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House of Commons Hansard #8 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was jobs.

Topics

The EconomyGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, as the member knows, the finance minister said in his speech on the budget that balancing the nation's books will not come at the expense of pensioners or by raising taxes on hard-working Canadians. That simply is not true.

We have a situation where employment insurance premiums will be going up 9%. The chief government whip said that we have to keep the EI fund balanced.

The government is also imposing a 31.5% tax on income trusts. That is a tax, yet the government says it is not raising taxes. That will hurt pensioners.

The government is also imposing a travellers tax, which the chief government whip said today is just a user fee, not a tax. Canadians understand what a tax is. It is money out of their pockets at a time when they can least afford it.

Does the hon. member believe that the government has not demonstrated accountability and that we cannot believe what the government members say?

The EconomyGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

Liberal

John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

There is a major difference, Mr. Speaker, between what one does and what one says.

As my hon. friend has pointed out, the Conservatives are raising EI premiums, are raising security taxes, are raising taxes on income trusts, while at the same time talking this great line about how they are bringing down taxes and all the rest of the stuff. Interestingly, the so-called tax savings are a rough equivalent to the cuts to the CIDA program.

We have a very immature dialogue in this House. We cannot utter the T-word. The parliamentary secretary is about to get up and give a long speech about everything except raising taxes, because the Conservatives are not prepared to come to grips with reality. That is why this plan is a fiction plan. The Conservatives will not deal with the revenue base. They will not deal with the expenditures base. Their projections on the economy are fanciful at best.

I close with saying this plan is a non-plan, in part because the Conservatives have dug themselves into a real mess. They cannot even talk about what they should do.

The EconomyGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Macleod Alberta

Conservative

Ted Menzies ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague from Scarborough—Guildwood for that fine introduction. I know he is waiting with bated breath to see how we actually reflect on this motion.

I was just reading this motion. This is a motion that was put before the House on March 4, before the budget was tabled. I will read the part of it:

....while Canada is starting to recover from the global economic recession, the recovery is tentative and uncertain and the number one priority of Canadians remains jobs and economic growth, now and for the future.

I have been listening closely to some of the speeches today and that has been left out of many of the speeches, which I find very troubling. As we all know, later that day in this very House, the budget document was tabled, and its title is “Leading the Way on Jobs and Growth”. That is more than just ironic; that is a reflection of what this government believes is the number one priority for Canadians. I would encourage all members to remember that.

We were elected to represent our constituents, those who have jobs, those who want to have jobs, and those who have lost their jobs. That is why we are building economic growth, to make sure that the corporations are a fundamental part of this economy. As much as the NDP talks down our businesses, our corporations, it is they that create jobs.

The government's role is not to create jobs. It never has been and never should be. The government's role is to create an environment where corporations can prosper and they create the jobs. That is the fundamental difference between this party and at least the NDP. Sometimes the Liberals actually recognize that and we appreciate that.

Let us refer to the budget document, “Leading the Way on Jobs and Growth”. First of all, we reminded Canadians of our promise in the first year of the economic action plan, and that was to stimulate the economy. That was with taxpayers' money. We were very prudent with that money. It was spread out across this country equally to make sure that jobs were created.

As I said, that was our number one priority, to make sure that as few Canadians as possible actually lost their jobs. However, those who did would actually have a chance at being able to sustain their families until they got another job. We extended EI. We put in another very important piece in that puzzle and that was work sharing.

As the finance minister and I travelled across the country in prebudget consultations, we heard from many firms that said they were seriously considering closing doors on some of their plants until they looked at the work-sharing opportunity. They kept those plants open and people's jobs were saved. Some of those plants are now back up to speed with full employment.

February's job numbers were released this morning and there is good news. We are not out of the woods but there are 21,000 new jobs. The February figures show gains of more than 60,000 in full-time jobs. That is exactly what our economic action plan year one was meant to do.

Now we are into year two. In year two we are going to continue with what we promised in the first year, and that is $19 billion in new stimulus to provide and create jobs. The other thing that we have said we are going to do and which was laid out in the budget document is we will be providing a limited number of targeted measures, once again to build jobs.

Phase three is about planning to return to budgetary balance. My constituents were more than thrilled to hear that.

My constituents are very conservative and most of them were troubled when we had to go into a deficit, but they understood that Canadians were losing their jobs, that it was very important that we step forward and made sure that the impact was as minimal as it could be on those people who lost their jobs. Now they are asking us and pleading with us to please get back to balance so that we do not pass on a deficit to our children and grandchildren.

Budget 2010 creates and protects jobs through these proposals. As I say, our work-sharing program is very successful. To date 225,000 jobs have been maintained because it was possible to share them with other workers.

We are supporting young workers through our internship and skills development program. That is one of the few things the Liberals raised as an issue. We listened to them. The finance minister and I sat down with the finance critics of all three parties and listened intently to what they had to offer. A good suggestion from the Liberals was to not forget youth employment. Therefore, we put in place a program for youth internship and skills development.

Innovation and training, education and research and development to create the jobs of tomorrow is what our future depends on. That is what our young people in university right now need to know, that the government is there to provide incentives for innovation so there will be new jobs in the future.

Another important item that we cannot forget, and on which we find the NDP members lacking in comprehension, is how keeping taxes low benefits jobs. Low taxes encourage growth and make us more competitive.

We will see that in the small and medium enterprises across this country. We have lowered the taxation level for small and medium size businesses. Once again in our cross-country consultations, we heard back from these small corporations, the mom and pop industries that employ most Canadians, that the money we left in their pockets allowed them to reinvest in their businesses and create more jobs.

As I referred to in an earlier speech, one of the items whose value many people are underestimating is tariff elimination. We started that step in budget 2009 on a select number of tariffs. That was so successful that we have put in place a plan to eliminate all import tariffs on machinery and equipment, on the goods that will be used to manufacture further goods.

That makes this country the first tariff free zone in the G20. To me, that is ground breaking. There are many countries that have tariff free zones in cities. In this country the entire country will be a tariff free zone.

