to-use concentrate of 0.4% strychnine baits, which are commercially available. These are as effective as the 2% strychnine concentrate and are safer to use. The governments of Alberta and Saskatchewan are supportive of these commercially available fresh strychnine products.

That is the research. It does show that there is a concern about other birds and mammals and there is also the assertion, agreed with by Alberta and Saskatchewan, that the 0.4% solution is as effective as the 2%. I wonder if the member would care to comment.

AgriculturePrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

Leon Benoit Conservative Vegreville—Wainwright, AB

Mr. Speaker, I think the member is unfortunately a victim of misinformation sent out by the health department. The 0.4% solution simply is not effective. Farmers know that. They have tried it. They have used it for the past several years. As well, it is premixed in Toronto so it is dry by the time it gets to the farmers and the gophers are not very interested in it.

Besides that, it has to be received at just the right time. There is a very narrow window in which gophers will eat this bait and it is effective at controlling them. It has to be received within a few days, in the early spring before the grass starts growing, because gophers will eat grass rather than the bait if it is not received at the right time.

So first of all, it is not effective, and second, anyone who has used this product knows that if the 2% solution is used instead of the 0.4%, which is not effective, gophers will normally find their way back down the hole and in fact their carcasses will not be available. Also, if bait stations are used, gophers will die within the bait stations and their carcasses will not be available.

As well, birds of prey will not eat a carcass. What they eat has to be moving or they simply will not eat it. If they do, can they eat enough to cause damage? Although I will admit it is not a real study that has been done, the resulting information seems to show that they simply could not eat enough to do damage and to kill them. Throughout all these decades in which farmers were using this 2% and even 5% solution of strychnine, the number of birds of prey in the country was continually increasing.

The problem outlined by the member is a problem which I think is only in the minds of those at Health Canada, unfortunately. If they had taken the time to really communicate with Agriculture Canada in an honest way and to communicate with the agriculture departments in the provinces, I think they would have found, in fact, that this is simply not the case. I am glad the member brought it up, but it is not a real problem. It is a perceived problem.

AgriculturePrivate Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

Myron Thompson Conservative Wild Rose, AB

Mr. Speaker, I have a quick question for the member. I know his riding is similar to mine in many respects. I have travelled through the riding over the last two or three years. I have seen with my own eyes the devastation that gophers can cause to the crop of a farmer. I do not believe that members who do not support this idea of bringing the gopher population under control really understand the seriousness of the problem.

I doubt if the Liberal member who just spoke has ever walked through a grain field where gopher damage has occurred, but I would like to invite him out some time. I would take him through a trail, but he would probably fall in one because he would not know what he is looking at.

These people do not seem to understand the seriousness of this, so I would like the member to emphasize it just one more time. I know he sees it in his riding. I have seen it in mine. Farmers really hurt from these predators and we need to take it seriously and take it seriously now. Does the member believe the government is willing to support the seriousness of this problem, willing enough to do something about it?

AgriculturePrivate Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

Leon Benoit Conservative Vegreville—Wainwright, AB

Mr. Speaker, I certainly would not have brought this issue before Parliament the number of times I have over the past nine years, or over whatever number of years I have been pursuing it, if it were not a problem that is extremely important to the people of western Canada and to my constituents.

It is an important problem, as anyone who has seen a field would know. On my own farm, I had about 60 acres of canola completely wiped out one year. That was 60 acres in an exceptional year when there was actually some money in canola and it was worth about $350 an acre.

That is the kind of hit farmers simply cannot afford to take. If we multiply that by tens of thousands of farmers, in a bad year it is probably well beyond the $200 million figure, although I cannot vouch for the complete accuracy of that figure. It is our best estimate. Nobody has done the study to determine it.

AgriculturePrivate Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

West Nova Nova Scotia

Liberal

Robert Thibault LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, I want to take this opportunity to welcome you and all hon. members back to Parliament.

I thank the member for Vegreville—Wainwright for bringing this forward.

I listened to the member for Wild Rose, who questioned whether government cares about this or understands the plight of farmers and the difficulty with the Richardson's ground squirrel. There is no doubt everybody understands that. Everybody wants to find a solution. The member for Vegreville—Wainwright proposes a 2% solution of strychnine. The government is working with the provincial government and the industry to find a 100% solution to this problem.

