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House of Commons Hansard #160 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was offender.

Topics

Agriculture and Agri-FoodOral Questions

October 5th, 2012 / 11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Liberal Toronto Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, however robust that system is, the minister is not very robust at answering simple questions.

I would like to ask the minister again this time. The only conclusion one can come to is that the American authorities appear to have been more concerned about the safety of all American consumers than the minister was concerned about the safety of Canadian consumers, because if that was not the case, why is it that CFIA decided to close the border to Canadian products going to the United States, to all American consumers, but did not at the same time close access to the Canadian market?

It took a further two weeks for the government to protect the Canadian consumer. Why the delay? Why would the Americans be doing a better job on behalf of their consumers than our government is doing on behalf of our consumers?

Agriculture and Agri-FoodOral Questions

11:20 a.m.

Battlefords—Lloydminster Saskatchewan

Conservative

Gerry Ritz ConservativeMinister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and Minister for the Canadian Wheat Board

Mr. Speaker, as I said previously, we have a robust food safety system. There are differences between what the Americans do and what the Canadian CFIA does.

Having said that, we are both focused on our priority. Job number one is food safety for our Canadian consumers. As scientific evidence becomes available, as timelines began to become available, and the documentation that was required, CFIA continued to act, starting on September 4 and right up to today.

Agriculture and Agri-FoodOral Questions

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Liberal Toronto Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, the facts and the science are the same in the United States. There is no difference between American science and Canadian science when it comes to the protection and safety of consumers.

It is incomprehensible that the Minister of Agriculture closed the border so that these products would not be made available to Americans, but then allowed the same products to be made available to Canadians for two more weeks. It makes no sense. The minister was seriously negligent in this regard.

How can he explain these inadequacies?

Agriculture and Agri-FoodOral Questions

11:25 a.m.

Battlefords—Lloydminster Saskatchewan

Conservative

Gerry Ritz ConservativeMinister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and Minister for the Canadian Wheat Board

Mr. Speaker, actually CFIA has explained those inadequacies, as the member tries to call them. They are certainly not that.

There are differences in our systems. What we have is secondary testing at the CFIA level here in Canada. The Americans do not do that particular step.

At the same time, recall notices were put out for the most at-risk products, ground beef and trim, on September 16. The Americans did it the exact same day. As we continued to build our recall system later in September, the Americans did it on exactly the same day.

Agriculture and Agri-FoodOral Questions

11:25 a.m.

NDP

Robert Chisholm NDP Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, in 2011, XL received $1.6 million in growing forward grants to install “state-of-the-art technology that will...double its per-day capacity for ground beef”.

The downside of this high-speed processing is that there is no room for error. In other words, the Conservatives helped build this ultra-modern facility.

My question to the minister is: Will he admit that he failed to provide the needed food safety resources to operate such an intense high-volume facility?

Agriculture and Agri-FoodOral Questions

11:25 a.m.

Battlefords—Lloydminster Saskatchewan

Conservative

Gerry Ritz ConservativeMinister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and Minister for the Canadian Wheat Board

Mr. Speaker, what we have done as a government is make sure that CFIA has the inspection capabilities and the capacity to manage a plant such as this.

We have 46 inspectors on site on a daily basis. That is a 20% increase over the last few years.

Agriculture and Agri-FoodOral Questions

11:25 a.m.

NDP

Robert Chisholm NDP Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, let us imagine this. The Brooks plant can now process 4,000 to 5,000 cows per day, yet since 2006 not a single new inspector position has been hired at the Brooks plant, except to fill vacancies.

The minister says otherwise. Will he now provide this House with the names, locations and job descriptions of all CFIA inspectors across this country, and let us end the confusion once and for all?

Agriculture and Agri-FoodOral Questions

11:25 a.m.

Battlefords—Lloydminster Saskatchewan

Conservative

Gerry Ritz ConservativeMinister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and Minister for the Canadian Wheat Board

Mr. Speaker, there are things like privacy laws in Canada.

What I can say is that the officials at CFIA continue to work diligently on food safety in this country, and they will continue doing that job.

