House of Commons Hansard #104 of the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was munitions.


Georgian Bay Channel to Lock 45 – Port SevernPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.


Bruce Stanton Conservative Simcoe North, ON


That, in the opinion of the House, the government should consider the advisability of measures to deepen and straighten the vessel navigation channel which provides access between Georgian Bay and the westerly limit of the Trent-Severn Waterway, at Port Severn.

Mr. Speaker, it is a great privilege to address the House this morning, on the kind of rare occasion for a chair occupant to have the opportunity to address the House. As many members may know, I have the privilege of having chair occupancy, along with the great team that does work in this area, the hon. member for Regina—Qu'Appelle, the hon. member for Windsor—Tecumseh, and the hon. member for Haliburton—Kawartha Lakes—Brock. It is a great team to be part of, but it does not accord us with the time to address the House, except on rare occasions such as this.

As the motion was read, members can tell that this is about improving a very specific part of the navigable waterway, just below Lock 45 at the village of Port Severn. That may not be all that familiar to a lot of members, so I will describe exactly where that is.

Before I go on, I want to mention that my seconder today, the hon. member for Elgin—Middlesex—London, is greatly familiar with this area that we speak of. Of course, he is very close to a part of the Great Lakes himself, representing his riding in southwestern Ontario. He is intimately familiar with the kinds of benefits that are derived from the recreational boating economy that is a central part of job creation and wealth creation in our part of Ontario.

Georgian Bay is a part of my riding. As members might know, it is almost as large as Lake Ontario itself. It sits on the northeastern corner of Lake Huron. Lake Huron and Lake Michigan are the two lakes that actually compose slightly over 50% of the total area of the Great Lakes in their entirety.

In my part of the riding, there are several communities along the south shore of Georgian Bay. This is the southernmost portion of the bay where, for many recreational boating activists and participants from the GTA and southern Ontario, it is the closest point at which they can meet with Georgian Bay.

In my riding alone, there are no less than 4,000 recreational boat slips. There is also all of the economy that ensues from that, whether from repair shops to marine services to sales to retail, all of the things that derive from that basic economic activity.

Georgian Bay connects many towns and villages, of which members may be well aware, and we all have a great stake in that recreational boating economy. These are places like Owen Sound and Parry Sound. In my riding, there are Midland and Penetanguishene; places like Collingwood, Tobermory, Manitoulin Island, the North Channel. However, this being a binational waterway, it also connects with the recreational boating traffic from the United States, especially in our corner, from the State of Michigan.

All of the boaters who frequent Canada during the fair weather months make their routes from the northeastern parts of the United States up to the Great Lakes, and then find their way through the Trent-Severn Waterway from Georgian Bay back down to Lake Ontario. They can then reconnect with the Erie Canal, and right back down south along the eastern seaboard, all the way to Florida.

I mentioned the Trent-Severn Waterway. Many members are familiar with this wonderful waterway. There are members in the House who have familiarity with it because they have cottages or real estate on it. It is part of southern Ontario's cottage country community, which has no less than $23.6 billion worth of residential property. This is a waterway that was built by the Government of Canada in the late 19th century and early into the 20th century, comprising, as I said, $23.6 billion in residential property, with an annual economic influx to our region of about $1 billion annually and all of the different economic activities that ensue from it.

It is a waterway that is 386 kilometres long, connecting Georgian Bay at the village of Port Severn, all the way down through central Ontario, Lake Simcoe, through the Kawartha Lakes, and out to Lake Ontario on the north shore, around the town of Trenton.

There is a total of 160 dams, 44 locks, one marine railway, and some 50,000 residences on the waterway itself. There are another 16,500 residences on what are called the reservoir lakes. They are the lakes that were created to provide water to the Trent-Severn Waterway over the course of the summer, so that the navigation operation could continue.

That brings us to the little village of Port Severn itself. Port Severn is at the mouth of the Severn River. Where the Severn River flows, the river itself drains an area of approximately 5,500 square kilometres of our part of the area just east of the shoreline of Georgian Bay. It flows down through there, including the Lake Simcoe watershed, which goes as far south as the Oak Ridges Moraine, as those in the Toronto and southern Ontario will know . It is the high ground just above the city of Toronto. Everything north of that moraine drains northward initially, through Lake Simcoe, and eventually into the Severn River. It flows out to Georgian Bay through the Severn River.

During the time of early settlement in Ontario, that river was critical to the local economy involving the lumber industry. It was the main route to get fallen logs from their part of the watershed to the mills. Port Severn was established for the lumber industry, and it took its path from those early routes. For the case of today's discussion, it is also the point at which all of the navigable waterways and recreational boating activity that occurs both on Georgian Bay and the inland waterway up the Trent-Severn connect. There could be anywhere up to 40,000 vessels across the waterway itself. The ability to connect between the two waterways is through a very narrow channel, which is right below Lock 45 on its way to Georgian Bay.

We do not have the ability to show members any graphs, pictures, posters, or anything of that sort, so I will do my best. I would ask members to imagine the eastern shore of Georgian Bay as being fairly shallow. Along the approaches to the shoreline, there are very few areas where there is enough water depth to allow larger vessels to get close to shore. Therefore, when the canal was built in the late 19th century to early 20th century, and the navigation channel was essentially excavated out of the rock to allow more vessels to come through, it was done in a way that would allow them passage between the two waterways. As I said, most parts of the Trent-Severn were built around 1880, and finished in 1920, with the final link between Lake Couchiching and Sparrow Lake. It has largely been the same from the early days when the canal was created.

I know that many members have travelled the incredible expressway that we have to cottage country in Ontario, called Highway 400. It starts right in Toronto, and there are four lanes all the way to Sudbury. There are only a few narrow spots, along the French River area and south of it, that are still two lanes, but the Province of Ontario continues to build it. That highway crosses the canal right at Port Severn. Of course, the canal in question here existed well before that highway was created.