The member has requested that the government make available directly to farmers a 2% liquid concentrate of the pest control product strychnine, which farmers would mix with seed to produce a strychnine bait to control ground squirrels. The end result would be a bait containing approximately 0.4% strychnine.

However, ready-to-use 0.4% strychnine baits, which are effective and safer to use, are already available to Canadian farmers for that very purpose. In fact, since 2005, fresh, ready-to-use 0.4% strychnine bait products have also been commercially available in Canada. These recent registrations now provide farmers with the means by which they can readily access moist strychnine baits, comparable in freshness to bait mixed directly from concentrate.

The hon. member's motion relates to restrictions put in place in 1992 by Agriculture Canada, then Canada's regulatory body for pesticides. The restrictions limited the availability of strychnine products for ground squirrel control to ready-to-use bait formulations limited at up to 0.4% strychnine.

The ready-to-use baits provided for concentrations of strychnine that were very similar to, or sometimes even greater than, those found before 1993, in baits prepared by mixing the concentrated 2% strychnine solution with farm-available grain. Furthermore, the ready-to-use products were, and are still considered to be, safer to use.

I would like to remind the hon. member that the government moved to restrict the availability of strychnine liquid concentrate only to protect Canadians' health and safety and their environment from possible serious adverse effects of this dangerous poison. Strychnine has a very high level of acute toxicity and has been and continues to be implicated in poisonings of non-target animals, including dogs and wildlife.

Canada is not alone in having taken action on strychnine. All above ground use of strychnine has been prohibited in the United States since 1988. Furthermore, it is illegal to use strychnine for pest control in most European countries and it is prohibited by the Bern convention on the conservation of European wildlife and natural habitats.

The Richardson's ground squirrel has been considered to be the major mammalian pest impacting croplands, pastures and rangelands in western Canada over the past several decades, for which the control option of choice has remained strychnine treated food baits.

In the years following the restriction of strychnine products in 1992, issues were raised regarding the effectiveness of the ready-to-use strychnine baits for ground squirrel control. The government acted swiftly and responsibly to address farmers' concerns.

For several years from 1997 onward, Health Canada conducted an extensive analysis of the ready-to-use products marketed at that time to confirm that they met the level of strychnine guaranteed on the product label by the manufacturer, and as required by Health Canada, that is, 0.4% strychnine.

During the years 2001, 2002 and 2003, as was mentioned by the member from Vegreville—Wainwright, because provincial authorities were concerned with severe ground squirrel infestation in certain areas of Saskatchewan and Alberta, they requested and received emergency registrations of a concentrated 2% strychnine product to allow for the preparation of freshly baited 0.4% strychnine bait.

This emergency registration program allowed the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan, under very strict provisions, to freshly prepare and distribute moist strychnine bait formulated from 2% liquid strychnine concentrate, providing farmers in those provinces with access to fresh bait for on farm use to control Richardson's ground squirrel.

These freshly prepared baits, which have been demonstrated to be more acceptable to ground squirrels, resulted in enhanced control.

I want to be perfectly clear that the recently registered fresh, ready to use 0.4% strychnine bait products provide farmers with the same type of product at the same concentration of strychnine that was used under the emergency registration programs of 2001, 2002 and 2003.

However, Health Canada has not restricted its involvement in the ground squirrel control program to pesticide issues. Risk reduction plays an important role in modern pesticide regulation and while the restriction of the use of certain pesticides is a means toward that end, so is the development of integrated pest management strategies to research alternative methods of control.

To that end, Health Canada's Pest Management Regulatory Agency has been facilitating an integrated pest management program in conjunction with the western provinces to address ground squirrel infestations.

Parties participating in the integrated pest management program include representatives from all levels of government, non-government organizations and the pesticide industry. This is the 100% solution.

Part of the objective of this program is to provide the use of alternatives to strychnine, including non-chemical methods of control, and the use of registered pest control products containing active ingredients other than strychnine.

Although in its early stages, the integrated pest management group has already presented preliminary research findings to Health Canada, which could eventually result in improved label directions that would increase pest control product efficiency without incurring additional environmental effects.

