Madam Speaker, the Liberal Party welcomes the hoist motion moved by my hon. colleague, because it has become increasingly evident that the government is not listening to the concerns expressed by the opposition in the House about the bill. Certainly it is clear that the government is not listening to the concerns of the primary producers.
The parliamentary secretary got it all wrong in his last remarks. The reason the opposition is taking such a strong stand against the bill is the government's failure when it comes to primary producers. Nowhere is that evidence of failure more clear than it is with this bill.
The government has not listened to any of the producers' concerns that were expressed during the committee hearings. It has not listened to the concerns that were expressed by producers on the original bill, Bill C-39. It has not listened to the concerns of producers between now and when Bill C-13 came into being. Obviously, the government is not listening to primary producers in this country. Therefore, the opposition parties are left with no choice but to try to bring the government to its senses and give us something that shows it is listening to producers and their concerns and not just to industry.
Calls are coming in every day from producers concerned about the bill. In fact, the principal reason for our supporting the hoist motion, which as stated by the parliamentary secretary, and I agree, will effectively remove Bill C-13 from the order paper for this session, is that the government has known for more than a year that all three opposition parties are concerned about it. Over the course of that time the amount of concern being expressed by primary producers, by the farm community, is unbelievable. I have not seen anything like it in my time in terms of the avalanche of concerns coming forward from industry on this particular bill.
There is strong concern, not about reforming and improving the Canadian Grain Commission, but about being complicit in its undermining and ineffectiveness. I do not want to see myself, my party does not want to see itself, and I understand that the other opposition parties do not want to see themselves as being complicit in undermining the Canadian Grain Commission and undermining its effectiveness for primary producers.
The major reason for the need to have this bill removed and reconsidered, redrafted and resubmitted is that the extent of the harm this legislation would do, given the extent of the amendments to the Canadian Grain Commission, are beyond the most recent parliamentary review of the activities of the Canadian Grain Commission. That review was conducted by the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food after having heard from stakeholders across the country.
This morning the official opposition held a press conference on this very matter. The need for this press conference was that we have seen from the current government the ultimate in incompetence. It did not listen to the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food, which held hearings several years ago. The government introduced former Bill C-39, which was severely flawed. The government had concerns coming forward from producers and opposition parties. It failed to address those concerns and introduced a new bill, Bill C-13, which was substantially the same.
Since it was first introduced in Parliament, information is getting out to our producers on how bad the bill is, and we are being inundated with calls telling us to kill the bill, to get rid of it. Therefore, this morning the official opposition held a press conference in which we said that Parliament must at its earliest opportunity block the government's Bill C-13, which is proposed amendments to the Canada Grain Act. At the press conference I outlined many of my concerns with the bill and I will list them quite simply and shortly.
It changes the mandate from being in the interest of producers to being in the interest of industry. It takes away the bonding requirement of companies which is there to protect producers. Producers sell half a million dollars of grain to a grain company and they get no protection in terms of that company being bonded. A producer could go broke as a result.
There is the whole issue of inward inspections, which my colleague from the fourth party outlined is really an issue of food security and food safety. I will get to that in a moment. The Canadian Wheat Board expressed some concerns a while ago in a press release it put out. If the CGC does away with inward inspection, it will have to be handled in some other way. The problem is, when it is handled in another way, who will handle those costs and take all the risks? It will be the primary producers.
Another problem with the bill is appeals on grades and weights. The chief grain inspector would have the ultimate authority, and the government even put in the bill that there is no appeal to the Federal Court. Imagine that. There is no appeal to the Federal Court. There is no way farmers who have faced an injustice can get to the justice system to appeal the decision made by an arbitrary regulatory authority. That is absolutely crazy in a democratic system such as ours.
This morning at our press conference, we said that the bill has to be stopped in the interest of the farm community. Our House leader said that there are three options. We could simply vote down the current Conservative motion asking for approval in principle; we could adopt a so-called hoist motion, which is the one we are talking about, which has been put forward by another party; or we could move a reasoned amendment. According to the rules of the House of Commons, any one of these three options would effectively kill the bill. There is no question that the bill must be stopped.
This is grain legislation. People in downtown Toronto and downtown Vancouver or even downtown Charlottetown probably do not understand the need for such strong regulatory actions in the grain industry.
As I said earlier in my remarks, Canada has become the number one supplier of quality grains around the world. We are recognized as the top supplier of quality grains in the world, as a result of the efforts of the Canadian Grain Commission and certainly the producers in producing the kind of grains they produce.
To make the issue relevant to consumers and people in urban Canada, I would say that while functioning, regulatory systems tend to be invisible until tragedy occurs. It is only after somebody dies, either from drinking bad water or food or whatever, that people recognize the need for a regulatory system in the background to protect the interests of all.
In an article in the Edmonton Journal written by Scott Sinclair and Jim Grieshaber-Otto, this is what they said on another issue:
Citizens rightly expect their governments to protect them and to act in the public interest. Too often governments fail to do so, instead responding to corporate pressure to weaken regulations so that businesses can cut costs and increase profits. Recent outbreaks of food-borne illnesses -- listeriosis in Canada, melamine contamination in China, and salmonella poisoning in the U.S. -- underline the dangers to the public of cutting back on government oversight and inspections in the food system.