When the canal was built, they built it for the vessels of the day. They also built it for the amount of traffic that existed at that time. As one can imagine, both have grown over the decades. Vessels have become larger and there is more traffic. In fact, we see upward of 6,200 passages through Lock 45 in a given season. In the summer, up to 82 vessels per day pass through the canal, one way or the other.

What has created a problem for the canal since the year 2000 is that we have had a persistent low water condition in the upper Great Lakes, on Lake Huron, Lake Michigan, and on Georgian Bay. As that has persisted, the difficulty in navigating the canal has become worse.

Members may know that the water levels on Georgian Bay fluctuate about a metre and a half from top to bottom, and that happens on about a 15 to 20-year cycle. However, recently, particularly because of climatic conditions, we have had a persistent low period of water levels. We have seen that come back and recover a little this past year, but the low water conditions have made the channel that much more treacherous for larger boats to navigate.

What exactly is wrong with it?

Those of you who have piloted vessels like this would know that when there are onshore winds or currents that are sometimes unexpected and one is navigating a 32 or 34-foot vessel through a channel like that, the sudden change in conditions can move one into a spot that is not so easy to deal with. The risk of collision, either with shoals or other vessels, becomes very real. This is exactly what has happened in this little canal below Lock 45. In fact, pilots of various vessels have spread the word that this is a very treacherous canal.

The community of pilots of these vessels is very close knit. These people all talk with each other, and they have simply stayed away. We have also heard from operators of marinas all across my region, and they are the ones who originally brought this issue to my attention. They want to know what can be done to make the canal more safe.

Therefore, over the last year, I undertook to see exactly what could be done. We talked to local contractors to find out what it would take to make the canal safe. They are in the business of doing this kind of work, and they know what they are doing.

We had one project estimate to remove approximately 1,200 cubic metres of rock from this particular channel, to widen, deepen, and straighten it, to make sure that vessels could get through even if a low water condition existed. The cost of this project is in the range of $650,000, which is not a huge amount of money. It is removing rock, but once it is done, it would stay done, just as the existing channel has from its early days. This is not an area that will continue to be silted in, and so on.

This is a project that needs to be done. It is a very specific channel, and it would make a mountain of difference for our operators of retail navigation, marine navigation, and all of the various businesses and employees who rely on this kind of employment. It would allow much more traffic between the Trent-Severn Waterway and the Georgian Bay destination.

I should say, by the way, that Georgian Bay is the very best inland waterway that Ontario has to offer. The member for Elgin—Middlesex—London may disagree because he is on beautiful Lake Erie, and of course all the members who are situated around the Great Lakes would know what great boating our Great Lakes offer. However, for those those who have had the chance to visit the Georgian Bay coastline, it is stunning. There are fantastic services and communities along it, which provide great services for boaters.

I am presenting a proposition to the House for consideration. I have asked in the motion for the government to consider the advisability of the measures it would take to make this channel more safe and take away the deterrents to boating in this region of the country. I realize that we do not know what may follow in terms of the water level conditions that may persist. However, if it is anything like the last 13 years or so, if not addressed, it would conceivably still represent problems.

I seek the support of the House to pass this motion and take one next step toward getting those measures complete.

Georgian Bay Channel to Lock 45 – Port SevernPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.


Matthew Kellway NDP Beaches—East York, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Simcoe North for his speech and for bringing this motion forward to the House.

Having visited that area, I concur that the northern part of the Trent-Severn Waterway, up around Port Severn, is indeed stunning. I think that all MPs who represent people along the 380 kilometres of the Trent-Severn Waterway would agree that it is quite stunning, with each part of the waterway offering its own particular landscape and engineering marvels.

In light of the member's description of the waterway as a whole and the complexity of the watershed and interests that are involved along the Trent-Severn Waterway, from the different types of recreational use to the natural environment, can he tell the House what kind of assessments and consultations have been done to support the motion? For example, have economic and environmental assessments been done? Have first nations been consulted?

Georgian Bay Channel to Lock 45 – Port SevernPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.


Bruce Stanton Conservative Simcoe North, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member for Beaches—East York asked a pertinent question.

There is no doubt that the nature of in-water works in our part of the world requires a rigorous examination in terms of the environmental impact. Several regulatory authorities would become involved in that process, and regardless of whether a private or public enterprise undertook the work, all of those permits would have to be satisfied. The lead agency in this case would be the provincial ministry of the environment and natural resources, which would provide the necessary permitting. That is a public process that one would have to go through.

In terms of other consultations because of the nature and scope of the work, this is a very specific rock excavation that would not be a lot different from any other remedial types of excavations in the area. Not having a broad application in the local community, consultations have been really restricted to the local economic interests in our area.

Georgian Bay Channel to Lock 45 – Port SevernPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, I was paying close attention to the hon. member's speech, because he and I share a reservoir lake, so we are both keen about what happens on the Trent–Severn Waterway.

There is no question that we are broadly supportive of the motion and agree completely with the whole argument of the economic multiplier that is the Trent-Severn Waterway writ large, not only from Georgian Bay but right through to Kingston and on to Ottawa, for that matter.

I am sure the member would agree with me that there have been a number of years of low water, as he mentioned in his speech. This is just the natural effect of climate change. We are into a situation where climate is disrupting normal patterns, whether it is rain or whatever.

I am given to understand that not only to adapt to climate change but also for other impacts on the waterway, there is somewhere in the order of $350 million worth of deferred maintenance for the entire system. I am wondering whether this is part of this, whether this is a special one-off, or whether the whole system needs a complete rebuild.