Agriculture and Agri-FoodOral Questions

11:25 a.m.

NDP

Mylène Freeman NDP Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is not only XL Foods that is being targeted by the American authorities. There are now concerns south of the border regarding our food inspection standards, which are simply not high enough for the American market. The Conservatives' incompetence when it comes to food safety could be costly for our ranchers.

Are the Conservatives beginning to understand the scope of the impact of their budget cuts on food safety?

Agriculture and Agri-FoodOral Questions

11:25 a.m.

Battlefords—Lloydminster Saskatchewan

Conservative

Gerry Ritz ConservativeMinister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and Minister for the Canadian Wheat Board

Mr. Speaker, there have been absolutely no cutbacks to the food safety capacity in this great country. It is quite the opposite, as a matter of fact.

Over the last number of budgets and papers that we have produced, members can see a growing amount of dollars, some 20% increase in the budgetary capacity of the CFIA plus a 20% increase in the inspections in this particular plant alone.

Agriculture and Agri-FoodOral Questions

11:25 a.m.

NDP

Rosane Doré Lefebvre NDP Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, in 2011, XL Foods pocketed no less than $1.6 million from the government to increase its production. The company doubled its production of ground beef, yet the number of inspectors remained the same. Canadian families should be able to feel confident that meat from XL Foods is properly inspected. They also deserve enough front-line inspectors so that they can enjoy their meat pies in safety.

Why have the Conservatives abandoned consumers?

Agriculture and Agri-FoodOral Questions

11:25 a.m.

Battlefords—Lloydminster Saskatchewan

Conservative

Gerry Ritz ConservativeMinister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and Minister for the Canadian Wheat Board

Mr. Speaker, we continue to do just the opposite. We bring in legislation that gives the Public Health Agency and CFIA more powers. We are doing that now with Bill S-11. I hope that the member opposite will rise in support of that bill at every stage as it moves through.

Agriculture and Agri-FoodOral Questions

11:25 a.m.

NDP

Rosane Doré Lefebvre NDP Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, every day, the minister goes on and on about Bill S-11, which puts off the review of CFIA activities until 2017. The current crisis proves that the agency's activities absolutely must be reviewed immediately. The NDP is calling for it; meat consumers are calling for it; and Canadian families are calling for it. Yet the minister still refuses and continues to delay it.

To respond to the concerns of Canadian families, will the minister promise to review the agency's activities now, and not five years from now?

Agriculture and Agri-FoodOral Questions

11:30 a.m.

Battlefords—Lloydminster Saskatchewan

Conservative

Gerry Ritz ConservativeMinister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and Minister for the Canadian Wheat Board

Mr. Speaker, I can assure the member opposite that we have actually gone beyond that.

Countries around the world come to review what the CFIA is doing plant by plant. We have to do that in order to maintain our requirements to export to certain countries around the world. We continue to be buoyed by their results.

We will continue to work with the CFIA to build a robust food safety system. I am hopeful that the NDP will start to support budgetary actions that do that.

Agriculture and Agri-FoodOral Questions

11:30 a.m.

NDP

Guy Caron NDP Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, $116 million was spent on food safety and biosecurity risk management systems in 2011. The government is cutting that number by nearly $32 million to just $85 million for 2012-13. Our food safety program is being cut by 5%. This information can be found in the government's financial documents that the Conservatives themselves tabled in the House of Commons.

Why do they insist on saying the opposite? The question remains: can we rely on their financial documents, yes or no?

Agriculture and Agri-FoodOral Questions

11:30 a.m.

Battlefords—Lloydminster Saskatchewan

Conservative

Gerry Ritz ConservativeMinister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and Minister for the Canadian Wheat Board

Mr. Speaker, I know the member is new here but he should know that the budgetary process of the government stops on March 31 of each year and then renews itself on April 1. There are supplementary estimates and other things that are done during the year to add to the capacity of situations like the CFIA. We continue to do that but they continue to vote against those.

Agriculture and Agri-FoodOral Questions

11:30 a.m.

NDP

Guy Caron NDP Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, what the NDP did was vote against the cuts, and we are proud of that.

