Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Medicine Hat.
I appreciate this time to talk about a topic that affects each and every one of us personally, and that is food safety. Just like every other Canadian I want to be able to sit down and be assured that the food on my plate is safe. That is why it is so important that I tell the House about the commitment that this government has made to the health and safety of Canadians and to having one of the best food safety systems in the world. This commitment stands true following budget 2012.
Here is the most important thing that I have to say today. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has not reduced and will not reduce staff or cut programs that would in any way place the health and safety of Canadians at risk. The opposition and union bosses have shamefully suggested that the decision made in March in the budget, and the agency's overall modernization agenda, are intended to reduce Canada's investment in food safety or somehow diminish the agency's role in it. This is completely and utterly incorrect. Our government is fully committed to modernizing our food safety system and the opposition should get on board for the good of all Canadians.
Budget 2012 identified funding of $51 million over two years for the Public Health Agency of Canada, Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency for key food safety initiatives.
We all know change is difficult, especially the new third party in the House. But in this case, as was the case for the Liberal Party in the last election, change is necessary. The risks associated with the food supply are constantly changing and the changes being undertaken by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency will allow the agency to focus its resources where they are most needed.
Budget 2012 decisions affecting the Canadian Food Inspection Agency were founded on three key principles: create no reduction or impact on food safety capacity, minimize the effect on the front line in non-food safety related activities, and reduce administrative costs through shared services and other efficiency measures.
I would like to explain how the agency will adjust some programs for efficiency without compromising food safety or other services provided to the public. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency identified a number of opportunities to reduce costs associated with management, administration and other internal functions. In some cases the agency has found better ways to operate. I know this is difficult for union bosses and the opposition to accept, but we know taxpayers appreciate that we are seeking to use their money more responsibly.
The reduction of internal costs represents approximately 50% of all the agency's reduction initiatives. The truth is that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is reducing its executive workforce and is standardizing executive and management support organizations to be more efficient and to eliminate inconsistencies in tasks, levels and classification of administrative staff.
Corporate support for the agency's recently adopted internal governance structure will also be streamlined. This corporate support currently rests in various parts of the organization. Processes and services associated with a range of internal activities will be streamlined. These include human resources, accounting, corporate management, business transformation, audit and evaluation, and communications. The agency will be reducing expenditures associated with professional service contracts and other external costs by $4 million annually.
For some reason the Liberals pretend that they have never found, and would never find, savings in the budget. The truth was revealed on October 27, 1999, in the Telegraph-Journal, and I quote:
Allan Rock and his colleagues are systematically dismantling Health Canada's enforcement of public health and food-safety standards...systematically reducing the number of food inspectors in the field.
That is from the former Liberal government. The Liberals forget their history and are doomed to repeat their history of being relegated to third place election after election.
Another way efficiencies will be realized is by eliminating duplication and saving on transportation costs.
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency already share national headquarter facilities. They will eliminate duplication in certain corporate services in the areas of information technology, communications, human resources and real property services. In addition, the two organizations will merge related services. They will also pursue opportunities to collaborate on costs related to maintaining fleet vehicles.
I would like to explain a little more about the thoughts behind planned efficiencies. Over time, businesses expand, start up and close. The traffic of products changes. Industry and producers end up, for example, using alternate inspection stations.
Business processes also change and new technologies emerge, reducing the need for Canadian food inspection staff to be in close proximity to certain regulated parties. These changes have created opportunities for the agency to reduce operating costs by consolidating office space and divesting quarantine/inspection stations that are not being used any more.
Currently, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has a number of administrative offices across the country that will be combined or reduced. The agency also has three quarantine/inspection stations that will no longer be used: the Monchy Quarantine/Inspection Station in Saskatchewan, the Coutts Quarantine/Inspection Station in Alberta and the Nisku Quarantine/Inspection Station in Alberta. The agency will consolidate a number of offices and divest three inspection stations to optimize the use of its office space and increase administrative efficiency. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency services will be maintained, regardless of which office is considered for consolidation. Only the location will change.
Similarly, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans will consolidate the coast guard sub-centre in Quebec City. DFO remains dedicated to the safety of all Canadians in ensuring that timely and appropriate maritime search and rescue coordination and response services are available to all mariners.
Public safety is, and always will be, an important government priority. In both instances, service to Canadians will not be impacted as a result of any office consolidation. The CFIA initiative is expected to be fully implemented by 2014-15. It will not compromise food safety. Rather, this initiative is directed at gaining efficiencies and cost savings without impacting service delivery.
Similarly, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency will consolidate some of its laboratory services in both the east and the west to continue to provide the highest quality of service possible in an efficient and effective manner. In eastern Canada, current activities at the agency's laboratory in St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador will be transferred to two Canadian Food Inspection Agency facilities in Charlottetown, P.E.I. and Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.
These facilities are more modern and better equipped to handle the complex food and plant diagnostic testing required by industry in support of food safety and market access. The St. John's facility is in need of significant upgrades and investment to maintain current services, while the Charlottetown laboratory offers access to more modern facilities, equipment and greenhouses. It also has a highly secure bio-containment space that will enhance service delivery in both diagnostics and research support. The Dartmouth laboratory has molecular diagnostic capability and multiple high-tech analytical chemistry instruments that are not available in St. John's. Food safety and fertilizer testing will move to the Dartmouth lab while remaining plant health work will move to the Charlottetown lab.
None of these changes will impact food safety in any way. I fail to understand how the opposition members think that verifying quality of fertilizer has anything to do with food safety. A lot could be said for fertilizer.
In British Columbia, my home province, the agency will be moving its activities from the Centre for Plant Health at the Sidney laboratory to the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada research station in Summerland. This move will ensure the important work is carried out in a modern, better equipped facility with a larger pool of scientists working together. No disruption or change to levels of service will result from this change.
The key word here is “change”, but managed changed, responsible change for the good. Through these actions and the resulting efficiencies, this government will continue to demonstrate its commitment to having one of the best food safety systems in the world. The opposition is stuck in the past and needs to wake up and support the government's plan to modernize and improve even further our world-class safety system.