Georgian Bay Channel to Lock 45 – Port SevernPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Bruce Stanton Conservative Simcoe North, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member for Scarborough—Guildwood would know well that the ageing infrastructure of the Trent-Severn does need regular attention. That was one of the reasons I was glad to see in budget 2014 a commitment of $391.5 million for Parks Canada to complete many projects involving dams, bridges, and roads on properties that are under Parks Canada. To answer my colleague's specific question, though, this would be a one-off, as he described, and would not be contemplated within the existing Parks Canada budget.

It is actually just outside the Trent-Severn Waterway jurisdiction. It goes as far as the dock on the low side of Lock 45, so the government would have to authorize additional funds. The government would have to consider how that might be accommodated, but it would not exist on the current list of deferred maintenance affecting the Trent-Severn Waterway.

Georgian Bay Channel to Lock 45 – Port SevernPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Matthew Kellway NDP Beaches—East York, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to rise in the House today and speak to Motion No. 502, which calls on the government to consider the advisability of measures to strengthen and deepen the vessel navigation channel that provides access from Georgian Bay to the westerly limit of the Trent-Severn Waterway at Port Severn. What the motion is attempting to address is a bit of a hazardous part of the trip through the 386 kilometre waterway. The channel these folks are having to go through is rock-faced, quite narrow, and subject to swift currents from the operation of the locks and also from winds. The boats that travel through that narrow channel often get shifted around by both the currents and winds into rock faces and experience problems.

I am very pleased to speak to the motion for a couple of reasons. First, I spent three happy summers on the Trent-Severn Waterway as a summer student and another year on the Rideau Canal, again as a summer student. These were great jobs. Students, frankly, could not ask for better work. It was outside. It was well paid. That work went a long way in helping me through those years of university.

I have to acknowledge that I was not lock staff. I was an interpretive guide. On the Trent-Severn, I spent most of my time in Peterborough at the lift lock, the highest lift lock in the world, as I am sure all of us in the House know. However, I did get the opportunity to see the full length of the waterway, sometimes dressed as Boomer the beaver, sometimes just in my Parks Canada uniform. It was amazing.

I got to see the Kirkfield lift lock too, which is the second highest lift lock in the world. Who knew? I also got to see the marine railway up at Big Chute. These are engineering marvels, top to bottom, on the Trent-Severn.

My time on the Rideau was similarly spent as an interpretive guide and split between the blockhouse at Kingston Mills and the blacksmith shop up at Jones Falls, where, by the end of the summer, I became pretty handy at bashing out a few standard household items over the forge.

Neither of these jobs had the cool factor of lock staff, it goes without saying, since I had to dress as Boomer the beaver from time to time and run around in militia uniform firing off muskets in the dark. However, they did afford me the opportunity as a young person to get some insight into the history of our country, and indeed, into the history of the first nations and how they lived on these lands and used the natural waterways before the canals actually linked them. There are a couple of lessons in all of this that stand out for me.

We have before us a relatively modest motion. I think the member has priced it at $600,000 and change. Of course, given the numbers we deal with in the House, that strikes us as relatively small.

What I want to talk about is the issue of ambition, and this is why I support even this smaller proposal in the motion. It is the ambition required of nation builders and the ambition Canada once had to build the infrastructure that makes a nation. These waterways were carved out of some very difficult and unforgiving land, and they remain marvels, national historic sites, both the Rideau and the Trent-Severn. Of course, the Rideau has the UNESCO World Heritage Site designation as well. They remain, among other things, marvels of engineering. The lift locks along the Trent-Severn still captivate and perplex people. It is so simple, yet people stand at the bottom wondering how these things work and how they were built.

The waterways are but two examples, albeit outstanding ones, of an infrastructure that built our country. Laying railroad track across the country, across beautiful but hostile territory, through equally difficult and often deadly summers and winters, was no less a feat of course.

It is not just about the rural and remote infrastructure that built this country; it is also about urban infrastructure in Toronto. One need only look at the Bloor Street viaduct built almost 100 years ago. It was designed to facilitate mass transit at the beginning of the 20th century, long before we needed mass transit. Its upper deck was built to accommodate streetcars while the lower deck was built for rail transportation. It was controversial at the time because of the high additional costs. However, the bridge's designer and the commissioner of public works for Toronto at the time, R.C. Harris, were able to have their way, and the lower deck on that Bloor Street viaduct proved to save millions upon millions of dollars when the TTC, the Toronto Transit Commission, ultimately opened the Bloor-Danforth subway almost half a century later and they were able to use that bridge with no major structural changes.

Just down the road from my home in Toronto, and ever so slightly outside my riding, unfortunately, because I would like to call it my own, is the R.C. Harris water filtration plant. It tells a similar story. Early in the 20th century, Toronto was plagued with water shortages and unclean drinking water, so a plant was built in the 1930s to purify water. That is the R.C. Harris water filtration plant. It still functions today, providing almost half the water to Toronto and York Region all these years later.

It is interesting that Michael Ondaatje's novel In the Skin of a Lion tells the story of how in the 1930s water intakes were built more than 2.5 kilometres out under the lake, offshore, in 15 metres of water, and connected to the plant through pipes running under the bed of the lake. These were the kinds of ambitions we had at one time to build the infrastructure upon which we built great cities and a great country. It is forward looking, it is courageous, and it understands that infrastructure needs to be built now to serve as the foundation for a prosperous future. We are falling short on this. I talk all the time in this House about the impact of the lack of ambition of successive federal governments on our cities, but here let me restrict my comments to our waterways.

Recent estimates suggest that Parks Canada is letting our cultural, economic, and environmental assets go. Recent reports on Parks Canada and its assets suggests that there has been poor stewardship of its vast holdings, estimated in 2012 to require some $2.9 billion in deferred repairs. Deferred work on the Trent-Severn Waterway alone is estimated to be worth almost $700 million.