Another major activity in which Health Canada has been involved is the re-evaluation of strychnine, as was mentioned by the member. This falls under Health Canada's pesticide re-evaluation program, which is designed to ensure that the continuing acceptability of all pesticides registered in Canada before 1995 is examined using current scientific approaches.

Health Canada has released its findings on the strychnine re-evaluation and has invited comments from interested parties before finalizing its decision. I would join the member in inviting all concerned to participate in those discussions.

In closing, I want to assure the hon. member for Vegreville—Wainwright that Canadian farmers do have access to strychnine products that are equivalent to those shown to be effective under severe ground squirrel infestations.

Health Canada has and will continue to listen to, and act on the concerns of farmers. Health Canada will continue to explore Richardson's ground squirrel control strategies through an integrated pest management program, so that Canadian farmers will not be left without the tools they need to pursue their livelihood in a safe and practical manner.

AgriculturePrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

Leon Benoit Conservative Vegreville—Wainwright, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I would ask for unanimous consent to have a question period with the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health who has just spoken. Some of the information I heard requires a follow-up with questions.

AgriculturePrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

Does the hon. member have unanimous consent?

AgriculturePrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

AgriculturePrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

Some hon. members

No.

AgriculturePrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to open this new session on behalf of my party, the Bloc Québécois, especially since I have been appointed the Bloc Québécois critic for agriculture and agri-food.

I want to emphasize the work done my predecessors in this position, who have done an outstanding job, and particularly the hon. member for Châteauguay—Saint-Constant for standing up for Quebec farm producers. I am convinced that we will be building on all the work that has been done so far. Farm producers in Quebec can be sure that I will always stand steadfastly behind them in their battles.

I am pleased to take part in this debate on Motion No. 253 put forward by the hon. member for Vegreville—Wainwright. I know that he has been fighting for this for a number of years. I certainly understand where he is coming from.

I shall not list every name these creatures go by, because there are many. Suffice it to say that these are rodents that can cause various kinds of damage, which the hon. member estimated at $200 million. Millions of dollars in damage has indeed been caused to crops, in Alberta and Saskatchewan in particular.

These rodents would be harmless if there were not so many of them. Wherever they proliferate, there are serious problems. The member who introduced the motion said this earlier. I clearly understand his reasons in this regard.

We know that these rodents eat any vegetation they find underground. For example, they destroy fruit trees, tubers, and garden bulbs. Furthermore, when these rodents dig holes, they damage machinery. In digging, they create small mounds of earth and damage can occur when machinery travels over these mounds.

These animals also dig burrows in dikes, and this is dangerous for flood-containment structures. All of this to say that even such a small animal can cause major damage.

So I understand the battle the member has been waging since the most effective product to date, 2% liquid strychnine, was banned in Canada. In passing, this product has also been banned in the United States and a number of European countries. The latter concluded that the danger within their jurisdiction was too great to permit the use of this product. Canada reached this same conclusion several years ago.

Why has this specific product been banned? It is highly toxic to animals, as well as to humans. Fans of detective novels will recall that it was often referred to by Agatha Christie as a poison used to eliminate one's enemies. In fact, it is extremely toxic to humans.

In fact, 2% strychnine concentrate is an acute and dangerous poison. It causes death in humans, as I said. Allowing free access to this product would be irresponsible, given its level of toxicity and possible use by criminals. Obviously, I am not talking here about farmers, but about people who might decide to use it to commit some type of crime.

There are alternative products. We also heard about them during the first two speeches. Since banning strychnine, the government, in collaboration with producers and the governments of Alberta and Saskatchewan, has tried to develop a pest control strategy with regard to this rodent, also known as Richardson's ground squirrel.

These governments currently support the marketing of fresh baits made from strychnine but mixed to 0.4%. Admittedly, this mix is less effective than the 2% concentrate. That goes without saying.

It is important to conduct studies on alternative products. The Pest Management Regulatory Agency, or PMRA, has re-evaluated the available data on strychnine and is consulting stakeholders on its use as we speak.

This was mentioned earlier. I have here a document called “Re-evaluation of Strychnine, Proposed Acceptability for Continuing Registration”. It includes information on participating in this 60-day consultation for anyone who so desires. I invite all interested farmers and stakeholders to take part in this consultation, which is another step toward finding a lasting and tangible solution.