Of course, we will be winding down our extraordinary stimulus measures. That is a necessary part of our plan but we will be restraining growth of spending as well. We have special targeted measures to do that, and that is very important to Canadians.

To do that we will be launching a comprehensive review of government spending, administration and overhead. Many Canadians have had to cut back in their own lives, so it is only fair that the government, which uses taxpayers' money, does exactly the same thing and does it prudently.

As a result of that, by the end of the second year of our economic action plan, we will see our deficit cut in half. That should make Canadians proud of what their government is doing. They have asked us to do that and we have put in place a plan to do that. In year three, we will have cut that deficit by two-thirds.

The most important thing to note, as reflected in the earlier question by the member for Cariboo—Prince George to the opposition on how it had balanced the budget when it was in power as the former Liberal government, is that it did so on the backs of Canadians. It cut health transfers. It cut social transfers. It cut foreign aid.

We will not do that and I will reaffirm that we will not raise taxes.

We heard the job numbers and have reflected on them, and I believe I answered a question to that effect during question period. This puts us now at 160,000 net new jobs through the impact of our economic action plan. There were 225,000 jobs saved through work sharing. We have already committed 90% of the 2010-11 funding for specific projects, and we will see those roll out as we travel back to our ridings every weekend. As we get back into construction season, we will see the beginnings of these projects and more and more people back to work, more of the 16,000 jobs that will be created through these infrastructure projects.

Returning momentarily to tax cuts, the opposition seems to think that all of the tax reductions this government has put in place are for corporations, whereas in fact $3 billion of those tax cuts stay in people's pockets, because they are tax cuts for individual Canadians. It is very important, when people's jobs are in jeopardy, to leave more money in their own pockets. We helped families purchase and renovate their homes with $3 billion in tax relief to do that. Of course, there is also our famous and well advertised home renovation tax credit, advertised not just by government but also by the corporations that were actually receiving the benefits and the people who enjoyed them. That was a resounding success. We even had people in the House of Commons who had voted against it come back and ask us to renew it. However, this government keeps its promises. We said it was a one-year program and after one year we ended it, just like we will end the deficit, temporary and targeted.

Let us talk about how the $19 billion is divided up. There is $3.2 billion in personal income tax relief, and $4 billion directly for retraining and worker support, enhancing EI benefits and training opportunities to transition workers from their current challenges toward future prosperity. There is $7.7 billion for infrastructure to create jobs. There is that jobs word again. It is what we are focusing on, as well as modernizing infrastructure, supporting home ownership, and stimulating and improving housing all across this country.

There is also $1.9 billion for research and development. That is for the jobs of the future. Once again we are focusing on jobs, attracting talent, strengthening research capacity, improving commercialization, which is another topic we heard of in many of our cross country consultations. There is basic research development money, but we need money for commercialization to take it from the bench model to the actual product. We recognize that and are increasing funding for it.

There is also targeted support for industries and communities of $2.2 billion, helping create and maintain jobs in sectors like the forest industry. We listened to what the Bloc was concerned about. Quebec has a large forestry sector. The Bloc members asked us to put in a fuel system based on forest products. We put money in the budget specifically for that to help the industries, not just in Quebec, but it is certainly reflective of those industries in Quebec.

We are also supporting workers by investing $100 million to extend the maximum length of the work-sharing agreements, and are helping young workers, offering $100 million to support them. These are just a few of the budget items.

I want to change gears, Mr. Speaker. You listened to questions all through question period and I am sure you are also wondering about some of the questions that have come up, and some of the false accusations suggesting that we have done nothing on pensions. I have been deeply involved personally on the pension issue across this country. It is disappointing and unfortunate that the opposition has been misleading the House about what has been done. As I said today, we welcome opposition members to the file. It has been going on much longer than they recognize.

Opposition members are misleading Canadians when they refer to overall pensions as being a federal jurisdiction. If they had spent more time seriously listening to people, they would realize that only about 7% of private pension plans across this country are actually federally regulated.

The finance minister saw the concerns and the issues in unfunded, insolvent pension plans. In the one question I did get about pensions, I reflected on the fact that some corporations were in jeopardy of failing because of their unfunded or insolvent pension plans. The finance minister stepped in personally in those situations to save the pensions of hundreds of thousands of Canadians and, in fact, may have saved some Canadian corporations.

For anyone to suggest that we have not been active in the retirement income adequacy of seniors is very misguided. I would actually challenge opposition members. I will give them a little assistance here. I will repeat some of the changes that we made to the federally regulated private pension plans but I would be quite surprised if any one of them has actually taken note of what we did to protect pensions.

On October 27, we put in place a regulatory framework to enhance the protections for plan members, reduce funding volatility for defined benefit plans, make it easier for participants to negotiate changes to their pension arrangements, improve the framework for defined and negotiated contribution plans and modernize the rules for investments.

Some of these old, antiquated rules on pension funds were very much outdated. I will give one simple example. Pension funds could not issue a statement to the plan members electronically. It had to be by letter. We can imagine the cost of that today, when it is so simple to do it electronically. Those are some of the simple things that we changed.

We put in place an opportunity going forward for these large funds to, in a tax-protected position, overfund their solvency. They can have up to 125% of their immediate requirements to pay out to their plan members. This was not available before and many of our plan sponsors told me that they wanted the opportunity to tax protect a surplus so that when we get into times like we did in late 2007 and 2008, they actually stay in a solvent position much longer and they are able to meet their commitment.

The Liberals have put forward some vague ideas about improvements to retirement income and they asked us to move on these immediately. One is a suggested change to the Canada pension plan. If they had taken the time to even look at it, they would have realized that the Canada pension plan is a joint jurisdiction with the provinces.

We are communicating and working with the provinces. We held a summit with the finance ministers in Whitehorse to discuss the federally regulated private pension plans and, in going forward, how to address the issues of retirement income adequacy for all seniors.

However, the opposition would have us unilaterally interfere with provincial jurisdiction and make changes to the Canada pension plan without even communicating.

