Mr. Speaker, for much of my life—nearly 50 years—I worked in agriculture. When I was a student, I would spend my summers and even the fall working on farms. I then studied agriculture at Université Laval so that I could work in this industry—in various areas, but particularly in ornamental horticulture.
The riding of Shefford, which I represent, is made up of three very distinct regions. In the west, you have the rich plains of the St. Lawrence, where you can find the big farms. There are even private research centres where they are cultivating corn, soy and various grains. This area has the richest soil in the region.
Towards the centre of the eastern region, you will find fruit tree nurseries and a very big nursery for growing trees and shrubs. This bill will have a significant impact on this type of production.
More towards the centre, you will find the city and its industries. However, in the east, you will find traditional agriculture—hay fields and smaller farms, including producers of milk, veal calves, slaughter cattle, sheep, goats and chickens. There is a lot of diversity.
Pork production, which is very important in my area, is located in the eastern region because it is tied to grain production. Large-scale producers farm the land, grow grain and have mills to mix the grain and feed their animals.
I am curious. Will these major agriculture producers, who are used to sellling their seed every year, be able to keep using their own seed as they have been doing for years without being harassed by multinational grain corporations? I wonder. We are talking about producers who have thousands of acres and who are among the top three or four pork producers in Quebec. Will they be able to use their seeds?
I cannot support this bill because it does not explicitly protect farmers and the public and because it puts too much discretionary power in the hands of the minister. Speaking of his discretionary powers, the minister has been involved with the Air Canada file since 2011 because the bosses are hands off and that suits his purposes.
The minister also uses these powers to make decisions on employment insurance. This bill will benefit big corporations. The government will pocket the profits and leave as little income as possible to the unemployed.
The minister's discretionary powers also extend to copyright. I myself am an author, and I have written several books on horticulture. I know that authors do not make any money. That law protects the publishers. Will that be the case with this bill too?
The Conservatives' philosophy is to protect the establishment, not the little guy. Some market gardeners in my riding have been planting the same varieties of garlic for decades, year after year. If you plant garlic from the store, it will not work out because that garlic is not adapted to the region. There is a garlic grower in my region who has been working on adapting one variety for several decades. Will his variety of garlic be stolen from him? Will he be forced to buy it back from someone else? If a multinational orders a hundred garlic bulbs and plants them, then five or ten years later that corporation can say that the garlic is its variety. Will we be able to protect the little guys against this sort of thing?
We have a lot of greenhouse farmers. Some grow organic products and heirloom varieties. Is the greenhouse farmer going to be harassed by the inspector from some company and end up having to pay a fine? The large companies are given rights, but what is being done to protect the little guys from being abused by big business? Do not tell me that such abuse does not exist. In France, the law protects multinationals so much so that companies that sell seed to individuals no longer have the right to do so and people are going after them on the Internet. Kokopelli, a seed producer for third world countries, is constantly in court with major seed companies. Is that what we want? Do we want to cause even more problems for the so-called “little guy”?
I know a seed producer who collected heirloom varieties in the northern regions of the St. Lawrence. He uses the Internet and catalogues to sell seed he produces himself for fine herbs and vegetables. Will these heirloom varieties be protected under this bill? If a company finds an heirloom tomato and it improves that tomato slightly, it can then say that the original tomato, which has been an heirloom variety for a long time, is too similar to its own tomato.
I am familiar with these kinds of things. I have had a website since about 1996. Someone came to me and said that I had copied his pages. I had made a copy of my pages on a diskette, which I sent to myself by registered mail, without opening it. I had proof that I had written those pages five years before him. In the horticultural field, will people be able to prevent these kinds of abuses by others who want to steal varieties? These ancient varieties belong to everyone. These companies want to steal them.
What I find difficult about all this is that big breeders are being protected. How are individuals going to be protected? For instance, if I plant 10 varieties of tomato plants, someone could show up in my yard with big boxes and ask if I purchased the seeds for the various varieties. Individuals also need to be protected.