They went on to say:
Yet these lessons seem to be lost on the Conservative federal government, which is threatening another of Canada's highly successful regulatory systems. Legislation now before Parliament -- Bill C-13 -- would gut Canada's world-class grain regulatory system.
They go on to talk about some other points in the article saying that what the government is really doing is increasing the risk of catastrophic financial loss to producers and also that the government is more interested in creating opportunities for transnational corporations than in protecting Canadian farm and consumer interests. I certainly would agree with those points.
With the pressure from the farm community, we have no choice but to support this hoist motion because the government has not listened. It had the opportunity since it first introduced the legislation to at least tell us what it was going to do. Instead, we hear statements from the minister along the lines of, “Don't worry, we will fix it”.
Canadians now know full well that they cannot trust the Prime Minister and the government. A statement saying it will fix it at some future date is just not acceptable. We have not seen any intention on the part of government that there is anything in the wings, behind the scenes, that is going to propose to amend this legislation in a proper way.
Let me speak a little more about inward inspection, which is a critical issue in terms of the legislation itself and why it is necessary to effectively close down this bill.
On the issue of inward inspection, the government has indicated it is removing the role of the CGC. The Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food, in a unanimous report, acknowledged that mandatory inward inspection is not a universal requirement while outward inspection and weighing is. The committee stated in its report, again supported unanimously:
--several strong factors seem to support optional inward inspection: the inward inspection requirement is already not universal; optional inspection would not affect producer rights of access to the terminal; and producers and the Canadian Wheat Board should not be unduly affected financially if a proper publicly supported infrastructure and pricing system are put into place in light of the public benefits of maintaining an inward inspection capability.
The fact is that while the government is removing the inward inspection provision, the work called for by the committee has never been done. The government has not done the work called for by the committee itself.
To just go on a little further, the government has to explain why it has decided, prior to the legislation, to downgrade, as expressed in the estimates for the commission under the section which describes the activity as providing “Consistent and reliable grain quality and grain safety assurance to meet the needs of domestic and international markets”, the forecasting spending. In 2011-12 it will be $23.4 million; in 2007-08, the planned spending was $50.2 million. By the Canadian Grain Commission's own records, the government will reduce the ability of the Canadian Grain Commission to do its job by $26.8 million.
I have to ask the question: Is this a matter of the government cutting costs on the backs of primary producers and the safety of consumers in this country? Is that what the government is really doing behind closed doors?
Staffing, as a previous member mentioned, will be reduced from 664 FTEs in 2007-08 to 421 in 2009-10. Somebody, I believe it was the parliamentary secretary, mentioned earlier that there is employment insurance and so on and so forth. That is not the point. The point is these people are needed in the industry to protect producers in the public's interest. This is not just about money. This is about protection and regulations in Canadian society that are direly needed.
A recent study of the Canadian Grain Commission itself found the following issues with respect to the loss of inward inspection, and I will go through them.
First, inward weighing and inspection, that would still be required, would be less trustworthy and more expensive.
Second, the grain system would lose an important early detection system for contaminated grain. Eliminating inward inspection by public officials would increase the likelihood of contaminated grain being comingled with larger quantities of clean grain.
Third, shipments to Canadian and United States markets would lose an important level of protection against contamination. Grain shipped to those markets could bypass official inspection. That is worrisome.
Fourth, inward inspection provides quality assurance information that makes outward inspection more efficient and cost-effective.
Finally, replacing public sector inspectors with private contractors, many of whom would be reliant upon private grain companies for business, would undermine the perceived reliability of the information derived from inward inspection.
Those are comments from a recent study by the Canadian Grain Commission itself.
Now, should Canadians worry? Should we, as opposition parties, worry? Definitely, we should. But where is the government? Why is not dealing with these serious concerns?
With respect to the diminished role of the Canadian Grain Commission, the study prepared by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives found, for example, with respect to the port of Vancouver the following problem, bearing in mind that Vancouver and Prince Rupert, as of December 2007, moved almost 1.2 million tonnes of grain through its facilities:
At a typical Vancouver elevator, CGC weighers routinely process the unloading of 50-100 rail cars during a shift. Documentation on these cars, their parcels, weights, any anomalies and other relevant information is provided by the weigher to the elevator at the end of each day.
It goes on to show that their service is very important.
Let me conclude. The reason for the hoist motion that we are now supporting is really simple. Clearly, the government had ample opportunity to come forward with a bill that was amendable and made sense to primary producers. It has failed to do so.
Second, farmers are expressing their concerns about the current government. They are asking us, “Where are the government backbenchers?” “What are they doing?” “Are they trained seals or what?” “Why are they not expressing their concerns on behalf of their constituents?” They have concerns and this bill should be stopped in its tracks.
The bottom line is it is not amendable. The government has failed to do its due diligence and the opposition has a responsibility to hold the government to account. That is why we are supporting the amendment presented by the member opposite.