I see that I am running out of time here, which is most unfortunate. I was only getting started on the pension issue and, Mr. Speaker, I know that for you and I, with the little grey hair that we have, it will be a very serious issue soon, but I will give a bit of a summation.

We will be continuing this consultation process with the provinces, which is the appropriate way to do it, in joint jurisdiction with the provinces, and we will be hosting another summit with the finance ministers' meeting in May, the culmination of our work and the culmination of the work that the provinces are doing.

It is very important that we protect these pensions because seniors have contributed immensely to the structure of this country. We owe it to them to ensure they have a good retirement.

There are many more things I would like to talk about. I have a whole list of quotes I would really love to get on the record.

We have had some comments today about our Parliamentary Budget Office saying that our budget was not prudent. I hope that I was clear in my answer today. The Parliamentary Budget Office is not being critical of the finance minister, it is being critical of some of the top economists in Canada. Those are the economists who represent the strongest financial institutions in the world, not just in the country. The Parliamentary Budget Officer should perhaps consult a little closer with his economic colleagues in those departments. He might come back and suggest that indeed those numbers are very prudent.

The EconomyGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

Liberal

John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member is trying to put lipstick on a pig here. The government is running a deficit in the first three years, which will well exceed $100 billion. He is basically saying, “What a good boy am I”.

The hon. member presents his so-called economic action plan, and says it is a wonderful thing, and explains how we are going to get out of it. Of course, those who might be a little but more objective about this, such as the Parliamentary Budget Officer, say that essentially the government's plan is not costed well and it has a structural deficit.

He refuses to acknowledge it and is unwilling to address the actual underlying differences between what the government projects as its expenditures and what it will receive as revenue.

Then the Conservatives compound the difficulties of their fiction plan with a $17.5 billion so-called savings measure, which on both the face of it and in the disproportionality of it seems to orient itself to saving money out of CIDA but not out of any other program. The defence department is easily Canada's largest program, and its contribution is less than $2.5 billion over the five years. Yet, CIDA's is $4.5 billion over the same five years.

I wonder if the hon. member can tell the House this. What kind of a statement does this make about the government, that its so-called expected savings are more than twice as high out of official development assistance than they are out of defence? In proportionate terms, that is a 2% contribution from defence as opposed to a 20% to 25% contribution from foreign aid. What does that say about the government?

The EconomyGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

Conservative

Ted Menzies Conservative Macleod, AB

Mr. Speaker, I know the hon. member for Scarborough—Guildwood is very passionate about development. I do appreciate the pretense of his question, but his numbers are pretty bad, to be blunt.

I will refer back to a question posed to him by the hon. member for Cariboo—Prince George, which I do not think he quite answered earlier today. It was this. Why was the hon. member criticizing a doubling of aid from $2.5 billion in 2001? We have doubled it with our contribution of $364 million in this budget. We have doubled aid, the assistance that is going throughout the world. The former Liberal government cut it almost in half.

The Progressive Conservative government, previous to that Liberal government, had official development assistance, which we refer to as ODA, at the highest level in Canadian history. Not only did it balance its books on the backs of health transfers to provinces, social transfers to provinces, but the aid transfers to the rest of the world.

The world has stepped forward and recognized that we have doubled aid to the entire world. We beat our commitment to double aid to Africa. We are doing that in a credible manner, through targeted aid.

I see you want me to stop there, Mr. Speaker. I would love to continue talking about this, but thank you for the time.

The EconomyGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

There are six minutes remaining in the time allotted for questions and comments on the hon. member's speech. When the matter next comes before the House, he can enjoy the six minutes.

It being 1:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

AgriculturePrivate Members' Business

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

Bev Shipley Conservative Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, ON

moved:

That, in the opinion of the House, the government should ensure that production management tools available to Canadian farmers are similar to those of other national jurisdictions by considering equivalent scientific research and agricultural regulatory approval processes by Health Canada, the Pest Management Regulatory Agency, and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

Mr. Speaker, I am thankful for the opportunity to speak to my private member's Motion No. 460, which seeks the support of the House to level the playing field for Canadian agricultural producers with those they compete with around the world.

I want to thank my colleagues, the hon. Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and the Minister of Health, as well as department officials at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the Pest Management Regulatory Agency for their support of my motion.

I am a farmer, a profession and career I chose, and a choice I am very proud of. It is a profession that provides to all people, not just some, an essential of life. That essential is food.

As a farmer representing a rural area in a riding in southern Ontario, the riding of Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, the issue my motion addresses is significant and an important one not just for producers in my riding but as I have researched this issue, consulted with stakeholders and groups and sought information from government agencies and departments, it concludes and confirms to me that the issue is a long outstanding one. It is one that is continually hurting the competitiveness of Canadian producers from the west to the east.

This would apply to agriculture management tools which would include: fertilizers, seeds, feeds, veterinary medicines and vaccines that are regulated by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. It would also include pesticides governed by the Pest Management Regulatory Agency, which is part of Health Canada.

To illustrate the problem, let me give an example. I will use the United States as a comparative country since our producers are most affected by it because it is the largest trading partner and where most or many manufacturers licence their products.

A manufacturer in the United States develops a new agriculture management tool. This tool is a product which will improve the health, quality, yield and competitiveness for producers in the United States, the very people that our producers in Canada must compete with for market share.

The United States has its own set of licensing and regulatory requirements, and so the company invests hundreds of thousands and sometimes even millions of dollars in scientific research in order to licence and register this product. The costs associated with the development of the independent science for licensing purposes is borne by the company and the decision to apply for the licensing and regulation of a product is usually made on the basis of a business case and would normally be one which justifies the expenditures.

In Canada, our producers look at this new production management tool and tell us that in order to be competitive in a global marketplace we need access to these same products. Then our producers tell this company that they want to be able to buy its product as well.

Unfortunately, in many cases our regulatory and licensing process tells the company that in order to licence and sell its product in Canada for the benefit of Canadian producers, it has to invest the same hundreds of thousands and in some cases even millions of dollars to redo the same science, collect the same data, and do the same research in Canada that it just did in the United States.