As I was saying, it starts today and will last two months. I hope a solution will be found that satisfies farmers and does not put public health at risk.

Health Canada, through PMRA, must ensure that pesticides do not pose any unacceptable risks to humans, other animals or the environment. However, farmers cannot simply be left to deal with this scourge on their own. In the summer of 2001, problems caused by ground squirrels in some areas of Alberta and Saskatchewan were so bad that the governments of those provinces asked for and received permission from PMRA to use 2% strychnine solution again.

This permission was granted for that season only since there was a truly terrible proliferation of rodents. The agency was quite careful about the availability and use of the product and that is where there is a problem with the hon. member's motion. He is asking only that the product be put back on the market as it was before without any restriction. Therein lies the risk.

In 2001, only agricultural officers in Alberta and pest control specialists in Saskatchewan were allowed to distribute the product. It was therefore highly and very stringently regulated. Producers and farmers were, however, able to use the product which is, as I have said, the most effective one we have at this time to control the spread of rodents and the serious damage they cause. Things would have been worse if the old product had been used.

At this point in time, the government must again authorize the use of the product, but within very stringent standards. It must allow an exception of this kind every time the situation gets out of control, until such time as effective alternative solutions are found.

We cannot, however, be in favour of the hon. member's motion as presented for the reasons I have just given. The motion is too broad and lacks any framework or directive on specific use for the eradication of rodents, for example the amount allowed for baiting traps or whether it is to be used underground only.

As we know, above ground use of a 2% solution was allowed for 20 years, from 1968 to 1988. People then came to realize that birds could eat it and die from it. When the decision for underground use was made, that was already less dangerous, but the intent is still to limit widespread distribution of this product.

We cannot vote in favour of this motion , but we do call upon the government to complete its consultations and studies as promptly as possible so that producers will at last have access to an effective solution that will also protect health and the environment.

I hope as many people as possible will take part in the PMRA reassessment of this product. I hope it will not take years for producers coping with this problem to be able to obtain a product that is as safe as possible for human health —although it is of course still a poison—while still allowing them to halt the spread of these very destructive rodents.

AgriculturePrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in this place at the first moment we are back to do the business of Canadians. Mr. Speaker, I want to wish you well in your duties of presiding over the House. I hope that you enjoyed a productive summer and had some rest and relaxation over the past little while. Now we are here to get the work of Canadians done. We are here to get right down to business, to talk about pressing issues for all Canadians.

Obviously, Mr. Speaker, you will know that there are all kinds of issues we need to talk about that are not on the government's agenda. We have to talk about the question of the CBC and the lockout that is approaching its eighth week. We have to talk about softwood lumber and the failure of the government to respond to the United States. We have to talk about the situation facing farmers. We have to talk about the privatization of health care. I look forward to a session that will deal with all of those issues that threaten the very survival of the country as we know it.

Now I will focus on the private member's motion by the member for Vegreville—Wainwright. The motion deals with a nuisance problem in our farming communities, that being the presence of gophers, or as we call them in Manitoba, the prairie dog. That animal is actually part of our heritage and part of our natural environment. Certainly it is one which we celebrate in terms of our history and prairie culture. I do acknowledge, as the member who brought forward the motion said, that there is a problem in the overpopulation of gophers. It is to the point where farmers are faced with some real difficulties and very serious challenges.

I do agree with the spirit of the member's motion which is that we ought to do something finally about the problem in a real and an environmentally sensitive way. That is where I believe we part company. The member is suggesting that we actually increase the strength of the strychnine solution as a way to rid our farmlands of this rodent, the Richardson's ground squirrel and/or pocket gopher.

The real debate today is what can be done about the problem in a way that is environmentally safe and is not a threat to Canadians' health and well-being while still being responsible to the farmers who have a serious problem. I suggest to the member that we should put our efforts into holding the government to account for doing nothing in the last 10 years when this problem became so apparent. The onus ought to be on the government not to simply stand in this place through a private member and suggest that there is something wrong with the member's motion without providing an alternative solution to a problem that has been identified for over a decade.

