Mr. Speaker, since this morning, the members opposite, including the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, have been demanding that we debate Bill S-11, from the Senate, which is an unelected chamber. This is sad. Once again, the Conservatives are trying to discredit our work. The House of Commons is made up of elected members. We were elected by the Canadian people from coast to coast to coast, and the government is preventing us from doing our job.
Today's topic has to do with an industry hit particularly hard by a number of problems in the past decade. From the mad cow crisis to listeriosis and the current E. coli concerns, the agriculture industry has been harshly singled out, especially in how it is treated by the current government.
This sector is very important to our economy. In fact, one out of eight jobs in Canada is in the agriculture and food processing industry. We have to give the industry the attention it deserves because it is such an important part of our daily lives.
When I think of all of the farmers in my riding who are trying to make a living, I feel compelled to stand up for these Canadians across the country by supporting the action plan proposed in the motion we are debating today.
Years ago, we never would have thought that our cupboards would be filled with foods from around the world. I am not talking about unusual and exotic meats and fruits. The range of foods available on supermarket shelves has changed dramatically.
Farmers face challenges every day, and they are now facing a serious crisis of confidence in their products, which could jeopardize the survival of many family farms weakened by the Conservatives' inaction for far too long now.
I would like to start my speech by reading the last part of this excellent motion:
(c) directing the Auditor General to conduct an immediate assessment of food safety procedures and resources and report his findings to the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food.
And to think I believed that our system was one of the best in the world. At the beginning of this crisis, I was convinced that the contaminated beef was American. I thought the government was taking its usual approach, which means taking a long time to react to an order from the American authorities. I must have been really naive to think that the Conservatives were really governing the country.
After visiting slaughter facilities, food processing and manufacturing plants, and training facilities for young farmers in my riding and in many regions of Quebec, I found that all stakeholders on the ground agreed that our standards are among the highest and that our system is one of the most effective in the industrial world.
So what happened on the front lines? Where were the CFIA inspectors? Why did the chain of command between the CFIA and the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food break down? This minister is responsible for this. Why was nothing done to ensure the safety of Canadians and to maintain confidence in an industry that was already suffering from the folly of this government's ideology?
An investigation is absolutely necessary in order to finally shed some light on the current crisis facing this very crucial industry. An investigation is crucial in order to restore consumer confidence.
Today the House is calling on the government to adopt this motion in order to restore Canadians' confidence in our food safety system.
Here is how this can be achieved, as indicated in the second part of the motion:
(b) reversing budget cuts [of over $100 million] and halting the de-regulation of Canada’s food safety system;
How can Canadians trust a system when the government claims to be investing in that area, but is actually gradually withdrawing from it? Self-regulation does not always work, especially when it comes to a beef processing plant of that size.
A number of stakeholders in the agriculture sector had warned us that sooner or later someone would make mistakes at this company. What did the cuts affect? Training of front-line officers, the number of officers working in real time, the modernization of regulations and their harmonization with those of our neighbours south of the border.
Instead of paying attention to the people who devote themselves to these activities that are so important to our country and thus restoring consumers' confidence by providing them with access to local products, the government is investing in advertising and photo ops. There is no accountability and no sense of ministerial responsibility.
While the minister spends more time with certain male colleagues in tanning salons, an industry is being hard hit by the lack of action or involvement in an area that demands credibility, collaboration, co-operation and, above all, communication. By firing the current minister and handing over the food safety portfolio to a minister capable of restoring public trust, we will ensure that new impetus is given to investigating this situation.
I realize that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture would love to be the next agriculture minister, but does he have the right stuff? Listening to him, we can be sure of one thing: like a number of other Conservative cabinet members, he is either living in a parallel universe or he is just following orders that come directly from the Prime Minister's Office. Come to think of it, we should perhaps also include the ministers of industry and transport. We can talk about this another time; it is an entirely different matter.
In closing, I wish to pledge my complete and utter support for the fantastic motion we are currently debating in the House, and I assure my colleagues on the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food of my unwavering support for their demands. What is happening is truly unfortunate, but the Conservatives have pushed for more self-regulation, and inspectors are now inspecting paperwork instead of meat.
Today's motion is the direct result of the Conservatives' incompetence, and Canadians are paying the price, especially our hard-working western farmers who do their work with integrity and often devote their lives to it. Thank you and bon appétit.