Mr. Speaker, obviously NDP members are the only ones working in the House tonight. I am very proud of them.
I am very pleased to rise again to speak to Bill C-18, An Act to amend certain Acts relating to agriculture and agri-food. Before getting to the main part of my speech, I would like to mention that I will be splitting my time with my wonderful colleague, the member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour. We are all looking forward to hearing from him.
The bill before us today is another omnibus bill, courtesy of the Conservatives. This is no surprise. We have become accustomed to their way of doing things. However they introduced a refreshing change. Even though the bill amends nine different laws—all the amendments are contained in the same document—they did something very unusual. For once, they focused exclusively on agriculture and agri-food. They seem to have learned something from the previous omnibus bills. At least this time around they have not presented us with a host of amendments that have absolutely nothing to do with the substance of the bill. It is an improvement and we hope the Conservatives will also improve the way they manage the proceedings in the House and the democratic process in Canada. However this will be the subject of another debate.
I will go back to bill C-18. This bill deals with various issues, from plant breeders' protection to the reinforcement of border security mechanisms, as well as increased access to the advance payments program. Therefore, this bill deals with several issues that are important to our farmers and, by extension, to our fellow citizens. This is why the NDP will support bill C-18 at second reading.
It is important to us that this bill be examined in detail. Indeed, even though we support some measures included in the bill, we believe that they should be studied in depth, as if often the case when the Conservatives introduce an omnibus bill, regardless of what they want Canadians to believe. Various experts have already given their opinion on this and are calling for amendments. The NDP thinks that we should take the time we need to hear them. We must invite experts who wish to speak on the issues included in bill C-18. As parliamentarians, we must also listen to the concerns of the farmers in our ridings to try and come up with the best bill possible.
As we all know, it is simply not in the Conservatives' DNA to collaborate, to negotiate and to look for improvements. Still, we hope that some of that may happen if the bill is sent to committee. This bill needs to benefit all farmers and producers, as well as all Canadians.
As I said, the NDP supports parts of the bill. A few provisions address the concerns of the people from my riding of Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier. We are in a rural area with numerous family farms, spread over the Portneuf RCM, the Jacques-Cartier RCM and the town of Saint-Augustin-de-Desmaures.
Constituents and producers often contact me to discuss agricultural issues. Access to funding is a challenge, as is probably the case in many parts of the country. I am sure that everyone in the House who represents a rural riding hears similar complaints from their constituents.
It is good to know, then, that Bill C-18 improves access to the advance payments program. This would make it easier for producers to access credit through cash advances. Accordingly, producers would be better able to meet all their financial obligations throughout the year, while improving their access to cash. New credit options would also be available to producers whose farm is not their main source of income to support their families.
All of these important changes address my constituents' concerns. However, as I mentioned at the outset, we are dealing yet again with an omnibus bill.
Some of the measures it contains warrant some reworking. They would benefit from expert advice from people who really know the field and work in it every day. That is why we would like to refer the bill to committee. We would like to take the time to do the work we were elected to the House of Commons to do.
There is one problem that deserves to be revisited that I would like to see studied in committee. I am talking about the fact that this bill gives the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food more discretionary powers.
In fact, if passed as is, Bill C-18 would allow the minister to change various provisions of the bill without having to go through the House. He would not need approval from parliamentarians from all the parties. He could simply do it all by regulation. We see that provision quite often in Conservative bills. Frankly, this provision is a concern for the NDP.
This government has shown us many times that we cannot trust it. Here again, it is asking us to give it carte blanche, to give carte blanche to the minister who was at the helm during the XL Foods crisis, the minster who allowed major cuts at the Food Inspection Agency and who allowed the number of inspectors to be cut. The inspectors' jobs are to ensure the health of Canadians, to ensure that we all have access to high-quality food that is not contaminated. It is under this minister that the lives of hundreds and thousands of Canadians were put at risk during the XL Foods crisis. That caused panic here because the government was unable to guarantee the Food Inspection Agency the necessary resources to allow it to do its job properly.
Here again, with the bill before us, we are being asked to trust a minister who has shown his incompetence more than once. Frankly, this needs to be studied in committee again. We need to hear from experts on this aspect of the bill and various other aspects that are controversial and should be improved. We are not saying that we want this bill to be withdrawn completely or that it should never be passed. We are asking the government to show good faith and agree to work with members of the other parties. We also represent farmers, people who are familiar with the problems addressed in the bill, people who deserve to be heard as well as taken into consideration. They should be reflected in the bill that is passed in the House. If we pass Bill C-18 in its current form, that will not be the case.
Personally, when I travel through my riding, Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier, no one tells me that ministers in the Conservative government should have more discretionary powers because they trust the government. I never hear that in my riding. Quite honestly, most of the time I hear how anxious people are for 2015 to come, so we can be rid of this government.
Aside from that, I have had the opportunity to meet with people from my riding and from ridings across Quebec and Canada. Canadians are worried about the decisions this government is making. It often makes unilateral decisions that do not leave room for opposition or constructive suggestions from the opposition. We know that our job is not simply to criticize. We also suggest solutions and improvements. That generally happens in committee and in the House when we participate in debates that no other parties participate in. We understand our job as MPs. I think it is unfortunate that the Conservatives take their jobs for granted. They do not feel the need to rise and defend their constituents. We saw that with the debate on Bill C-6, when all we heard was yelling from backbench MPs and the same question repeated over and over by the same hon. member on the other side. I strongly suspect that Bill C-18 will only be debated by New Democrat members who care about protecting Canadians and who want to ensure that we all have access to good quality food.
We are the only party that has proposed a global strategy to address the challenges facing farmers and food safety. No other party in the House has addressed this issue. The NDP's objective is to ensure that we can promote sustainable farming communities, support local agriculture, promote safety and transparency in the food protection system and make healthy food accessible to all Canadians.
That is what we want to accomplish here, and that is what we want to accomplish in trying to improve Bill C-18.