I want in particular to refer to the debate we had in the House way back in 2001 on the very same topic. The very same issues were raised and the same solution was provided. In that space of four years there has been ample time for the government to come forward with a plan to deal with the problem. Have we heard anything? Has there been any conscious effort by the government to deal with this issue sensibly and with sensitivity to the environment, with concern for Canadians' health and well-being? Unfortunately the answer is no. There has been nothing from the government. We are left once again debating a proposition that is not acceptable to anyone. It is not acceptable to farmers, not acceptable to the environment and not acceptable to Canadians who are worried about their health.

It is not acceptable because we are talking about a very serious, dangerous pesticide. We are talking about something that is deadly. We are talking about a substance that has been used in the past for suicides and for killing neighbourhood dogs.

The member for Vegreville mentioned this and acknowledged the problems and said that there were ways to get around them. I do not think anyone in the House or Canadians understand how we could get around that kind of problem. This substance gets into the grains, the ground and our environment. It is very hard to prevent it from coming into contact with other animals and human beings.

Indiscriminate use can result in wildlife deaths, including that of raptors, the main natural predator of ground squirrels and gophers. It is a time sensitive, labour intensive solution. It is only effective in early spring before weeds sprout. Once it is used, the area must be monitored daily for carcasses which then must be buried to prevent accidental poisoning. Needless to say, this is not a solution. We have to defeat it. We must put the onus back on the government to come up with a solution that works.

I want to refer to some comments made by my colleague, Dick Proctor, back in 2001 when this matter was last debated in the House. Dick Proctor was the member for Palliser, a fine member of the House. He was a member who was devoted to working on behalf of farmers and doing what was in the best interests of his constituents. He spoke out repeatedly on behalf of the public interest and public policies that served the public good. He said:

We too have some environmental concerns that were indicated by the government spokesperson. We are concerned about what has happened to the population of swift foxes and bald eagles over the past decade as well as burrowing owls which are very important in the Moose Jaw area. There was a story in the local newspaper within the last month about how the number of pairs of burrowing owls had declined rapidly in recent years. Dog poisonings have also been mentioned. In the volume of work in this area a couple of suicides were reported. All of these seem to be impacted by the use of strychnine.

Those comments were made by someone, a former member who served with integrity, a hardworking individual who was in contact with his community and the farmers, who knew the impact of the use of strychnine on the environment. His comments must be taken seriously.

My good friend Dick Proctor also went on to chastise the government for not doing its part:

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.

Some reports suggest that the 0.4% solution is effective. This might have been mentioned by some of my colleagues that it should on its own be offered as the solution. The fact that we are having the debate today and the fact that members who represent rural constituencies and farmers across the country from the prairies, tell us that there is a problem, that the 0.4% solution has not worked. In this debate we have to say the government solution is not an answer. To fall back on the 0.4% strength of strychnine is not a solution. There have to be alternatives.

The Conservative opposition's idea of increasing levels, of strengthening the potency of this poisonous and terrible pesticide is not the solution.

We are left with trying to find the appropriate solution. We have to defeat this motion and convince the government to come back to the House with a positive alternative.

AgriculturePrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Gerry Ritz Conservative Battlefords—Lloydminster, SK

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise on the first day back after a summer recess to address an issue that a lot of people think should not be in the top 10 issues in the House. It certainly speaks to the fact that, as the NDP member just said, the Liberal government has basically stood aside and done nothing for the last 12 years that this has been an issue. That raises the point we need to get to.

Let us bring a bit of reality into the debate. We heard from members of the other three parties, with the exception of my colleague from Vegreville—Wainwright who has taken a third crack at this issue and I welcome his intervention on that. It is a huge issue in his riding and mine, which parallel each other in western Canada. It is becoming worse because of the government inaction on this file. It is another strike against agriculture.

The magic coefficient that permeates all of this is a little agency under Health Canada that reports to Agriculture Canada but basically does nothing for either one, called the Pest Management Regulatory Agency. When people from that agency come before our committees, they tap dance, shift aside and blame somebody else; it is never their fault. But it is their lack of attention to files such as these that this issue has been dragging on for 12 years and there is nothing to take the place of strychnine. That is why we are asking for strychnine to be reinstated at this point until that agency does find something that is as effective and as accessible as that should be.

