Mr. Speaker, the reason I am speaking to Bill C-13 is because I am very worried about the number of times the government has put Canadians at risk by reducing inspections in previous instances.
We remember the listeriosis crisis, where there were problems with 200 brands of meat. There were 20 deaths in Canada and 5,000 Canadians were affected. We also remember that in China, 300,000 people were affected by melamine.
We cannot cut inspections. Cutting inspections were related to the problems of listeriosis. Inspectors were told that they should be in the office. That is like telling the lifeguard, where we send our small children, to do his inspections from his office. It just does not work. Canadians are very concerned about it, which is why the hoist motion is before us. To reduce safety is one element of the bill, but to reduce Canada's reputation around the world is another element. Canada would incur economic losses because of that. As the previous member said, these are the comments we have received from farmers and farm organizations. They are not coming out of the blue.
We have a tremendous reputation around the world, to which I am sure some of the members on the other side would attest. When we look at the tremendous accomplishments of our agriculture and agri-food industry over the last hundred years, the Canadian grain sector stands out as a great success story.
Today, Canadian wheat, barley and other grains are known by our customers all over the world for their outstanding quality, consistency, cleanliness and innovation. Each and every year Canada's grain industry contributes over $10 billion to the Canadian economy. These dollars drive the economies of both rural and urban areas of Canada. They create and sustain jobs right through the grain production chain, from farm input suppliers, to elevators, to transporters and processors. These dollars create jobs and prosperity for Canadians at home and they support our rural areas, which contribute so much to Canada's economy.
Why in the world would we threaten our worldwide reputation with this bill? That is the concerns of farmers and farm organizations.
I will explain the transport of grain and the process of some of the prairie grains. It starts with the farmer. Often it goes to local elevators or elevators at the shipping area. When the grain arrives, it is given the inward inspection. Then it is put on the ship to go overseas. A farmer needs to have a mandatory export permit, so it has to be inspected at some time, and that is the outward inspection. This leads to the distribution of the tremendously high quality of grains around the world. Individual farmers with particularly high quality grain can receive high prices for their product. The system has for decades resulted in our tremendous safety record.
In that process, the farmers give their grains to big producers to sell. A grain shipment can be worth quarter of a million dollars. That is basically the farmer's livelihood. He might have to sell the farm and his house if, for some reason, that were lost or he did not have access to it. Therefore, a bonding system is in place. Payment for the grain shipment is therefore protected if the big producer either goes bankrupt or for some reason refuses to pay. The system has been working very well in those respects. There could be some fine tweaking, but we do not fine tweak a fragile Christmas ornament with a sledge hammer.
First, what would happen if we eliminated the bonding?
I want Conservative members to imagine giving their houses to a business or someone else for a couple of months and having to wait some time to get paid. Would they put their livelihoods, houses and everything they own into someone else's trust if they did not have protection? That is the same type of situation these grain farmers are now going to be in.
Eliminating the protection farmers have is particularly cogent in this time of recession, which. hopefully, government members would agree, puts that particular aspect of this bill in a different scenario. In this time of recession, as banks will attest, there are more bankruptcies, more inability to pay and more inability to sell products. To threaten the little guy's entire livelihood, his farm, his existence and his house by this type of accident that is prevented now and would be lost by this bill would be thought of as unconscionable by anyone in the House. This is only one example.
When the template for this bill was developed last year, the government did not follow the committee recommendations. It is shameful. When the minister spoke on the last iteration of the bill, he said, “This was what the committee recommended”. There are all sorts of instances in the bill where the government ignored the committee. I think the words in Hansard were that it showed contempt for the committee in not following the committee recommendations.
Bonding is a perfect example. The committee asked the government to study various possibilities of protecting farmers before it made any changes. Lo and behold, there was no study and no idea for protection. It just went ahead and did it, ignoring the committee's recommendation.
Removing the inward inspections would mean that Canadian grain exports to the United States may not be inspected at all, unless someone hires an inspector. Of course, this could have devastating effects both to the safety of Canadians and Americans but also to the export markets. What happens if, through this lack of inspection, a poor quality shipment goes to the United States? If we mix shipments of grain so there is no discrimination like there used to be between our high quality shipments and the lower quality shipments of the United States, we would not get high prices for that. That is the first problem.
As for the exports, those shipments must be inspected because it is mandatory by the international agreements Canada signed. What could happen is that one inspection, sometimes because of the details of analyzing the inspection results, might not occur until the ship has left the dock. What would happen when there are hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars worth of grain from many farmers on a ship? Does the ship have to return? It depends upon the type of contamination, which I will talk about later. Would the entire shipment need to be destroyed at a cost to everyone involved? All of these things would have been prevented or was far more likely to be prevented under the old system with inward inspection.