This most often results in the applicant choosing not to seek licensing in Canada. That is because the manufacturing company looks at the size of the Canadian market, which represents approximately 3% of the global market. Our market is just not large enough to make a good business case to justify the expense of duplicating the science. As a result, Canadian producers cannot get the product and they are put at a competitive disadvantage against those producers in the United States who they have to compete with in a global marketplace.

Even if a company does proceed through the licensing process, Canadian producers can still expect a very long wait for the product. In fact, our decision-making process can take up to at least 24 months which involves multiple production cycles in many cases and, as a result, significant lost income.

Ironically and most importantly, Canadians need to know that produce and commodities being imported into Canada, sitting on Canadian grocery shelves for consumption by Canadian families, most likely have been treated with these exact same products which are not licensed for the use by Canadian producers.

They have already undergone the research. They have been deemed safe by independent analysis. They have been licensed for use based on science, and as we know science does not change at the border.

I ask the House to join with me in supporting my motion which will enhance the competitiveness of Canadian producers by providing them with access to production management tools they cannot currently access and by shortening the length of time it takes for an applicant to have a product licensed in Canada.

The way my motion proposes to do this is by considering whenever and wherever possible harmonizing our regulatory and licensing processes with other jurisdictions by utilizing equivalent scientific research provided the product not only meets but in most cases exceeds Canadian standards and does not in any way compromise our Canadian standards.

Simply put, agriculture inputs are production management tools that improve the yield, the health and/or the quality of agriculture commodities. The fact that these production management tools must be regulated and licensed is a good thing and nothing in my motion diminishes that process in any way.

In particular, I want to note that the products I am referring to target the improvement of health, safety and the environment.

I have had many discussions about this issue with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Health Canada's Pest Management Regulatory Agency. They know and understand the concern. I believe that they have been diligent in trying to address this issue on a number of fronts, including an initiative called enhancing access to pest management tools.

The idea behind enhancing access is to build on international regulatory co-operation efforts and maximize the use of scientific assessment and data that support regulatory decisions taken in other countries to register new pesticides in Canada. That is a good idea.

One of the first efforts under that program was a series of grower-requested priority reviews, sometimes referred to as project 914. These reviews were conducted on products identified by the Canadian Horticultural Council as being high priorities for Canadian growers. These U.S. registered pesticides were assessed using primarily United States environmental protection act data, evaluation reports from recent registration or re-registration decisions. I applaud these initiatives.

I also know they have been conducting meetings with government bodies in other countries, with individual manufacturers and their representative organizations, and with Canadian stakeholder groups. Again, I commend them for all these good efforts.

However, there exists a significant technical gap where most manufacturers focus on larger international markets and not seek registration for their products in Canada. These are business decisions in part, but they are also influenced by the uncertainty resulting from perceived or actual differences between Canadian, U.S. and other country regulatory systems for pesticides.

My motion seeks to bridge this technical gap by paralleling our scientific and data evaluation for our licensing process from one that some view as arbitrary to one which provides a clear direction, as expressed by the will of the House that we should, in all relevant cases, utilize the scientific research that has already been independently conducted for these products. This process should apply to new products as well as existing ones.

As a government, I believe we have an obligation, wherever and wherever possible, to establish a framework that puts Canadians on equal footing with those we have to compete with in the marketplace.

In order to do that, my motion simply says that we should be able to use the same scientific research and data used to license a product developed in other jurisdictions in order to license a product in Canada provided we do not compromise any Canadian standards. My motion reads as follows:

That, in the opinion of the House, the government should ensure that production management tools available to Canadian farmers are similar to those of other national jurisdictions by considering equivalent scientific research and agricultural regulatory approval processes by Health Canada, the Pest Management Regulatory Agency, and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

In summary, with respect to my motion, the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, the Minister of Health and departmental officials at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the Pest Management Regulatory Agency support my motion for these reasons.

First, it would not in any way change, diminish, modify or compromise Canadian standards. However, it does seek to end an unnecessary duplication in the evaluation of scientific data and thereby expedite the licensing of production management tools for Canadian farmers.

Second, it would allow Canada to develop a parallel licensing process that would be more effective and more efficient.

Third, it expresses the will of the House to federal departments and agencies that they need not reinvent the wheel by requiring the duplication of scientific research and data when considering the licensing of production management tools.

Fourth, it says to Canadian farmers that, as a Parliament, we are on their side and we want them to be able to compete on equal footing with the rest of the world in a global marketplace.

Fifth, it says to the applicant also that we can expedite the licensing of products, and this is a win-win situation not only for the applicant but for Canadian producers.

Sixth, it would not in any way affect Canada's sovereign right to make our own decisions.

I say, in all sincerity for members of the House, this is the right thing to do. I seek the support of the House to adopt my Motion No. 460.

AgriculturePrivate Members' Business

1:45 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased the member put forward this motion. I agree very much with his summary.

Does the motion require any legislative changes in order to get the job done? Health Canada and two agencies, PMRA under Health Canada and CFIA under Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, are involved.

Does the motion require any legislative change that would force the government to do what he wants to do? He is a backbencher in the government, and I do not trust the government. Any time the government says it will do something, it really does not do it. What is here to pressure the government to do what the member wants it to do? We know the minister has said he is putting farmers first, but he has never done it. What is here to force the government to do what the member is asking?

AgriculturePrivate Members' Business

1:45 p.m.

Conservative

Bev Shipley Conservative Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, ON

Mr. Speaker, my colleague from Malpeque and I sit on the ag committee together. Though we do not always agree on the approach, in the end, we agree there needs to be as much done in a co-operative manner on how we can get to the end to help our farmers be productive and competitive in a world market.

This motion does not require legislative or regulatory changes from those ministries at this time. However, it would allow us to continue, with the support of Parliament, to give the support to those agencies and ministries, to move ahead at a faster rate, to help promote the process we have in place through this motion and to help address the issues I have talked about in terms of competitiveness.