The cause and effect is the Liberal government and its PMRA that it does not keep to task. It has been before the agriculture committee a number of times and I have walked away shaking my head. There are so many issues it needs to be tuned into, to be interventionist on and it is not. That agency basically is not doing its job and is not earning its pay at this point, in my estimation.

Several other issues fall under the purview of the PMRA. One is generic glyphosate along with the strychnine. Another one is ivermectin which agricultural producers are running across the border to pick up. They are going to be penalized for doing that. They will not be allowed to do that even under the own use certificate that the government has allowed the PMRA to piecemeal out some solutions.

There is a general malaise in that agency. It needs a good boot to get it up and running. It is not a budgetary problem; it is a science problem. It seems to ignore or skirt around the sound science that attaches itself to all of these different issues.

A case in point, today it was talking about the re-evaluation of strychnine. The PMRA is doing another study which is in the comment period. If the agency really wants to get comments that are pertinent, it should go outside the Ottawa bubble and talk to the actual end users, the farmers and ranchers who have been using this product for years. There has not been a significant problem. There has been some criminality, but that is under a whole other cause. That is under criminal use and criminal intent. Those people need to be punished to the full extent of the law, and rightly so.

The ordinary farmers and producers have a twofold problem with the way they are allowed to go after the Richardson's ground squirrel. They like to use that fancy name because everybody gets this warm, fuzzy idea of a squirrel, that they are cute and cuddly. Let us not forget that these are rodents. These are closer to the rat family. They burrow in the ground, chew up vegetation and create a tremendous amount of havoc in farming country. The number of $200 million annually in losses and costs has been tossed around. That is probably a very conservative number. We could probably multiply that by three or four times.

It is compounding now in that we have had a couple of years of drought. We are back into rain this year, more than we need. We have some major concerns with not being able to use best farming practices that the government insists we use and not having access in this case to the chemicals and poisons that we need.

The parliamentary secretary to the agriculture minister said that even the U.S. has banned above ground use of strychnine. That is fine. We do not use it above ground. The bait goes in the hole, underground. It is not accessible to any other animals unless there is criminal intent and someone wants to poison the neighbour's dog or bait a deer to get coyotes and so on, and that is a no-no. That is already listed in the Criminal Code. Let us not confuse the two. Let us not use that as an issue to keep the strychnine away from farmers.

The issue is a matter of concentration of the poison, freshness and the timeliness in being able to use it. Right now we have it under special permit. People have to run to their municipal offices, on certain days only, when it will be mixed for them. They have to bring in their bait, barley, grain or whatever is going to be used, and it is mixed. Then they rush home and bait the holes. The problem is it takes time to do that. A lot of farmers get up early in the morning to do it, or do it when the machinery breaks down, or on a rainy day, or something like that.

That compounds the problem with timeliness when they have to drive to the municipal office, which in many cases could be 40 or 50 kilometres away. They have to stand in line to get the bait mixed because everyone else has to go on the same day. Then when they get home, they want to bait those holes as quickly as they can with the fresh baited poison.

Therefore, the problem with having it mixed in Toronto is the freight problem. The type of bait that is used is usually screenings and gophers will not go for that. They have a persnickety pallet. They have a choice of hundreds of acres of fresh green stuff or stale old bread. Gophers are connoisseurs. They will get into the fresh grass and gorge themselves. We must have freshness, timeliness and the concentration of the bait. Those are the three things that need to be addressed by the PMRA and its Liberal taskmasters who sit on the other side of the House.

None of the other parties seem to want to step up and say that we have to maintain what we have under best farming practices until or if and when the government does come up with something newer. It has not. There is all this talk about two other products out there but no one has access to them. Again the timeliness, the freshness and availability are the major concerns with this problem.

One adult gopher can dig 50 holes in a season. Those are a lot of holes that cattle and horses step in. It makes a tremendous mess, plus the damage it does to the surrounding green space. There are a billion and a half acres under attack annually by pocket gophers, half of it in green space and the other half in pasture land. That is a tremendous amount of forage and fodder that goes to waste and does not go into the food supply. Canadians demand a fresh, secure and sustainable food supply and it is all borne on the backs of producers. A billion and half acres are under attack and an increasing livestock herd, almost 20% higher than normal, has to be sustained on fewer acres because of the gopher problem. The government has been complaisant for the last 12 years and complicit in the PMRA not getting the job done. We have a major a problem.