When the inspection occurs on grain coming into ports or into the local grain elevator in smaller quantities, people find out whether there is mould, glass, deer droppings or items that would make people very sick. This has some distinct advantages not only of finding it earlier and not needing to destroy hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars worth of product and finding it later mixed in a massive shipload but it also helps solve the problem for the future by protecting the grain that is not contaminated so it can be determined in a much smaller quantity where the particular shipment came from, which farm, which elevator, isolate the problem and then deal with it on a much smaller scale.
With government assistance, we can aggregate the various qualities so that a farmer with a particularly high quality of grain can get a premium price. The grain would not get mixed in and become indistinguishable in a package with a lower quality evaluation.
What could be uncovered in these type of inspections? For people who do not deal with grain directly, a number of things can get into grain. It is not so simple that the grain is always perfectly clean. In one year, 10% to 25% of the grain samples inspected had some problems. There could be 200 deer or some other animals in a field of grain. There could be rodent excrement or fertilizer pellets mixed in it. Other things that have been found are toxins, bacteria and fungi, fusarium blight, mercury, glass and ergot. Ergot is a particular example of how most people do not think wheat can be dangerous. Small quantities in bread can lead to violent muscle spasms, hallucinations and crawling sensations on the skin. It was thought that the Salem witch trials were caused because of ergot. So there can be very dangerous things in wheat that are dangerous to human health, dangerous to Canadians and Americans, and dangerous to our exports overseas. Far less important than health is the damage to our reputation if these are lost because of a lack of inspection.
The bill would lead to a lot less research by the Canadian Grain Commission. We have talked already in this Parliament incessantly about the cutting of researchers by the government. I have talked a number of times about the north's atmospheric research that has been cut close to the North Pole at the weather station. The three largest research councils in Canada have been cut as far as money for researchers. This small item is symptomatic of that. The reason we are world leaders is because we have this tremendous research capacity and the infestation labs. It is amazing that we would think of passing a bill that would cut off this great success story.
I also want to talk about another protection for farmers. At the beginning of the bill, it changes the function of the bill as to who is being protected. It suggests that it would not only protect the farmers and producers, but that it would throughout the system. The farmers' organizations have said that this would dilute the protection of the farmers themselves. I have mentioned already in a number of cases of how the small farmer, the small producer is being put at great risk by the bill, at unnecessary risk to the value and safety of his crop and to the safety of an amount of pay for his crop that could lead basically to his life savings.
Another item that would reduce the safety for farmers is the cutting back of the Grain Appeal Tribunal. When a farmer had an objection or wanted to challenge the Grain Commission inspector's report, he could appeal to the Grain Appeal Tribunal. If this bill were to proceed, this tribunal would be gone and the farmer's only recourse would be the chief grain inspector, one person. As we have noticed with the Wheat Board machinations, et cetera, that one person may actually have the Conservative government's interests at heart. In any event, I do not think any of us would want to put our entire livelihood, our family home and the family farm, at the risk of only one person. Even one person could make an innocent mistake. Also, farmers could no longer go to court. What type of natural justice would ever prevent someone from going to court, especially when the tribunal that he or she could have gone to previously has been eliminated? I do not think the farmers who have contacted our party are very happy about this lack of protection.
I want to talk a bit about some of the recommendations made by the committee.
In February 2008, during the debate on the last round of this bill, the minister said that many of the amendments to this act had come out of the work that was done at the agriculture committee, in co-operation with all parties, and that he looked forward to their support on this bill. He said that the amendments reflected the direction of both the COMPAS report and the good work done by the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food. I think nothing could be, I will not say more untruthful, but more deceiving, because, as I said earlier, many of the committee's recommendations were not followed.
What is really incomprehensible is that the person who chaired putting the report forward at the time was the Minister of Agriculture. He signed his name to a committee report that has all sorts of recommendations, some of which I mentioned and more of which I will mention until I run out of time, and then introduces a bill that does not follow those recommendations. What is even worse is that members of his party said in their speeches that the bill came from the recommendations and that one of the recommendations was that there should be a cost benefit analysis done about privatizing the inspection services before anything like that was considered. However, that was never done.
The committee, as I said earlier, suggested that before bonds were eliminated, a study be done and a report sent back to the committee on various models. It also suggested that the Grain Commission be given more money to do these types of investigations on the streamlining, not less money.
With regard to the 200 job losses, it is not just the jobs themselves. Every member here knows how bad that is but when we equate that to reduced inspections on food safety, for hundreds of thousands of people that makes it much more serious.
Because of the problems related to the lesser quality of the shipments, as I suggested earlier, those in the transport business will know there could be losses to Canadian ports. The agriculture union estimates that the protection programs that protect farmers would be slashed by 67%, the grain quality by almost 50% and the research programs by 70%.
I do not know if people realize the ramifications of this bill. For all the reasons I mentioned, it is definitely time to send this bill back to the drawing board.