In a recent letter made public by retired managers of both the Trent-Severn and the Rideau Canal, they point to many problems emerging from the cuts made in the 2012 budget. Some of those cuts have been restored, but they have left a devastating impact on these two canals. The managers speak to the natural and cultural resources of the two waterways. They speak to all the complexity of uses of these waterways and the complexity of the watershed the waterways run through, and all the recreational uses. They challenge the government to ask itself whether it is really paying attention and respecting the heritage we have here.

The second point, just to conclude, is a more modern one. This letter points to this issue that these waterways are not remote anymore. They serve many functions and many people and fall under the jurisdiction of more than one government. That is to say that management is always a complex issue, and many important interests need to be served. The cuts to the hours of operation of these canals that flowed from the 2012 budget have had a devastating impact. As someone who worked on the waterway at one point in time, I know that the rolling crews through these locks is devastating to the economies along the waterway.

To support the motion, one thing I would like to see come out of it is greater consultation with all the competing and many complementary interests that exist along the waterway.

Georgian Bay Channel to Lock 45 – Port SevernPrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.


David McGuinty Liberal Ottawa South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Simcoe North for bringing forward this important motion. It is one that we will be supporting.

It is a local issue about which his community clearly cares. The member for Simcoe North has kindly shared with me support letters from arenas and other businesses, as well as property owners in his riding. As he rightly points out, this about is $24 billion worth of property, 160 dams, 50,000 residences and property owners, and more.

By way of background for those who are not as familiar with Ontario as I and the member, we are talking about the channel that links the Trent-Severn Waterway to Georgian Bay. It is a winding, narrow passage chiselled from the rock floor of Georgian Bay, immediately south of Lock 45 in Port Severn, Ontario. It is a hazard for recreational vessels because it is, first, rock-faced. Second, it requires fairly sharp turns. Third, it is not wide enough for larger vessels to pass each other. Finally, it suffers from unexpected swift currents from the release of water from the locks.

The channel becomes even more difficult to navigate safely during low water level conditions on Georgian Bay, a condition that has now prevailed since 1999. The bay is currently 35 centimetres below its long-term average for this time of year. The hazardous nature of the channel has deterred boaters from using it, resulting in lost business for services, arenas, retail sector, food services and more on Georgian Bay.

As an environmental lawyer, I fully understand that water resources support Canada's social fabric, underpin our biodiversity and are central to our economic prosperity.

Now, while I support the motion, I also think the government has a responsibility to take action when environmental challenges pose threats to our environment and our economy. This is a perfect demonstration project or case of how we should hand the realities we will face over the next 50 to 100 years.

For the past 20 years, I have been calling for a detailed national climate change strategy for Canada, a strategy to both mitigate and help adapt to climate change.

Just last weekend, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released some numbers showing that the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere was now well over 400 parts per million and holding. Why is that important? It is important because we are trying to maintain the projected temperature increases to 2°C going forward. If we continue to climb in the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, it will be very difficult to contemplate holding that temperature increase to 2°C.

Why is this so important? It is important because we now know that the Great Lakes are in long-term decline because we have seen an ever-increasing temperature increase in them for a few reasons, mostly evaporation because of temperature increases.

We have also the effects of the dredging of the St. Clair River, and we have seen other effects of climate change right across Canadian society: storms, flooding, and the frequency and severity of these are going to continue.

If we had a national climate change strategy for Canada, it would help address the low water levels. It would help many waterways in Canada become safer and easier to navigate, without having to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars a piece for dredging.

That makes it all the more difficult to understand why the Prime Minister, last week, with the Prime Minister of Australia, once again, positioned the economy and the environment in isolation from each other, saying that we could not afford to address the climate change challenge. He could not be more wrong.

Last year, Lake Huron and Lake Michigan hit their lowest January water levels since record-keeping began in 1918, following more than a decade of below normal rain and snowfall, and higher temperatures that increased evaporation.

Furthermore, at a time when we need more and better science, one would think we would want to know, for the 50,000 property owners along this waterway, what might be coming.

At that very time, we found out that the Conservative government was cutting funding for environmental science. It has cut funding to the International Joint Commission, leading to Lana Pollack, the U.S. co-chair of the IJC, commenting, “We have always depended on good collaboration with agencies in both the governments. When those agencies get cut, we feel it, the lakes feel it”.

For the Conservative members who might want to listen, in the report on plans and priorities over the next two years, the government plans to decrease Environment Canada's budget by one-third, 30%. That is $300 million cut from a $1 billion budget.

In 2014-15, again in the report on plans and priorities, climate change and clean air programs are being cut 70% between now and 2017. I would think the member, in this important motion, would want to work internally in his own caucus to remind the Prime Minister that we need to help these property owners. We need to help companies in the private sector to adjust to these new realities.

Instead of embracing the economic opportunities that are inherent in the adaptation mitigation that is to come, the government continues to divide the two. International climate change and clean air funding will be cut 45% and staffing level will be cut by over 80% by 2017. That hardly sounds like a country getting ready to adjust to the realities of climate change and all of the economic opportunities that are inherent in addressing climate change going forward.

We will continue to put pressure on the government to also drive forward on a national water resources strategy, a comprehensive water strategy, working with the provinces, municipalities, territories and beyond, and, when necessary, with the government of the United States. Our waterways are interconnected, our land masses are connected, our oceans are contiguous. We are going to have to work together.

Finally, this is a wonderful opportunity, a wonderful case, where if the government had not eliminated the national round table on the environment and the economy, the national round table could have worked with the member, with private businesses, with aboriginal groups, with environmental NGOs and with orders of government to come together with a better, more comprehensive approach to deal with the watershed management challenge.

It is unfortunate, but it is an important moment for the government to stop, drop the rhetoric, drop the partisanship, drop the ideology on climate change, and understand that we can, as one person once said, do a lot of damage to the planet by running down its capital. Imagine how much more money we could make by actually replenishing it.