We have people going out and shooting gophers. On a corner section of land of 160 acres in my riding one can go out and shoot 2,000 gophers in an afternoon and not get anywhere near all of them. It is that type of problem we are seeing. Gophers multiply like rats. They have a couple of births a year. The ones born in the spring are having young ones by the fall.

It is a galloping problem. The government has to address the problem, not talk about studies again. The member for Mississauga South talked about not doing this because it was against something. If one gopher on his front lawn chewed 50 holes in a season, he would probably be a little more concerned. That is the type of infestation we have in western Canada.

There was much talk about the 0.4% being adequate. If we talk by strength, it is not. If we talk by volume, and the Liberals hide behind the fact that when it is mixed it amounts to 0.4%, years ago the ideal was 5%. We did not have huge problems at that time. We did not have any problems with 2%. There are no sound scientific studies done. It is all guesswork and knee-jerk environmental reactions. We need to be cognizant of the fact that there could be and may be some damage, but we have to control that. There are many other issues that we need to control as well and we see study after study but no movement on that.

Saskatchewan has a real problem since the federal government has curtailed a wildlife damage compensation under crop insurance. The member for Vegreville—Wainwright talked about 60 acres of canola at $350 to $400 an acre gone missing. It is not even covered any more. If we complain about the problem, we are told there will be a strychnine shipment coming in three months. That is not adequate.

This is a timely bill with the study going on in PMRA and the comment period. The third time will be the charm. Farmers and ranchers, especially in western Canada, are looking for this type of leadership on these issues. We are happy to bring that for them. A new Conservative government would make sure that issues such as these would addressed and that the PMRA would get back to doing the job it should be doing.

AgriculturePrivate Members' Business

12:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

Richmond B.C.

Liberal

Raymond Chan Liberalfor the Minister of Justice

moved that Bill C-49, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (trafficking in persons), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

Northumberland—Quinte West Ontario

Liberal

Paul MacKlin LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to be here at the opening of this session of Parliament to participate in the debate on Bill C-49, an act to amend the Criminal Code, trafficking in persons.

Trafficking in persons is sometimes described as the new global slave trade—no country has been left untouched by this terrible scourge. In a recently released report, May 11, 2005, by the International Labour Organization, it is estimated that the total number of people who are in situations of forced labour as a result of human trafficking is at least 2.45 million people around the world.

Who are the primary victims? Women and children. UNICEF estimates that 1.2 million children are trafficked around the world each year.

When we hear numbers like this we get a better appreciation of both the magnitude and urgency of strengthening domestic and international measures to combat human trafficking. We must ensure that we have the best response possible to a crime that is such a horrible violation of human rights, a crime that disproportionately impacts the most vulnerable in our society.

Bill C-49 does that. It is undoubtedly an important step toward strengthening our ability to protect the vulnerable, an ongoing priority for the government, and it reflects the government's commitment to ensure that Canada's legal framework clearly recognizes and strongly denounces and deters human trafficking.

It does this by proposing the creation of three new indictable offences to better address human trafficking—in whatever form it may manifest itself. The main offence of “trafficking in persons” would prohibit anyone from engaging in specified acts, such as recruiting, transporting, harbouring or controlling the movements of another person for the purpose of exploiting or facilitating the exploitation of that person. This offence is punishable by up to life imprisonment reflecting its severity and its harmful consequences to its victims and Canadian society.

Second, Bill C-49 proposes to deter those who seek to profit from the exploitation of others by making it an offence to receive a financial or material benefit knowing that it results from the trafficking of persons. This offence is punishable by up to 10 years' imprisonment.

Third, Bill C-49 proposes to prohibit the withholding or destroying of travel or identity documents in order to commit or facilitate the trafficking of persons. This offence is punishable by a maximum of five years' imprisonment.

Human trafficking is all about the exploitation of its victims. The very thought of being denied one's right to life, liberty and security of the person and to being treated as a commodity to be bought, sold and used for whatever purpose is unimaginable and yet it is the reality for so many.