Why did this come forward? Quite honestly, I have farmed all my life. It was an issue when I started farming and it is still an issue right now. We can do something about those competitive issues very quickly and easily. I appreciate the support, I hope, of my colleague from Malpeque.

AgriculturePrivate Members' Business

1:45 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate the member for Lambton—Kent—Middlesex for bringing forward Motion No. 460. I know he has consulted widely on this, but can he tell us whether the Dairy Farmers of Canada support this motion at this time?

AgriculturePrivate Members' Business

1:45 p.m.

Conservative

Bev Shipley Conservative Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, ON

Mr. Speaker, we have done consultations for almost seven or eight months now. Quite honestly, there has not been any agriculture commodity group or organization that does not support it.

I was in dairy as part of my profession. We are talking about veterinary medications. We are talking about pesticides and insecticides. All those things have been affected by our lack of ability to move through a system and still protect the Canadian standards in a way that as agriculture producers need to have. It is about the duplicating process.

This is about being able to develop a parallel system in which we can expedite and approve products that are used by our competitors and that we need to use in this country to be competitive in a world market.

AgriculturePrivate Members' Business

1:50 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the motion by the member for Lambton—Kent—Middlesex and I support it. I will repeat the motion so it is on the record again:

That, in the opinion of the House, the government should ensure that production management tools available to Canadian farmers are similar to those of other national jurisdictions by considering equivalent scientific research and agricultural regulatory approval processes by Health Canada, the Pest Management Regulatory Agency, and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

I support the motion, but it should be understood that the motion does not really change anything. On the positive side, it might give a little more impetus to moving it a little faster to some equivalency, especially with the United States in terms of not total harmonization, because we have to protect our sovereignty as well, but to more harmonization in areas that make sense and that would allow our producers to be more competitive.

As I said, it might move it along. The motion only asks the government to do something. When the House asks the government to do something, the government does not listen very well. The record is, when the House is really strenuous, forceful and taking on a very serious issue, the Prime Minister might just close the place down. We have to recognize this is the reality of the world. This is only a motion, coming from one of the Conservatives' own backbench members, almost pleading with the government to do something, and I can understand that.

Today the chief government whip got up in the House on debate on the budget. When he was asked a question about why there was not a dime for primary producers in the budget, he bragged about there being a little over 100 rural members. That is a wonderful thing, but they are 100 rural members in the backbenches who are not listened to. When they suggest something is falling on deaf ears, that does not do anything for rural Canada. My point is this is a motion and while it is important and I support it, we really need something that will force the government's hand to actually move.

I certainly congratulate the member for Lambton—Kent—Middlesex for providing some leadership on this issue because leadership has been absolutely lacking from the minister. At least we are getting a little leadership from the backbench. Maybe we are getting none from the front bench, but we are getting a little leadership from the backbench and that is a good thing.

What would the motion do? The intent of the motion is to allow Canadian authorities to approve products already used in other countries if their regulatory process and their research methods to produce the data are deemed equivalent to those of the Canadian system. That is a very important point because we need that to happen.

As the member explained, and I will give a little summary of what he said, we have all kinds of instances where a Canadian producer is producing Canadian products. However, because maybe our regulatory system is slower sometimes, maybe the applications have not come in from the companies, or for whatever reason, the product, whether it is a pesticide, a herbicide a veterinarian medicine or whatever it may be, has not been approved in Canada. I believe there is a production plant in the member's riding.

Sometimes these products are even produced in Canada and may be more effective and cheaper. They are for sale in the United States but one cannot buy them as a Canadian producer and they may make that producer more competitive. Therefore, we are waiting for a regulatory system to move and approve the product but while we are waiting our producers are actually in a non-competitive position.

This is something that the government could move on very rapidly in other ways. The interesting thing is that the food, whether it is a crop or whether it is an animal product, produced with using that herbicide, pesticide or veterinarian medicine that is not allowed in Canada because it is not approved but is allowed in the United States, ends up on Canadian grocery store shelves and Canadian consumers consume them and our producers are not competitive. It just does not make sense.

That is just a summary of what this motion would really do to help Canadian farmers if the government listens to the member's motion and does something.

If the truth be known, the move toward bringing some equivalency and assisting our farmers in being competitive has been a long time coming. It started as long ago as 2002 when the global joint review was brought in by the PMRA, Pest Management Regulatory Agency.

We have had many battles, as the member knows, with PMRA at the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food trying to convince it to get rid of the backlog, get products approved and through the system so that they are available to producers.

However, I will say, in fairness to Health Canada and the PMRA, that I think they are getting rid of the backlog. I do not know if it is completely gone but they have moved some distance in getting rid of that backlog. I congratulate them on that.

What really needs to be done? Pesticides, herbicides and veterinarian drugs that are available in the United States really need to be available for Canadian farmers on a competitive basis.

I do not believe the member mentioned the whole area of seeds, seed registration, fertilizers and so on. Although we like to think we are the bread basket of the world, and we are great producers and efficient producers of high quality products, when a big company is looking at producing a seed, a herbicide or a chemical, it tends to produce it where the big mass market is which is often the central and western United States. A big company is not willing to invest money in research to get into a smaller market like Canada.

What this motion would do, if the government moved on it, is put our producers at a more competitive advantage. As a result, it would not put the companies through the same huge costs in order to register a product in this country, which would be a good thing.

A number of other things could be done and I want to mention a couple beyond this motion. CFIA needs more inspectors. One of the problems that is not allowing our producers to be competitive is that the products that come in from all over the world do not meet the same requirements that Canadian producers must meet but it ends up on our grocery store shelves. The government needs to spend money to hire inspectors to ensure that products that come in here do not disadvantage Canadian producers and come in under the same standards as Canadian producers must meet.

It is the same in terms of security measures that are being imposed on our Canadian agriculture retailers. We are imposing a cost on them that is actually paid for by the Americans in terms of their fertilizer and chemical suppliers. Those costs go back down to primary producers. The government could be doing the same as the U.S. and paying those costs.