Georgian Bay Channel to Lock 45 – Port SevernPrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

Essex Ontario


Jeff Watson ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today to speak to the motion at hand, sponsored by the member for Simcoe North. I want to thank him for bringing it forward, as well as the interventions already by the member for Beaches—East York and Ottawa South in the debate today. I hope to explain a bit about Transport Canada's role under the motion in front of us today.

I am pleased to speak about Transport Canada's mandate under the Navigation Protection Act in relation to proposed dredging projects, such as deepening and straightening the navigation channel between Georgian Bay and the westerly limit of the Trent-Severn Waterway at Port Severn.

The high current in the channel makes it a difficult and challenging channel to navigate. The government recognizes the benefits of improving access within this waterway and supports, in principle, the initiative to widen and straighten the navigation channel to improve navigation through this busy recreational waterway.

However, it is important to note that Transport Canada does not dredge for the purposes of enhancing recreational boating. Rather, when a proponent brings forward a submission for a proposed dredging project, Transport Canada undertakes a regulatory review of the navigation safety of the project under the Navigation Protection Act, formally known as the Navigable Waters Protection Act.

As members are aware, the Navigable Waters Protection Act was amended in December 2012 as part of budget Bill C-45 in order to modernize the regulatory process that oversees our navigable waters.

The NWPA was one of Canada's oldest pieces of legislation, dating from a time when our waterways were Canada's primary transportation routes. A key purpose of the act was the protection of navigation in the context of allowing the construction and placement of works in, on, over, under, through, or across navigable waters in Canada.

A significant change to the act was the change in name to the Navigation Protection Act, correctly aligning the name of the act with its navigation safety mandate. Another key change was the addition of a schedule of specific navigable waters, focusing efforts on the regulation of those works that had the biggest impact on navigation in Canada. The schedule is focused on those waters that support busy commercial or recreation-related navigation, that are accessible by ports and marinas, and that are often in close proximity to heavily populated areas.

Nautical charts compiled by the Canadian Hydrographic Service, reliance on departmental historic data, and information acquired through Statistics Canada related to freight movement on Canadian waterways were used to compile the list.

Canadians have a public right of navigation; that is, the right to free and unobstructed passage over navigable waters. The new Navigation Protection Act operates as a statutory exception to the common law, allowing interferences with the public right of navigation.

In this day and age, where economic stimulus remains a top priority for Canada, I believe the amendments to the act have seized the opportunity to create a modern, robust, and flexible legislative regime that can effectively respond to current and future needs of Canadians. Ultimately, these amendments will facilitate better economic growth.

For years provincial, territorial, and municipal governments expressed a desire for the Government of Canada to overhaul the legislation and reduce the red tape. The amendments to the act respond to this demand, making it easier for communities to build important infrastructure like roads, bridges, and wharves, which create jobs and economic development.

For the purposes of our discussion today, the navigation channel that provides access between Georgian Bay and the westerly limit of the Trent-Severn Waterway at Port Severn is included in the schedule of waters.

The Trent-Severn Waterway is an important Canadian navigation and environmental resource, dating back to the 19th century transportation systems in Ontario, and continues to contribute to Canadian society today as part of our proud heritage. Thousands of boaters use the Trent-Severn each year, millions visit and enjoy the lock stations and other public sites along the canals, many local community businesses provide services to both residents and tourists, and, in addition, communities have been built around the lifestyles associated with this waterway.

In summary, this waterway continues to be a substantial boost to the economy of the region.

As I mentioned earlier, the navigation channel that provides access between Georgian Bay and the westerly limit of the Trent-Severn Waterway is on the schedule. This means that any proposed work on this navigable water may require a review and authorization by Transport Canada's officials under the Navigation Protection Act.

Transport Canada's role in any proposed dredging project on any navigable waterway listed on the schedule is to continue to support a safe and efficient transportation system through the regulatory review process, thereby minimizing risks to navigation.

It should be noted that some works, including dredging, may fall under the category of designated or minor works. Works in this category do not require review and authorization by Transport Canada's officials if the works meet the criteria set out in the minor works order.

Should a dredging project not meet the minor works criteria, Transport Canada's officials would work closely with their clients, usually the owners of the works, and with federal and provincial partners throughout the process of assessing the potential impacts of proposed works. They are directly involved in activities and operations that can impact navigation, and they serve clients in Canada's industrial sectors, all levels of government, stakeholders in the tourism and recreation sector, private property owners, and the general public.

To reiterate, a primary purpose of the Navigation Protection Act is to regulate works that risk interfering with navigation in waters listed in the schedule to the act. A proponent's submission requirements are determined by Transport Canada's officials and include important and relevant project information, such as final design and construction details. This detailed information is required for Transport Canada's officials to identify likely interferences with shipping and boating activities.

In the case of a proposed project for dredging within the Trent-Severn Waterway, the proponent would have to comply with the process for a regulatory submission. It is the owner's responsibility to submit a notice and receive confirmation from Transport Canada's officials prior to any construction. Specifically for this case, the proponent would be responsible for contacting the Transport Canada navigation protection program for the Ontario region. Transport Canada regional officials will provide the proponent with the relevant submission requirements.

In closing, Transport Canada's responsibility regarding this initiative is to review any proposed works in scheduled navigable waters to ensure they are constructed in a manner that considers the impacts to navigation and supports a safe and efficient transportation system. Transport Canada works closely with clients to assist them with a smooth and transparent regulatory review and authorization process.

Georgian Bay Channel to Lock 45 – Port SevernPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.


Jasbir Sandhu NDP Surrey North, BC

Mr. Speaker, as always it is an honour to speak in this House on behalf of my constituents from Surrey North. I am glad to speak to this motion in particular, Motion No. 503, introduced by the member for Simcoe North. It is an important piece of legislation, and I will try to connect its importance to B.C.

