Mr. Speaker, it is an honour and pleasure for me to illustrate to this House my party's support for Bill C-18, the agricultural growth act.
First, I wish to express not only my appreciation but that of the farmers in Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, and I believe the large majority of farmers across Canada, to the Minister of Agriculture for his foresight and action in bringing this bill forward and the work that the parliamentary secretary has done to get the bill to committee. I also want to thank the committee, which has worked hard to get the bill to the form it is in today, so that we can move the industry of agriculture forward.
At one time or another, all of us have read the sign “If you ate today, thank a farmer”. In fact, I have a few of those in my office. I have one around the licence plate of one of my vehicles. It is an important sign as a consumer, farmer, dairy farmer and cash cropper. It raises the importance of not only what agriculture is but the importance of food.
As parliamentarians we need to do more than talk. We need to express more than just saying “thanks”. I need to ensure that farmers, and the industry as a whole, have the support of this effective legislation that is before us.
Before I focus on the main element of the bill, I would like to address the amendments that have been proposed by opposition members. If members can imagine, there are 56 amendments on the order paper, which would meet their objective to gut the bill and take away its effectiveness.
I will not, and my party will not, support those of types of motions. In fact, I urge everyone with a level head on their shoulders not to support the amendments, and move forward and adopt this great bill. Should we start to approve the gutting of the bill, it would turn the clock back in agriculture about 25 years. We are not prepared for that and I do not believe the country is prepared for that.
Bill C-18 proposes broad controls to ensure the safety of Canada's agriculture inputs. It would allow the licence and registration of fertilizer and animal feed operators, and facilities that import and sell products across provincial and international borders. That is in addition to the current system, which registers feed and fertilizer individually, product by product. However, licencing and registering facilities and operators is a more effective and timely method to verify that agriculture products meet, and surpass in many cases, Canada's stringent safety rules and other standards.
The bill is also important because we need to ensure that we align ourselves with our major trading partners and help our feed, seed and fertilizer industries maintain access to those markets, especially with our closest neighbour, the United States.
For the information of members, exports in the agriculture industry range up to 85% of what we grow. That is an incredibly high number. It means that one in eight jobs in this country is related to the agriculture industry. The agricultural growth act proposes to keep these jobs safe and secure, but that can only be done through modernizing our current antiquated legislation and by improving Canadian access to the latest farming technology.
Exports are part of the solution, but what we grow here is the other part. Members may recall that during the last Parliament, Motion No. 460 was debated. It read:
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 was glad that the motion was adopted by the House, but I did not get help from the NDP, which I find strange. It is clear that it does not support the idea, but do members know who does support it? Farmers. Who is fulfilling the promise to farmers? Our Conservative government.
During the 2011 federal election, the Conservative Party platform said:
Like other businesspeople, Canadian farmers want access to the latest innovations, to succeed in the global economy. Unfortunately, long and burdensome approval processes imposed by the federal government are preventing Canadian farmers from obtaining the best fertilizers, pesticides, and veterinary drugs available on the market. We will revise current approval processes to allow for international equivalencies in such products. We will eliminate needless duplication, while protecting our national sovereignty and maintaining the highest safety standards.
What did the stakeholders tell us about this at committee? The president and CEO of the Canadian Association of Agri-Retailers, for example, said in October 2014:
...allowing the CFIA the opportunity to use data that is sourced externally to Canada, not having to be reproduced, and to use data that is from a country that is considered to be equivalent to the standards in Canada is, I think, a significant improvement in terms of allowing the CFIA the freedom to operate, and reducing that administrative burden of recreating data that would be already acceptable in terms of identifying the safety and the ability to use that product in Canada.
Our bill would do this. Indeed, we have such a strong belief in this idea that clauses 56, 67, 77, and 96 of Bill C-18, the agricultural growth act, would implement this idea. The amendments proposed in Bill C-18 would provide the CFIA with stronger tools to fulfill its mandate to protect Canada's plant and animal resource base. The changes would provide additional reassurance that imported agricultural products meet Canadian requirements. Those are strict requirements. Bill C-18 would be part of our government's strong agricultural agenda—and I am not alone in seeing Bill C-18 as a key milestone for Canada's agriculture sector.
The Grain Growers of Canada, the Canadian Seed Trade Association, and the Canadian Horticultural Council are only a few of the many agricultural organizations anxiously waiting for the proposed legislation.
New, stronger border controls for agricultural products are urgently needed. Bill C-18 would respond to that. It would give inspectors from the CFIA the authority to have important shipments of feeds, fertilizers, or seeds that do not meet legal requirements to be ordered out of Canada. That would be similar to the current treatment of imported plants and animals that do not meet those requirements now.
Canadian farmers would benefit because they would be competing on a level playing field with their international counterparts. That is so important because Canadian consumers would benefit from a strengthened food safety regime.
To be clear, the CFIA already takes action to seize illegal animal feeds, seeds, fertilizers, and related products. Bill C-18, however, would propose to update that as we do this.
In some cases, under the current process, seizure of illegal products is followed by lengthy and costly court proceedings and, at that time, Canada must pay to dispose of those illegal products. Members can see that being able to order the products out of the country becomes a much more efficient and a much more practical procedure.
At the same time, Bill C-18 would give CFIA inspectors the ability to allow the importer to fix the problem at the border, if there are no safety concerns and if the inspector can be certain that the issue would be addressed.
It has been an honour and privilege for me to make this presentation on Bill C-18 on behalf of our government and I look forward to addressing any of the questions or comments that may come forward.