Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to express my enthusiastic support for Bill C-18. I support the bill because it stands to build a stronger farm gate, that is, the total amount of money generated by farmers across this great country.
Bill C-18 would achieve this largely through amendments to the Agricultural Marketing Products Act and the Farm Debt Mediation Act.
Agriculture in Canada is a progressive, world-class business. The men and women who work out in the fields today do much more than drive tractors, plant seed and raise farm animals. They also create jobs and drive economic growth while producing the food we eat every day. This may not always be top-of-mind for most Canadians, but it should be.
Our government appreciates that farmers are essential to our economy and to our overall well-being as Canadians. This is part of the reason that we continue to open new markets and sign new free trade agreements with other countries.
In 2013, the value of Canada’s agriculture and agri-food exports hit a record high, topping $50 billion. The agriculture and agri-food industry, like any other, faces its share of challenges, but it is a great time for Canada’s farming and food-production businesses. Demand is strong and the outlook is positive, with a growing world population hungry for top-quality Canadian products.
Our government is committed to innovating and cutting red tape so that our farmers can spend more time on their core business and less time filling out forms.
Bill C-18 proposes amendments that would give producers the tools they need to grow their businesses so they may continue to drive economic growth and feed the world. The amendments are informed by extensive consultations with producers and industry representatives from across the country. Canada’s producers asked for legislative and regulatory improvements that would support long-term growth, and Bill C-18 proposes to deliver these improvements.
Producers continuously strive to improve their businesses, and they rightly expect government to do the same with the programs we administer, such as the Advance Payments Program, or APP. The APP gives farmers access to the bridge financing they often need to remain solvent while their seed grows into marketable crops, or their newborn animals reach maturity.
Under that program, the government backs the cash advances provided to producers by more than 60 program administrators across Canada. These advances provide farmers with the breathing room they need to get maximum value for their products. It gives them the freedom to sell when the market is right, rather than when their bills are due.
A farmer may access a cash advance of up to $400,000, with a quarter of that, or $100,000, being interest free. Since the government guarantees the advances, farmers benefit from extremely low interest rates. Each year, Canadian producers access around $2 billion worth of cash advances under the program.
While the current APP works well, we consulted with stakeholders to identify potential improvements. These consultations directly informed amendments included in Bill C-18. In essence, the amendments proposed in Bill C-18 would give Canadian farmers a more flexible, predictable tool to manage their cash flows. At the same time, the amendments would cut red tape and improve efficiency.
Bill C-18 proposes changes to two pieces of legislation: the Agricultural Products Marketing Act and the Farm Debt Mediation Act. The changes would simplify delivery and improve access to the advance payments program. They would improve delivery by allowing for multi-year advance guarantee and repayment agreements with administrators and allow for larger advances in certain cases by providing greater flexibility and options for what will be accepted as security through regulations.
The changes would provide flexibility by allowing certain breeding animals to be eligible under the program through regulations. They would adjust the rules related to repayment of advances, producers in default, default penalties and stays of default. They would streamline the process under the Farm Debt Mediation Act, helping farmers reach agreements with their creditors and resolve their financial difficulties—especially in cases involving the repayment of advances under the advance payments program.
The House Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food conducted a thorough review of the proposed legislation. The committee heard from a number of witnesses, including many representatives of industry associations. Strong support for the proposed legislation was voiced. One witness, Mr. Gary Stanford, president of the Grain Growers of Canada, said:
The proposed amendments will create a one-stop shop, simplifying the process by giving farmers the ability to obtain their advance through the administrator, allowing for multi-year advance repayment agreements, flexible under repayment; broadened eligibility requirements; and enhanced security options.
Similarly, Mr. Rick Bergmann, vice-chair of the Canadian Pork Council, said:
Canadian hog producers see value in the Advance Payments Program and view the changes to the Agricultural Marketing Act as an improvement. Steps that can reduce the administrative burden and cutting costs for participating can make a difference, and we encourage that to continue on.
During the consultations that informed Bill C-18, many stakeholders asked for more flexibility so they can grow their businesses.
Bill C-18 delivers on that, with less red tape, more choice for securing advances through regulations, greater flexibility in repaying advances, and single-window delivery.
Our producers want to stay ahead of the curve. Bill C-18 would help them proactively manage business risks and foster a sustainable, adaptable and competitive farm gate.
It is crucial to recognize that this benefits not only farmers and producers, but also every man, woman and child in this country. When agricultural entrepreneurs thrive, they harness innovation, add value, generate jobs and drive growth right across this great country. We all benefit.
Let me further explain why there is a pressing need for the proposed legislation. With the arrival of new agricultural production techniques and new developments in science, the legislative base for agricultural products must keep pace, especially since our international trading partners have already modernized their legislation. We need the agricultural growth act because it would provide the legislative backbone for growth. If Canada’s farmers—along with our agriculture and agri-food sector—are to maintain their competitive edge on the global stage, they need 21st-century tools. Canada must keep pace with the modern world, and to do this we must help our farmers grow their businesses.