Basically, the motion calls for the government to consider the advisability of an investment to improve the navigability of the Trent-Severn Waterway near Lock 45. My colleagues in the NDP have conducted some consultations with the stakeholders and rights holders and first nations to look at this project, and most of the people who would be affected by this improvement seem to be open to the idea. However, there are some concerns as to what the next steps are. I hope the member for Simcoe North will keep the community informed and get it involved in the consultations in regard to moving forward with this project.

The Trent-Severn Waterway is a canal route traversing southern Ontario cottage country and is a linear historic site of Canada administered by Parks Canada. It was formerly used for industrial and transportation services and is now maintained for recreational and tourism purposes. I will tie this to how important tourism is not only to people in southern Ontario but also to waterways that are off British Columbia and in British Columbia.

There are numerous issues contributing to the need for this to be done. The channel has many rocks, it requires relatively sharp turns, it is not wide enough for bigger vessels, and it is subject to unexpected currents seasonally. For these reasons, it is difficult for boaters to navigate through these waterways.

This project would help local communities. It would be of economic benefit. It is a small project, a small infrastructure investment in our local communities, and I commend the member for bringing this motion forward.

The bigger question is the lack of infrastructure development and lack of infrastructure funding allocation by the current government throughout the last six or seven years. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities estimates a deficit of hundreds of billions of dollars in infrastructure development in this country, yet we have seen budget after budget wherein infrastructure development has been cut in our communities and our cities.

As an example, Pattullo Bridge in Surrey, British Columbia, is 76 years old. The bridge was only to last 50 years, so it is already 25 or 26 years beyond its lifespan. The bridge is going to be built soon. We already have a bridge on the other side of Surrey, the Port Mann Bridge, which is tolled. As far as I know, that is the only toll bridge west of Ontario, and it is in British Columbia and goes directly into my riding.

The only proposals for the new bridge so far propose tolls, so both of the bridges going into my constituency will be toll bridges. In some of the other municipalities in the Lower Mainland, people are able to take another bridge that is not tolled, but we do not have that option. Those are the sorts of infrastructure investments that are required from the current government. I am talking about my constituency because my constituents are telling me that we cannot afford another toll bridge.

The minimum wage has not risen often in the last number of years. If people commute to work and have to go over the bridge, they have to pay between $6 and $8, depending on which bridge they take, and that cuts into making a living. It is hard on my constituents in Surrey North, because they basically depend on those bridges to go to municipalities north of the Fraser River.

Infrastructure investments are important because they help our communities grow. I would ask the government to look at projects like Pattullo Bridge, come to the table, and help communities invest in local jobs and local economies so that communities can grow.

This project is going to be good for the economy of southern Ontario because of the money that will be received from tourism. It will benefit the entire cottage community. These are the kinds of investments that we need to make not only in Ontario but right across the country, but the government is lacking when it comes to putting dollars into our communities.

Dredging and widening this particular channel will make it more navigable for boats and the movement of goods. This would certainly help the tourism industry and spur on other economic activity. These are the kinds of investments we need in British Columbia. These are the investments we need in order to facilitate tourism and the movement of goods.

Tourism plays a huge role in British Columbia. Millions of tourists come into Vancouver to take cruise ships to Alaska. Tourism dollars drive a lot of the local businesses in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia. For that matter, many of my constituents work in the tourism industry.

Investments are needed not only in our waterways but in our small craft harbours as well. We need better facilities for local British Columbians and for tourists coming into British Columbia, but the government has not made sufficient investment in them. We have seen that many times in many budgets over many years. These small investments would spur on job growth in local communities.

The NDP always supports reasonable and responsible infrastructure investments that balance the economic, environmental, social, and legal concerns of our communities. We support infrastructure investment. I am hopeful that the government will step up in my community with regard to the Pattullo Bridge.

It is equally important when making these investments that we make sure local communities and first nations are consulted. We need to look at the impact of these investments in infrastructure on local communities.

I could talk about investing in our communities for hours, because I hear the concerns from my constituents. I want to bring to the House's attention the urgent need for investments in new infrastructure, whether it is in canals or bridges in my community or whether it is in the transportation needs of my community.

I urge the government to look seriously at these issues and make these important investments in our communities so that our communities can prosper.

Georgian Bay Channel to Lock 45 – Port SevernPrivate Members' Business



Jinny Sims NDP Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am standing in support of this motion, mainly because I think it is time for us to seriously look at sensible, environmentally safe investments in our infrastructure. Here, we are talking about a lock that is going to have economic gains for the region. Not only will it benefit the cottage industry, it will benefit tourists. Industrialists around that area have no problem with this.

When I think about infrastructure, I think of the massive infusion of money that is needed in order to address transit, especially in Surrey, where we are in dire need of these additional resources, not only for environmental reasons, but for quality of life reasons. We have serious issues. I would also say that when we are talking about dredging and getting this lock ready, it reminds me of the Fraser River, which goes through the edge of my riding, and the need that we have and that I hear about of the desalting that needs to take place.

The current government really believes in economic growth. If it was really committed, the number one thing that it could do right now would be to invest in infrastructure from coast to coast to coast. Every region has different needs. That is where the government needs to work with provincial and municipal governments as a team, because jobs are not plentiful. We have very high unemployment, and we know that the best stimulus to get the economy going is to invest in our infrastructure. The infrastructure then boosts our economy in other ways. In this case, it might be for tourism, and we know how much money tourism brings into our country.

In my riding, Surrey and the Newton area, as I mentioned earlier, investment in infrastructure might result in an effective public transit system. It would be a public transit system that makes life so much easier for people living in Surrey. They face traffic gridlock every morning and every evening. Do not only think about the number of hours that are wasted that people spend sitting in a car; think about how much damage is being done to the environment as well.

It makes good environmental sense. It makes good economic sense, because all of those hours sitting in the car could be spent being more productive at work. Those hours would also add to the quality of life. Just think of the joy on people's faces when they get to spend more time playing with their children or visiting their elderly grandmother.