The government could be doing a number of things beyond this motion. My only problem with the motion is that there is no way of forcing the government's hand. To date, without the Conservatives' hand being forced, they have absolutely failed the farm community. It is a good motion but their failure speaks for itself.

AgriculturePrivate Members' Business

2 p.m.

Bloc

Roger Pomerleau Bloc Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member for Lambton—Kent—Middlesex has introduced Motion M-460, which reads as follows:

That, in the opinion of the House, the government should ensure that production management tools available to Canadian farmers are similar to those of other national jurisdictions by considering equivalent scientific research and agricultural regulatory approval processes by Health Canada, the Pest Management Regulatory Agency, and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

The Bloc Québécois does not support this motion.

The Bloc Québécois agrees with the principle underlying the motion, which aims to avoid duplication and to harmonize the registration process, which could be done without violating Canadian standards, in order to promote the competitiveness of Canadian farmers. That is the intention.

However, given that the issue has been presented in the form of a motion and we must vote strictly on its wording, the Bloc Québécois must oppose it, because compliance with Canadian standards is not explicitly mentioned in the wording of the motion, and the member refuses to amend it in order to include a guarantee that Canada will not lower its standards. Furthermore, the vocabulary used is too vague and the motion itself leaves room for interpretation.

Parliamentarians were given a briefing session yesterday to give us the opportunity to ask questions of representatives of Health Canada, the Pest Management Regulatory Agency and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

It was strange that the briefing session was held the day before our debate on the motion, especially since the member did not really provide us with adequate information to allow us to offer an informed opinion.

It was even more unusual that the representatives—there were 15 of them—from the various agencies had prepared such a session for a simple private members' motion, rather than a bill.

The problem is that the motion is very broad and offers no reassurance regarding full compliance with Canadian standards. The motion leaves room for interpretation. We wish to avoid supporting the potential misuse of a motion passed by Parliament.

The member for Lambton—Kent—Middlesex is motivated by the competitiveness of Canadian farmers, who must compete against foreign producers who have access to commercial agricultural products that are banned in Canada.

The member claims that this motion is the result of consultations with many farming organizations and research into scientific procedures.

The problem is that the member has not provided any information about this research or consultation to the parliamentarians who must vote on the motion. Hence, they must do their own research and trust the member's motives in order to understand the intention behind this motion.

All the documents sent to parliamentarians by the hon. member indicate that the suggested harmonization process will be undertaken while respecting Canadian standards. That is true.

In a memorandum that we received, the Library of Parliament indicated that the purpose of this motion is to improve the competitiveness of Canadian producers by allowing them to use commercial agricultural products similar to those used by producers in competing countries, while respecting Canadian standards.

The following very clear statement is found on the website of the hon. member who is moving the motion:

I am requesting through my motion that we consider using the equivalent scientific research and agricultural regulatory approval processes of other trading nations, provided that the results are consistent with Canadian standards.

The intention is very clearly stated on his website, but there is no mention of it in the motion.

The problem raised is that, although there is a desire to protect Canadian standards and to establish equivalent processes, this is not clearly and explicitly stated in the motion. In addition, the creation of equivalent processes consistent with Canadian standards must be better documented in order to prove that any differences in the two systems, although deemed to be equivalent, do not circumvent Canadian standards.

Approval and marketing of production management tools is a highly complex matter that involves a number of laws and a number of different sectors including international trade, the environment, agriculture, research and development, and scientific and business ethics, etc. There are quite a few aspects to study and consider.

The consequences of a motion that is too vague and open-ended could be quite serious for the long-term health of humans and animals and even for the environment. It is odd to choose to take such important steps by presenting a simple motion that, on top of everything else, contains extremely vague terms.

A number of laws would have to be changed in order to make this motion effective: the Pest Control Products Act, the Food and Drugs Act, the Feeds Act, the Fertilizers Act, and many others.

If the hon. member for Lambton—Kent—Middlesex were serious about his harmonization plan, he should have worked together with officials and law clerks in order to deliver a real bill that would clarify the process standards and the real consequences of his request. We could have worked with that.

The problem is that, because he is simply moving a motion, parliamentarians have to make their decision based on the information available at time the motion is moved since, unlike a bill, the motion will not be debated in committee with the expertise of witnesses. What is more, the opposition parties have no opportunity to amend the motion.

The decision has to be made based on the parliamentarians' interpretation of the motion, as they look at the original wording.

The purpose of harmonizing the standards and rules for the analysis and approval of certain agricultural inputs, what we call production management tools, is far from being something new. In fact, with the creation of the Pest Management Regulatory Agency, the PMRA, NAFTA set up a technical working group on pesticides in order to harmonize the regulatory process for this type of product.

In 2000, the parliamentary Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development studied the issue of pesticides, their approval and their trade. The committee's report is very interesting.

It sheds light on the positive points of harmonizing approval standards, namely, and a few have already been mentioned: greater coordination of the pesticide approval process, elimination of trade barriers, a common labelling system, and competitive access to products that are manufactured on both sides of the border or in a number of locations.

In committee, most witnesses agreed that harmonization would make the process far more efficient, thereby improving the productivity of farmers in general and our farmers in particular.

However, a number of experts told the committee that harmonization could have a negative impact by weakening standards overall.

For example, Dr. Kelly Martin of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment said:

To me harmonization has great merit. It is sharing information. Why are we re-inventing the wheel? I think harmonization in fact is pushing us in risk assessment upward. I think, in general, it probably pushes us upward... Of course Americans will always have a bigger weight. So if we think we want something greater than they have, it will take a lot of political will to do that.

Here is one last point to consider: even though many witnesses supported harmonization, most of them feared that the process could result in less rigorous Canadian standards. Some standards could even end up being eliminated. That is the Bloc Québécois' number one concern.

This is what the committee recommended:

The Committee recommends that a clause be added in the operative sections of the new Pest Control Act requiring that protection of human health and the environment according to the precautionary principle be the sole objective of any action to harmonize Canadian standards with those of other countries, and that such standards not be weakened in any way.

With the precautionary principle in mind, the Bloc Québécois will not support this motion.