Bill C-49 recognizes this exploitation in a very real and concrete way and would make exploitation a key element of the offence. As defined by Bill C-49, exploitation means causing people to provide labour or services, such as sexual services, by engaging in conduct that could reasonably be expected to cause those people to fear for their safety or that of someone known to them. It also could mean removing a human organ or tissue from victims through the use of force or deception.

Bill C-49 would strengthen Canada's legal framework by building upon the existing domestic and international responses to human trafficking.

There are many international instruments that address human trafficking, but the most recent one is the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime and its supplemental protocol to prevent, suppress and punish trafficking in persons, especially woman and children, which offers a widely accepted international framework for addressing the issue. Bill C-49 more clearly reflects this framework. In keeping with this framework, Canada's approach, as reflected in Bill C-49, focuses on the prevention of trafficking and the protection of its victims and the prosecution of the offenders.

The proposed reforms in Bill C-49 send a very clear message to those who seek to exploit the most vulnerable members of society through this form of criminal conduct will be brought to justice.

Bill C-49 would strengthen our current responses to trafficking by building upon existing provisions of the Criminal Code that address trafficking related conduct and would complement the provisions in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act that seek to safeguard Canada's border against human trafficking and human smuggling. The new criminal offences proposed by Bill C-49, together with the existing legal framework, will provide criminal justice personnel with a significantly enhanced ability to ensure that the offence charged is the one that best responds to the facts of the specific trafficking case.

The government is also addressing human trafficking through other non-legislative measures, a reflection of the reality that an effective response to such a problem requires not only a strong legal framework, but also multi-sectoral collaboration to enhance our awareness and understanding of the problem and to facilitate effective and meaningful implementation of targeted responses.

The government recently has undertaken numerous measures for this end. For example, a website on trafficking in persons was launched in April 2004 and can be accessed through the Department of Justice Canada website. The website provides useful information for the public, describing the problem and related links.

Public education and awareness is being fostered through the development and broad dissemination within Canada and to Canadian embassies of a poster and an information pamphlet—available in 14 languages—to help prevent human trafficking victimization.

Professional training and education about human trafficking and enforcement related issues is underway and began with a training seminar in March 2004, co-hosted by the Department of Justice Canada and the International Organization for Migration. A similar seminar was held in May 2005 in Vancouver, hosted by the RCMP.

I support Bill C-49 because it is an important step toward strengthening Canada's ability to prevent human trafficking, to better protect its victims and to hold traffickers accountable. I hope all members of the House will be able to support the expeditious passage of this important legislation.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

John Maloney Liberal Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like some insight into how big a problem trafficking is. Is it a phenomenon that we have in Canada or is it a phenomenon restricted to developing countries? How big a problem is it for Canada?

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Paul MacKlin Liberal Northumberland—Quinte West, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member raises a very good point. Because of the very clandestine nature of the activity of human trafficking, it is impossible to get a full appreciation of the scope and impact of the problem, both internationally and at the domestic level.

However, as I mentioned in the speech, a couple of estimates that have been provided seem to give us some understanding of how broad-reaching this problem is in an international context.

According to the figures that I have, the United Nations estimates that over 700,000 people are trafficked each year. In accordance with the International Labour Organization, the estimates are that at any given point in time there will be just under 2.5 million people who are in forced labour situations as a result of human trafficking. Clearly, no country is immune from this and yet it is such a fundamental violation of human rights.

I do not think we can say that within Canada we have resolved the problem at this point which is why we want to bring forward for domestic purposes, as well as to work internationally, this legislation to deal with the problem that we know exists. We think it is fundamental. We think we have to do everything possible to give our authorities the ability to track down, properly charge and convict these individuals who would deem themselves appropriate to participate in this type of activity.

Second, the legislation would target those who would try to profit from this type of activity.

When we start hearing about some of the aspects in human trafficking, especially when it gets into not only the sex trade but also into human organs removal, the whole idea and concept of human trafficking and its results is something that is so abhorrent to us as a society and so against everything that we as Canadians believe in, I believe it is important that the legislation be adopted as quickly as possible to assist our officials in being able to bring about enforcement, prosecution and sentencing of these individuals.