Georgian Bay Channel to Lock 45 – Port SevernPrivate Members' Business



The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired, and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

The hon. member for Newton—North Delta will have seven minutes remaining when the matter returns before the House.

The House resumed from June 13 consideration of the motion that Bill C-18, An Act to amend certain Acts relating to agriculture and agri-food, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Agricultural Growth ActGovernment Orders



Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a great honour, as always, to rise in this House, representing the people of Timmins—James Bay. I am very interested in speaking to Bill C-18, an act to amend certain acts relating to agriculture and agri-food.

There are many elements in the bill, some to do with plant breeders' rights and some to do with payments for farmers. There are a number of elements I think need to be looked at. It is good for us to have a discussion in the House of Commons about agricultural policy. How do we support our producers, and how do we reassure consumers in the 21st century of the quality of foods that are being created in Canada?

I will start off by talking about my region of Timmins—James Bay. It is known for being mining country. Some of the greatest gold mines in the history of North America are founded in my region. That is why my family came to Timmins. They were immigrant gold miners. We had diamond mines in James Bay. The deepest base metal mine in the world is in Timmins backyard at Kidd Mine. It continues 50 years into production still, below 10,000 feet, which is an extraordinary feat of engineering. It shows that we have seen enormous changes in mining in the region.

We were always told that mining was a sunset industry. In the nineties, the common wisdom was that we cannot compete with lax regulations and we cannot compete with the third world. However, in Canada we have the highest trained professional workforce in the world. Canadians miners are at the forefront of all manner of mining exploration and development, certainly in terms of financial input. The other element is the regulatory regime that we have in Canada to ensure environmental standards and safety has created an environment where it is worth investing in Canada.

There are a number of issues to be dealt with in terms of mining, but the days when men were killed in the mines of Cobalt and Timmins, dying on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, have changed dramatically. It still has not changed enough, but we are seeing the use of technology and innovation that have allowed us not just to continue to hold our own, but to become, once again, the world leader in terms of development. We are balancing the incredible resource wealth that we have with the need to always be innovative and find new ways to get deeper at the ore.

We have some similar issues in terms of agriculture. Agriculture in Timiskaming--Cochrane region is fundamentally different, because we have not had the boom-bust cycle that we have seen in mining. That is a very good thing in terms of building a long-term economy.

The northern end of the Timmins—James Bay region is known as the great clay belt. There is enormous potential for farmland in the great clay belt. The problem is, when it was opened up in the early part of the 20th century, many families attempted to make a living there and found it was just too cold, the seasons were too short, and the crop yields were not sufficient to allow these farms to succeed in the way they should have succeeded. As a result, many of the farmlands in the upper part of the Timmins—James Bay region began to atrophy and go back to dogwood and poplars. One by one the farmers started to leave. We maintained somewhat of a beef economy, but the overall balance in agriculture did not exist.

That was not so much the case in the southern part of my region, the little clay belt, which is Timiskaming. Témiscaming region in Quebec and Ontario shares an enormously wealthy farm belt that has given incredible balance in terms of the economic development in our region.

For many years the basis of this economy was dairy. The supply management system on the Quebec and Ontario sides has certainly anchor communities like Earlton, Englehart, and New Liskeard area. With a dairy economy, we know year to year what we will get. We have seen ups and downs in the beef industry. I was first elected in 2004 during that really difficult period that our beef industry was undergoing. It was a shock to the system of individual beef farmers when they could not get their cattle to market, could not get it to the United States because of the BSE crisis. It certainly created major problems for the development of the region.

In terms of cash crops, Timiskaming has always had a mixed-grain economy, but over the last 15 years we have seen a transformation in the regional food economy because we are getting better yields, such as with soybeans. We are seeing corn production in areas where corn was never seen before. This has started to create a potential for development in the north that people had previously written off.

The acreages down in southern Ontario are becoming more expensive and more difficult to farm, especially as rural butts up against suburban. There is pressure on the rural with land prices in the south being so extraordinary. It is very difficult to maintain the traditional notion of the family farm when there are opportunities to sell that land and move north, which is what we have been seeing.

However, it is now not just in the Timiskaming region, but once again, because of better crop yields, we are starting to see agriculture moving back into the areas up around Val Gagné, Black River-Matheson, up toward Cochrane and over through Timmins, which had been atrophying for years. We are now seeing a large potential new growth of mixed crops, barley, grain, soybeans, canola, and corn. This is an important anchor for development in our region.

In terms of what is happening agriculturally, we have had two important transformations. In the upper Black River-Matheson area, a number of Amish and Old Order Mennonite communities are starting to establish themselves. We are seeing barns being built where there were no barns before. We are seeing tile drainage on land that did not have tile drainage. Once tile drainage is put onto a northern farm, the crop yields are going to increase exponentially.

The other really important element is that we have seen in so many of our rural regions the loss of the value added, such as the local operations that did the canning and such.

For years, we had the Thornloe Cheese plant, run by Parmalat. People used to stop off the highway. I remember that it was around 2005 or 2006 when I got a call from the Parmalat owners who said that they were pulling out. They were done with our little community. I thought, fair enough, they had to make a business decision. I called John Vanthof, who is now a provincial member of Parliament, but he was the head of the Board of Dairy Farmers then. I asked John if we could win this fight, and he said that, yes, we could win. We called the Parmalat owners back and said that they could leave, but we wanted the dairy cheese quota to stay here. Of course, they laughed and thought it was an absurd concept. However, we said that we wanted the dairy quota to stay. If it could be run by a local conglomerate, then we wanted to buy into that cheese quota so that we could run the plant. After much negotiation, Thornloe was reopened as a local regional cheese producer.

What happened out of that is indicative of a need to balance between very large corporate interests and the need for local interests. Thornloe began to innovate and create all manner of new and local cheeses, and get a new market share. The products are now being sold in halal and kosher markets in Toronto. This has been a real success story for us. I think these are the things that we need to learn when we look at agriculture.

