Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to Bill C-18, an omnibus bill that will alter a number of aspects of farm life.
Bill C-18 proposes nine amendments to federal laws and will affect almost every aspect of farming. The statutes that will be amended under the Agricultural Growth Act are the Plant Breeders’ Rights Act, the Feeds Act, the Fertilizers Act, the Seeds Act, the Health of Animals Act, the Plant Protection Act and the Agriculture and Agri-Food Administrative Monetary Penalties Act. Currently, all these statutes fall under the CFIA. The bill also amends the Agricultural Marketing Programs Act and the Farm Debt Mediation Act, which fall under AAFC.
I will now get to the heart of the matter: the issues surrounding plant breeders.
According to the government, this bill will stimulate innovation, which will benefit farmers by increasing the choice of crops and in turn increasing revenues.
However, many stakeholders are worried that the bill will limit farmers' use of seeds. Like me, farmers have concerns about the proposed amendments to the plant breeders' rights legislation that would commit Canada to UPOV '91. The International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants, or UPOV, an intergovernmental organization established in 1961, promotes the interests of plant breeders by allowing them to claim intellectual property rights in countries that sign the agreement. Canada is currently part of UPOV '78, a former version.
Those who support joining UPOV '91 allege that it would result in greater investments by seed breeders in Canada. Those opposed believe that this will cost farmers more money, not just at the time of seed sale but also when crops are sold and beyond.
This is a very delicate subject and we must understand the nuances. We must strike a balance between the interests of seed breeders who want to be compensated for their work and farmers who work hard every day to feed our country. We absolutely must ask ourselves what consequences all the amendments proposed in this omnibus bill will have for both Canadian farmers and food safety.
Has the government done its homework? Is the bill part of a long-term vision for farming in Canada or, once again, is the government blindly making decisions that will benefit the same people?
Mr. Speaker, I do not know if you are aware of this, but the NDP is the only federal party to propose a Canada-wide food strategy, which was unveiled last week. We have received a lot of support for this. It is not something we put together in one day; we have been working on it for years. We consulted not only Canadians, but also producers across the country. I am truly proud of this document.
I want to focus on the farmers' privilege aspect for a few minutes. It is a key piece of the legislation that needs clarification. The bill states that farmers' privilege is an exception to subsection 5(1). This article states that the holder of the plant breeders' rights has the exclusive right to produce and reproduce, condition, sell, export, import, or stock seed, and authorize any of these actions. Farmers' privilege allows farmers to produce and condition seed only for their own holdings.
This raises many concerns. For example, can a farmer have his seed cleaned by a neighbour as a favour? Or does the farmer need to condition the seed on their own holding? What about saving seed? The bill clearly says farmers can only produce and condition seed. That means that farmers will have to pay a royalty in order to stock their seed. No matter how many assurances the minister provides, I want to be sure that these provisions are clearly stated in the bill and will not be left open for interpretation.
We need to carefully study the bill to fully understand its effects. I look forward to calling experts to the agriculture committee on this issue in order to hear about the effects of the bill. I hope my colleagues from across the way will be open to amendments to improve and clarify the bill to ensure it is advantageous for all of our farmers.
There is another aspect of farmers' privilege that worries me. Farmers' privilege is explained in the negative. It does not look like a right to me. It looks like an exception. The fact that farmers' privilege can be changed through regulation is more worrisome. These limited exceptions to seed companies' total control on seed could change or disappear without having to consult Parliament. That would give the minister a lot of power. I am not sure I trust the minister with that much power and control over farmers' lives and livelihoods. He does not have a very good track record. I do not think I need to remind members of the grain prices, XL Foods, or listeriosis.
When it comes to plant breeders' rights, I believe that a balanced approach is essential. We need to protect Canada's farmers and public researchers.
The minister has said the bill would increase investment to our agriculture sector by creating incentives for companies to come to Canada. My concern here, again, is the farmer. Innovation needs to benefit farmers. We want to ensure that all Canadians can access and benefit from our agricultural legacy. This is why I would like to see more public funding of innovation, which is something that our party has called for.
In order to prevent the privatization of existing varieties of seeds deployed, we must ensure a variety registration system that would ensure new crop varieties are as good as, or better than, existing ones. We also have to ensure that farmers would continue to have access to existing cereal varieties that were developed by public plant breeders.
Turning to another aspect of the bill, I was pleased to see increased flexibility in the advance payments program. The APP provides producers with a cash advance on the value of their agricultural products during a specific period. This would improve producers' cash flow throughout the year and help them meet financial obligations to benefit from the best market conditions. The grain transportation crisis has shown the value of such a program. It is too bad it was not in place at that time to help grain producers.
Allowance for multi-year agreements would allow the administrative burden for those who are applying to the advance payments program in consecutive years, which would make the program more accessible to producers and program delivery more efficient, hopefully. It is unfortunate to see that the maximum amounts have not been increased. The CFA has called for an increase in order to address rising farm costs. Overall, the changes to the APP make the program more accessible and flexible, which is something I applaud.
I would like to end my remarks on the bill by reflecting on the policy direction of the government. The bill's short title is “agricultural growth act”. Whether the bill would actually help grow the agriculture sector is yet to be determined. Once again, can we trust the current minister? It is questionable. I would like to see the government have a comprehensive vision for agriculture in this country. Agriculture is such an important sector. It represents one in eight jobs in Canada. It is vital to our economy.
The minister is bringing in pieces of legislation that seem to be reacting to an issue, rather than leading the way on agriculture issues. That is very sad. It seems we only have the chance to debate agriculture when there is a problem or a crisis. That is something that I do not want to see. I want more positive things. I want to be talking about agriculture more positively in the House, rather than reacting.
The latest grain transportation crisis is a good example. Once again the government waited months before acting, then scrambled together a piece of legislation that could help farmers but would not be a long-term solution. We can all agree on that. The government only acts when it needs to, and it delays the action as much as possible. I wish we could work with the current government on a forward-thinking vision for agriculture in this country that would be dedicated to supporting big farms and small farms and would also give farmers the tools they need to succeed.