Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Vancouver East for sharing her time with me, even though it is limited to, I believe, four and a half minutes.
I want to say we have had a very interesting debate. It was suggested earlier from a member opposite that we are not taking this matter seriously. I would suggest there is nothing further from the truth. It has been at the forefront of our questions in question period since this information came to our attention. We are continuing to seek answers and accountability from the government, to the point where we have introduced this motion by our agriculture critic to call for that accountability by the resignation of the minister and for some specific recommendations to make sure we finally address a very complex system.
I am not going to take time to go through all the reasons why this is so important. I do not have the time to do it anyway. Suffice it to say we know that the government has not responded quickly and we believe it has not responded appropriately. It initially shut off the export of beef from XL Foods to the U.S. It was two weeks before it contained the distribution of beef throughout this country. That is two weeks that contaminated beef was allowed to be distributed throughout the country.
We are now looking at a recall, the largest in the history of this country. Over three million pounds are under recall in every province and territory of this country and yet we continue to have a minister and, I would suggest, members of government who are downplaying this. They defend. They try to blame others. Never once have we seen the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, in light of this catastrophe, stand in this House to apologize to the 15 people and their families who suffered as a result of contracting E. coli. Never have we heard him say to Canadians, “The system failed in this instance and we are going to do everything in our power to make sure this never happens again”. Never once has he recognized or acknowledged the fact that there was a failure, that the massive budget cuts in his department, the cuts to CFIA and the reduction in inspectors on the floor have led to this problem.
We hear him say, now, that there are more inspectors in the plant, that more effort has been made to try to clean up the mess. I think that is very much an indication of the fact that the government cut too far. It cut back on inspectors, it cut back on dollars to CFIA and it has led, largely, to this problem. We have to move forward to make sure it does not happen again.
What does the official opposition say needs to be done? Let me list some of the things.
Other than the fact that we need the current minister to be replaced by somebody who can handle this important situation, we want to see, for example, a complete audit, a comprehensive audit of the compliance verification system adopted immediately; adequate resources, authority and independence given to the CFIA so it can do its job; better traceability requirements for meat, fish and fresh produce, in the case of a recall; better and more transparent surveillance of outbreaks of food-borne illnesses and deaths, serious illnesses caused by nutrition and food safety-related illnesses; a public interest intervener mechanism to represent consumers and public health; and more extensive oversight of nutrition labelling, with actual enforcement of penalties.
These are some of the things that need to be done to restore some credibility to this industry. For the sake of this industry, for the health and safety of Canadians, for the integrity and the restoration of confidence in our beef industry in this country, the government needs to move now, get rid of the minister and start bringing in some measures that would finally restore confidence in the meat industry in this country.