AgriculturePrivate Members' Business

2:10 p.m.

NDP

Alex Atamanenko NDP British Columbia Southern Interior, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to say a few words with respect to Motion No. 460 brought forward by the hon. member for Lambton—Kent—Middlesex. As members may or may not know, we sit on the agriculture committee together, and I know that he is a champion for farmers and agriculture.

It is no secret that Canadian farmers often experience frustration at not being able to have access to the latest technology the way their competitors do. Therefore, the intent of this motion is correct. However, in its present wording it is vague and does not underline the fact that any harmonization of production management tools must meet Canadian standards.

In speaking with the hon. member, I am assured that the intent is there. However, it is not reflected in the wording of the motion. It could potentially see products available in Canada that do not meet our standards. In other words, I believe that applying a precautionary principle here would be a prudent approach that should be taken.

As it stands today, equivalent research is already being considered in our scientific and agricultural regulatory approval processes. This does not mean, however, that such research will always satisfy all of our safety criteria. The federal government should not be given a formal blessing by Parliament to relax our economy in this regard.

According to the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, CFA, there currently exists a pesticide technology gap, which has a significant impact on the competitiveness of Canadian producers. This is largely a result of one key factor: pesticide companies often do not see the economic value in registering products in the smaller Canadian market. According to the CFA, there are ways of addressing this inequality.

The Pest Management Regulatory Agency, PMRA, must continue to harmonize its practices with other countries and encourage pesticide companies to enter into joint or multinational review processes. The PMRA must also continue to modernize the review process so it can increase the reliance of acceptable foreign reviews to make the pesticide registration process as efficient and fast as possible, while maintaining high Canadian standards for health and safety. This wording does not appear in Motion No. 460. Also, maximum residue limits need to be harmonized at a faster rate to ensure that the required pesticide products are registered and trade irritants are eliminated.

The CFA also emphasizes that in addition to the availability of products, the other issue facing farmers is the price of these products. The fact remains that producers continue to pay up to 60% more than their American competitors for pesticide products. This needs to be corrected if Canadian producers are to have a level playing field.

The PMRA is now in the process of finalizing regulations that will outline the process for registering generic pesticide products in Canada. It is important for Canadian farmers to gain access to these important pesticide products.

My understanding is that the current system needs some fine-tuning to streamline the process. For example, as of last September there were something like 55 to 60 generic product applications still under review by the PMRA. Some of these have been there for several years. There is a need to ensure that as many of these products as possible are registered in time for the 2010 growing season, which as we all know is just around the corner.

The current grower requested own use import program was developed to assist Canadian producers to access the same products as American producers. Canadian farm organizations, such as the Canadian Horticultural Council, act as a nomination committee to propose pesticide products that should enter into this program. Farmers can purchase approved products in the U.S., apply a Canadian label to them, and bring them into Canada. Unfortunately, this program has not been as successful as hoped for because the rules that restrict the eligibility of products have made it difficult to get useful and important pesticides on this list.

Motion M-460 is about recognizing as equivalent to our own the scientific research and regulatory approval processes of Canada's principal trading partners, such as the United States, for products used in the agriculture sector.

I understand that the purpose of the motion is to make Canadian farmers more competitive by giving them access to commercial agricultural products similar to those used by producers in competing countries, subject to Canadian standards. However, the motion as written does not mention that last part.

It seems to me that the purpose of the motion is to enable Canadian authorities to approve products used in other countries if the scientific research and regulatory approval processes used in those countries are deemed equivalent to Canada's.

There are already agreements enabling product promoters to submit scientific data produced for the purpose of assessment by other authorities to Canadian authorities, but the system still requires promoters to submit a request for approval in Canada, and the data have to be assessed by appropriate Canadian authorities.

Some people have suggested that Canada should automatically approve any product approved in the United States. Judging by the wording in Motion M-460, we can assume the author would support such an approach. Even though he said the opposite, that is how we can interpret the wording.

That is why I cannot support Motion M-460.

AgriculturePrivate Members' Business

2:15 p.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Lemieux ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture

Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the government, I would like to take a few moments today to voice the government's support for private member's Motion No. 460 advanced by my colleague from Lambton—Kent—Middlesex.

This motion seeks to assist Canadian farmers in gaining access to many of the production management tools that are currently available to producers in other countries. Agricultural inputs are regulated in our country to protect Canada's animal and plant resources, our environment and the health of Canadians.

While we all agree that this measure of protection is very important, we also need to be sensitive to the agricultural sector's need to compete in the international marketplace. If the approval process for these regulated items does not keep pace with innovation and leading-edge science, our producers will suffer an economic disadvantage.

Agricultural inputs are, quite simply, production management tools or tools that improve the yield, health and quality of an agricultural product. Such tools could include: fertilizers, seeds, feeds and veterinary biologics regulated by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. They also include pesticides governed by the Pest Management Regulatory Agency, which is part of Health Canada. Veterinary drugs are also considered production management tools and they fall under the jurisdiction of the veterinary drugs directorate of Health Canada.

The Pest Management Centre of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada produces data and prepares submissions to the Pest Management Regulatory Agency on behalf of Canadian growers for review and approval of new and effective tools for protecting crops.

In consultations, focus groups and value chain round tables, people in the agricultural sector have said that Canada's regulatory system sometimes hampers their competitiveness. They believe that the registration process is slow and overly bureaucratic.

At the industry-government task force on livestock in 2007, representatives from both the beef and pork industry groups remarked that the approval rate of veterinary drugs was lagging in Canada. Furthermore, Agriculture Canada's Growing Forward consultations identified pre-market approval processes for agricultural inputs in Canada as being behind the rest of the world.

In its 2009 policy manual, the Grain Growers of Canada encouraged the development of a joint registration process for crop protection products in the U.S. and Canada. Also, the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association website indicates that it also supports ongoing efforts to harmonize pesticide standards with the U.S. and beyond North America to ensure farmers continue to have access to the newest and safest pesticides.

