Mr. Speaker, I commend the contribution of my colleague from Thunder Bay—Rainy River to this debate. This is a debate has been going on for some time now and that we would have liked to see extended, but every time there is a debate on agriculture, there are closure motions. This is the 82nd time allocation motion. Congratulations once again. Sadly, this affects a bill that deals with such an important subject, namely agriculture.
Across Canada, from coast to coast, generation after generation of farmers work hard, carrying on a farming tradition as workers who devote themselves to their country and their land. They carry on their traditions and help feed the Canadian people. Well, this bill is called the agricultural growth act.
How could the government forget so many players—especially in the regions, where we see the diversity, vitality and tenacity of Canadians—in the development of a bill to support a local community, whose specific characteristics make Canada such a great country?
We must admit that this is a great country. It will be an even greater country in 2015 when the NDP takes over the House and we will finally see bills that are more pragmatic and down to earth.
Bill C-18 amends nine laws, which makes this an omnibus bill. All these laws, some more complex than others, deserve our attention, and we should examine some of the details.
This bill will amend the Plant Breeders’ Rights Act, including the duration and scope of those rights; the Feeds Act; the Fertilizers Act; the Seeds Act; the Health of Animals Act; and the Plant Protection Act—that is starting to add up to a lot of laws—the Agriculture and Agri-Food Administrative Monetary Penalties Act; the Agricultural Marketing Programs Act; and finally, the Farm Debt Mediation Act.
Farm debt is one of the most serious concerns in the agricultural sector. In some Canadian regions, debt is becoming a problem, as is the transfer of family farms to the next generation so that farms can continue to feed people, because that is what this is about.
Where I come from, there are beef and hog producers. There are other operations that are developing, such as those that raise deer, bison, boar, ostrich and even alpaca. They all need grain to ensure that their animals are healthy, and they need to follow the food safety rules to ensure that their livestock is fit for consumption.
Farmers have a lot of concerns. This bill seems to dismiss those concerns and focuses instead on large-scale business.
The government wants to ensure that Canada meets international trade criteria and, as a result, it is forgetting an entire segment of our agricultural production, which serves the local economy extremely well. Communities across the country have struggled to live and survive from farming through the years, and they are still alive. I cannot believe that my riding of Compton—Stanstead is the only one where traditional farming still exists.
Given our concerns, the NDP proposed 16 amendments that would have protected farmers' rights and made for fair rules for breeders and farmers. Those amendments would have made the regulatory process more democratic. However, once again, the government has introduced a bill that puts more power in the minister's hands. The minister will be able to decide what is and is not okay from his office.
A minister should use his power only as a last resort for resolving problems in his administrative area. However, now, he can intervene any time he wants. That does not make sense. We have been seeing this sort of thing since 2011. All of the senior ministers have given themselves more power. That is not right. The departments have employees who are there to do the work, and they do it very well. The Conservatives have made cuts to a number of departments, which have resulted in cuts to front-line staff. What is more, they had the audacity to eliminate the jobs of people who communicate with and provide services to the public. There will be more decision makers.
Perhaps someone should listen to people, to the farmers in this case, to find out what they really need.
We therefore cannot support this bill since we believe that it does not provide sufficient protection for farmers and gives too much discretionary power to the minister.
Agricultural biodiversity has been eroding for decades, not just in Canada, but also around the world. Biodiversity is disappearing because agricultural production systems are being homogenized—we are seeing more and more specialized crops and livestock—and globalization is leading to standardization. Everyone knows this as the concept of international trade. People want to be able to participate in international trade and meet demand. Everything is made to be as productive and fast as possible, and diversity is ignored. I do not know if my colleagues are aware, but there have been cases in the animal kingdom where everything has become sterile, or non-operational, and nothing is working anymore. This is what will happen, since nature has its own plan. If biodiversity in one sector is decreased—whether we are talking about canola, soya or another crop—sooner or later there will be consequences, and they will be serious.
By its very design, this bill falls well short of promoting food sovereignty, with which we should be extremely concerned. There was a time when 80% to 90% of what Canadians had in their pantries came from Canada. Now it is around 25% or 20%. That percentage is going down. The food comes from foreign holdings; it no longer belongs to the farmers themselves.
Farmers are the cornerstone of our food system and, as I was saying, they contribute significantly to our local economies. The NDP believes that they must continue being the drivers of their respective economies across Canada—not just in one corner of the country, but all across Canada. We want farmers to be able to earn a decent living.
Canadians deserve better, more pragmatic policies, and that is what the NDP will propose in 2015. We are ready.
Pragmatism is the word of the day, and it is nowhere to be found in this bill.