To illustrate, allow me to touch on some of the key changes outlined in Bill C-18, beginning with plant breeders’ rights. Bill C-18 proposes to bring the laws that govern plant breeders’ rights in Canada in line with those of our international competitors. This would allow our farmers to access the latest crop varieties and keep pace with their competitors. At the same time, Bill C-18 proposes to explicitly recognize the traditional practice of saving and reusing seed from crops grown on their own land, known as farmers’ privilege.
Let me be clear. With the proposed amendments to the Plant Breeders’ Rights Act, Canada’s farmers would still be able to clean, condition and store the seeds of protected varieties for replanting on their own land.
The overall impact of the proposed amendments would be: greater investment in plant breeding in Canada; increased access to high-yield varieties for Canadian farmers; and more choice and value for Canadian consumers.
Another aspect of Bill C-18 is the licensing and registration of feed and fertilizer manufacturers. It proposes new, broader controls on the safety of Canada’s agricultural inputs through licensing or registration of feed and fertilizer manufacturers. The proposed amendments would align Canadian legislation with that of our trading partners. The amendments would also help Canadian feed and fertilizer industries maintain their export markets, especially the United States.
Bill C-18 proposes to authorize the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to license or register fertilizer and animal feed operators and facilities that import or sell products across provincial or international borders. This is in addition to the current system, where feed and fertilizer products are registered product by product.
Once again, the proposed legislation respects the interests of farmers. This amendment would apply to businesses that sell animal feed and fertilizer products across provincial and international borders, not to farmers who make and use these products on their own farms.
Of course, any licensing regime requires regulations to operate effectively. This government is committed to collaborating closely with industry stakeholders to develop these regulations. Bill C-18 also proposes to improve a key aspect of the approval process: the consideration of foreign reviews and analysis.
Another amendment proposed in Bill C-18 is designed to promote innovation and to cut the red tape associated with registering new agricultural products. To achieve this, the proposed change would further clarify and confirm the agency's authority to consider foreign reviews and data evaluation during the approval or registration of agricultural products that are new to the Canadian market. This is in addition to ongoing Canadian reviews and analyses. In other words, these reviews would be informed by even more scientific data, which leads to sound decisions. This facilitates an efficient and effective approval process, so that Canada’s farmers benefit from the latest scientific research from around the world and keep pace with the competition.
Bill C-18 complements private member's Motion No. 460, which this House agreed with in April 2010. Motion No. 460 asked that equivalent foreign scientific research be considered. The approval process for regulated items needs to keep pace with innovation and leading edge science so our producers are not at an economic disadvantage.
What Motion No. 460 did not ask is that an approval in a foreign jurisdiction would immediately allow that product to be automatically used in Canada. The same applies for Bill C-18.
The foreign data can supplement the information used in the assessment of the product, but it must be considered in the Canadian context.
Bill C-18 also proposes to modernize Canada’s border controls for imported agricultural products. The proposed agricultural growth act would give CFIA inspectors the authority to order imported shipments of feeds, fertilizers or seeds out of Canada if they do not meet legal requirements. This is similar to the way that imported plants and animals may be ordered out of the country if they do not comply with regulatory requirements.
Under the current process, after the seizure of illegal products related to animal feeds, seeds or fertilizers, the CFIA either negotiates a solution or court proceedings are initiated. This process works, but at times, Canada must pay to dispose of the illegal products that have been seized. Its not difficult to appreciate that it would be more efficient to simply require the importer to remove the products from Canada. Bill C-18 proposes that CFIA inspectors be authorized to order non-compliant products out of Canada.
However, if the product poses no risk to safety, and the inspector is satisfied that the compliance can be fixed in a reasonable time, they may allow the product to be brought into compliance in Canada. This gives the inspector the needed authority to keep non-compliant products out of Canada, but the flexibility to allow certain issues to be fixed here.
This proposed amendment would provide the CFIA with stronger tools to more efficiently fulfill its mandate to protect Canada’s plant and animal resource base. It would provide additional reassurance to Canadian consumers that imported agricultural products meet Canada’s stringent requirements and would level the competitive playing field for our Canadian farmers.
This is further evidence that this government listens carefully to Canada’s farmers and producers. I wish to point out that the proposed Agricultural Growth Act reflects extensive stakeholder consultations carried out over the past few years. We are committed to additional consultation.
Upon receiving royal assent, some of the changes in this act would come into force almost immediately, while others would be phased in incrementally or following regulatory amendments.
Canada’s agriculture and agri-food industry depends on an effective, innovative and nimble legislative framework, one that reflects 21st-century realities and can readily adapt to a changing industry landscape, while providing a consistent and effective approach.
Ultimately, this is what Bill C-18 is about: helping Canada’s farmers and producers make a larger and more valuable contribution to this country’s prosperity.
This is precisely why I encourage all parliamentarians to give the proposed Agricultural Growth Act their careful attention and move it forward, so we will have the legislative backbone to continue providing Canada’s farmers and food processors with the tools they need to drive new economic growth and compete in the global economy.