It has been clearly stated by many in the agricultural sector that our regulatory framework can be an impediment to their ability to compete in international markets. One issue that is raised with some regularity is the perception that the Canadian government does not consider research and submissions conducted in foreign jurisdictions when it considers agricultural inputs for approval. The Canadian agricultural sector and the businesses that serve it wish that the regulatory approval process used in foreign countries could be leveraged to a much greater extent to expedite approvals for products here in Canada.

The motion before this House speaks to that very issue. The motion reads as follows:

That, in the opinion of the House, the government should ensure that production management tools available to Canadian farmers are similar to those of other national jurisdictions by considering equivalent scientific research and agricultural regulatory approval processes by Health Canada, the Pest Management Regulatory Agency, and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

I would like to draw everyone's attention to the fact that the motion asks that equivalent foreign scientific research be considered. The motion does not ask, however, that a foreign approval allow any such product to be automatically used in Canada. This is an important distinction.

Canada is a sovereign nation. We have a unique environment, climate, flora and fauna. A product approved for use in South America, Europe or Asia may not be appropriate or safe to use in Canada. Our unique makeup of animal and plant resources, climate and geography must be protected. To simply allow a product to be used in Canada because a foreign regulatory authority had already approved it for use in its country would be hasty and irresponsible. However, a great deal of foreign research does have tremendous weight and relevance for our policy-makers and regulators when we evaluate products for use in Canada.

The motion moved by the member for Lambton—Kent—Middlesex has great value for Canadians, as it should unite this House in supporting this as a formal guiding principle. It sends a clear message to the agricultural sector that we support its desire for a regulatory framework which considers foreign data and research.

This motion would lead to meaningful change. It would express the desire of the House that foreign science be equivalent to Canadian science. This would encourage regulatory agencies and departments to accept foreign science in support of regulatory submissions which would expedite approvals. It would also encourage agricultural suppliers in other countries to apply for Canadian approval through this expedited regulatory system.

Other countries' production management tools can be registered in Canada, but they must meet Canadian regulatory requirements. One of these requirements is that decisions must be based on reliable scientific data and conditions of use in Canada, as I mentioned previously.

Registration by other countries' regulatory agencies does not mean that a product will automatically be approved in Canada, but submissions or applications filed abroad are often taken into consideration in the Canadian registration process. For some tools, foreign data and scientific risk assessments can also support regulatory decisions.

Canadian regulatory agencies often encourage foreign manufacturers to submit their products to Canada for review. For example, the Pest Management Regulatory Agency and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada look for innovative new pesticides and work with manufacturers to have their products registered in Canada. However, there needs to be more of this sort of activity.

The Veterinary Drugs Directorate, the Pest Management Regulatory Agency of Health Canada and the feed, seed and biologics areas of the CFIA are continually strengthening international collaboration to facilitate the introduction of foreign agricultural tools in Canada. This motion will encourage Health Canada to consider the work of other countries with equivalent standards and to use this work rather than duplicating efforts whenever possible. They can do this so long as they continue to adhere to Canadian legislative requirements.

There is also an effort to level the playing field for Canadian farmers with U.S. producers with regard to access to new or improved veterinary drugs. The Veterinary Drugs Directorate of Health Canada is working with manufacturers to promote same time filing of submissions in the U.S. and Canada. The directorate has agreed to align its review timelines with U.S. regulators for these types of submissions.

With respect to pesticides, where manufacturers once approached markets sequentially, they now routinely approach several markets at once, taking advantage of new, global joint review processes. The Pest Management Regulatory Agency at Health Canada has been a global leader in establishing the processes that enable these co-operative activities.

The CFIA is also very active in the establishment of international standards for those products that fall under its regulatory authority and mandates. A unified standard adopted by many nations is worthy of our investment and should be pursued aggressively.

The adoption of Motion No. 460 will demonstrate a commitment to supporting the agricultural sector in its desire for a more competitive landscape. The motion asks all members of the House to show their support for an important principle. We will support the motion.

AgriculturePrivate Members' Business

2:25 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak today to Motion No. 460, sponsored by the member for Lambton—Kent—Middlesex. I want to take a moment to read the motion. It says:

That, in the opinion of the House, the government should ensure that production management tools available to Canadian farmers are similar to those of other national jurisdictions by considering equivalent scientific research and agricultural regulatory approval processes by Health Canada, the Pest Management Regulatory Agency and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

We have heard from several speakers in the House, including the member for Malpeque, the member for Drummond and the member for British Columbia Southern Interior. They have all made some very important points about this motion. My colleague, the member for British Columbia Southern Interior, has pointed out that there is nothing in the wording that says we have to meet the Canadian standards.

I know the member for Drummond has pointed out that, while it is not in the wording, it is on the website. However, I appreciate that the member has the correct intention here. It is a lot of work. Anybody who has ever brought a private bill or motion before the House knows it is not simple. There are a lot of hoops to go through. There is a lot of consulting that has to be done. I know the member has done a lot of work.

However, there should be a better process around here. If the member was concerned about getting unanimous consent on his motion, all he would have had to do is check with the member for British Columbia Southern Interior, our party's critic for agriculture, and that would have been pointed out to him immediately. In fact, there is nothing wrong with the wording of the motion except for the fact that nothing in the wording says that we have to meet Canadian standards.

Had he done that before introducing the motion, our member would have agreed to that and the member for Drummond might be a happier man today as well. That is just a bit of advice. Hindsight is terrific. One looks in the rear-view mirror.

I also know the government has power. If this is such an important issue, why is the government not doing it? Why is it leaving it to a member in the House to bring in the motion? Clearly, it is not prepared to act. The member for Malpeque asked a question of the member—

AgriculturePrivate Members' Business

2:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I hesitate to interrupt the hon. member for Elmwood—Transcona, but I am afraid that the hour for private members' business has expired. However, there will be seven minutes remaining in the time allotted for his remarks when this matter next comes before the House.

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.

It being 2:31 p.m., the House stands adjourned until Monday next at 11 a.m. pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 2:31 p.m.)