Am I to understand that what the Conservatives are now saying is that the documents they tabled in the House of Commons were inaccurate?

The government's own financial documents show that food safety is down by 5%. Food safety and biosecurity risk management systems are being cut by 27%, and that is a fact. How can the Conservatives expect families to believe that their cuts will have no effect?

Agriculture and Agri-FoodOral Questions

11:30 a.m.

Battlefords—Lloydminster Saskatchewan

Conservative

Gerry Ritz ConservativeMinister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and Minister for the Canadian Wheat Board

Mr. Speaker, the member opposite is quoting from an incomplete report. What the report does not show is the ongoing ability of the government to continue sunsetting programs. He should probably be aware of that and help us move that through in the next budgetary cycle.

Correctional Service of CanadaOral Questions

11:30 a.m.

NDP

Raymond Côté NDP Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, nothing is sacred when the Conservatives decide to make cuts. Inmates who turn to their religion to help in their rehabilitation process are being told, “Sorry, we only accept Christians.” Rabbis, imams, and granthis are being laid off. Maybe the minister can get rid of aboriginal elders while he is at it. The thing is, this is not a costly program.

Will the minister reverse his decision to cut religious services for Sikh, Muslim and Jewish inmates?

Correctional Service of CanadaOral Questions

11:30 a.m.

Portage—Lisgar Manitoba

Conservative

Candice Bergen ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety

Mr. Speaker, I reject the premise of that question. Our government strongly supports the freedom of religion for all Canadians. Convicted criminals continue to have reasonable access to any religious counselling or services of their choice on a voluntary basis.

The government does fund full-time chaplains. In addition to serving members of their own faith, these chaplains also make themselves available on a by request basis to provide spiritual advice to the general population.

The Canadian Forces have used this type of chaplaincy program for years. If it is good enough for our armed forces, then it is good enough for inmates in our federal penitentiaries.

Correctional Service of CanadaOral Questions

11:30 a.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, picking and choosing on this subject just will not wash. This is not a costly program. The minister has no justification for cutting it.

The parliamentary secretary should listen to her colleague who said that “religious freedom is a fundamental freedom, one we are very, very supportive of and feel very strongly about”. That was said by her colleague, the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

How can the Conservatives be so hypocritical in being strong apparently on religious freedom abroad when they will not support it at home?

Correctional Service of CanadaOral Questions

11:30 a.m.

Portage—Lisgar Manitoba

Conservative

Candice Bergen ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety

Mr. Speaker, the member is completely inaccurate. It is sad to hear him say these kinds of mistruths. The government funds full-time chaplains based on the number of inmates requesting services from each faith determined by region.

As I said, in addition to serving members of their own faith, these chaplains also make themselves available on a by request basis to provide spiritual advice to the general population.

This is a common practice. The Canadian Forces has used this same chaplaincy program and it has been successful for many years.

Agriculture and Agri-FoodOral Questions

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Mr. Speaker, in a rare appearance yesterday, the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food begged Canadians to look at the tainted meat timeline. Many Canadians did exactly that and they were quite shocked by what they saw.

They saw that it was the United States that discovered the E. coli, not Canada. They also saw the government's clear foot-dragging and the minister's continually changing stories.

When will the Conservatives start paying attention to the health and safety of Canadians or are you waiting for another Walkerton tragedy?

Agriculture and Agri-FoodOral Questions

11:35 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

I would remind all members to address their comments through the Chair.

The hon. Minister of Agriculture.

Agriculture and Agri-FoodOral Questions

11:35 a.m.

Battlefords—Lloydminster Saskatchewan

Conservative

Gerry Ritz ConservativeMinister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and Minister for the Canadian Wheat Board

Mr. Speaker, food safety is a priority for this government. We continue to build a robust system with the capacity to move forward.

As I have often said in the House, the timeline on the website is nothing like the member opposite talks about. The CFIA, in the same timeframe as the Americans, discovered a contaminated product on September 4 and it has continued working through ever since. The timeline is there for all Canadians to see. I am certainly happy to answer real questions on it.