There are a number of elements in Bill C-18 that speak to the issue of patent rights as we create new crop yields and the need for regulatory changes to cover breeding animals under the advanced payments program. These are things, if we ensure that they are done right, that will provide security for innovation, new research, and for the producers who are buying seeds and animals, and wanting to try the new yields that are coming forward.

There are number of concerns out there that are important to raise in Parliament. This is about consumer confidence. Some of them have to do with the notion of plant breeders' rights. There is a sense out there in the general public that they do not trust what is happening in terms of GMOs. They do not trust what is happening in terms of the larger food economy.

Just this past month, I was in Timmins at a rally against Monsanto and GMOs. Now, Monsanto certainly does not have a good reputation with its history with Agent Orange and creating PCBs. However, I think what brought this issue initially to the public's attention in terms of the scientific manipulation of gene matter to create new varieties was the effort to create the terminator seed. The terminator seed was a solution it came up with as a way of not having to argue with farmers about having to buy seed the next year. One would just simply put a so-called suicide gene into the seed, which would give one yield and then die.

That might have seemed like a smart idea at corporate headquarters, but it has hit ordinary citizens not just in Canada and North America, but across the world as something that is fundamentally flawed, that one could mess with genetics to create a so-called suicide gene. There was a huge pushback against this effort. It scared the public away. People said, “Wait a minute. What is happening with our food?”

We are seeing, especially across North America, a growing awareness about the food economy and the need to ensure some manner of security for food so that we are getting good quality food and there is a sense of the importance of the local economy. Over the years, we have seen a move to this larger and larger sense of agribusiness, but consumers want food that is safe, food that is good. They like the notion of locally grown food. Consumers want to be heard on these issues.

When we talk about new crop varieties, we need to reassure the public that we are looking at these issues seriously, that we are looking at them from the point of view of what creates innovation in order to create better yields, so that our communities can be fed, but also ensuring an overall balance. Nowhere is this more important than with what is happening with the bee population around the world.

We know that there has been a massive die-off of bees. We have seen a 35% decline in bees in Ontario alone. What does that mean for us? I do not think people have any idea what it would mean if there was a substantial die-off of bees, especially with the role bees play in pollination. They are the fundamental players in the entire food cycle. Protecting bees really has to be job one. It does not matter what we do with our food economy; it does not matter how much tile drainage we put in; it does not matter how many plans we put forward. If we do not have God's little creatures actually making this all possible, we are going to be in for a serious shock in our ability to feed ourselves and the world.

We have seen studies done by the American Journal of Science, the American Chemical Society's Environmental Science & Technology Journal and the Harvard School of Public Health, that identified neonics, the form of pesticide that is being used on about 142 million acres of corn, wheat, soybeans, and cotton seeds. This is a corporate construction that was seen as a way of improving crop yields by putting these pesticides on corn, wheat, and soy, which is certainly the backbone of the U.S. agricultural economy and much of Canada's agricultural economy.

It is not that this was done out of malice; side effects sometimes happen. If this leads to the death of the bee population, there have to be measures to deal with these pesticides, because it is not good for the long-term economy. There will certainly be corporate interests and lobbyists who will say that we should hold off and study this in another three or five years. Consumers and citizens want clear action. They want to know that parliamentarians hear these things. There is a sense out there that big agriculture has the ear of government, and the average person does not. There is a real uncertainty.

What we need to do as parliamentarians is say that we hear the public's concerns. We also understand the need to have regularity and certainty in the agricultural development of our economy. Agriculture is not a yesterday economy. Increasingly, with climate change and global uncertainty, the role of Canada as the world's breadbasket, as we used to call ourselves, the ability to create food to sustain our population is going to become increasingly important.

There are a number of elements in Bill C-18 which are timely, but there are also a number of elements in the bill, particularly on the issue of plant breeders' rights, how seeds are saved, and what it actually means in terms of establishing some manner of certainty for producers, patent holders, and also for the people who have the God-given right to plant and grow and should be able to maintain that right, that we can raise in Parliament that they need to be identified at committee as to how they will actually play out on the ground.

We are certainly willing to move this bill to committee. We think there is some merit.

The issue of farmers' privilege is certainly a big question. Farmers' privilege is interesting because it allows farmers to save seeds for the purpose of reproduction, but it is not clear whether or not they have to pay to store it, which would effectively negate that privilege. That would seem to be an odd element. Also, there is the question of where the resale is. Is it on the original purchase of the seeds, or on the resale value of what is actually produced as a crop? These are things we feel need to be looked at.

In terms of the advance payments program, there are a number of elements. Again, it is odd that we jump from plant breeders' rights to the advance payments program. The government has thrown in a whole manner of elements to deal with agriculture in one bill. It is sort of a mini omnibus bill. We are dealing with a whole bunch of different elements.

There are new allowances under Bill C-18 that would allow multi-year agreements to reduce the administrative burden for those applying to the advance payments program in consecutive years. That would certainly make the program more efficient. If we had similar provisions in other areas I know it would certainly help.

The bill allows for regulatory changes to cover the breeding animals under the advance payments program, which could result in more opportunities for farmers to access the program. It increases flexibility for producers on a number of fronts, including security arrangements and proof of sale for repayment. All of this would certainly make this program more accessible to producers.

It would also allow program administrators to advance on any commodity in any region, which would provide more opportunities for producers to access the advance payments program. It would also allow repayments without proof of sale, better reflecting the fact that there is a perishable life to non-storable crops. Producers would be able to avoid having to sell products at an inopportune time, for example, at very low prices, in order just to meet their repayment requirements.

There is flexibility built into the mechanisms that we think are very interesting and respond to what we are hearing from the Canadian Federation of Agriculture and a number of other farm organizations.

Bill C-18 also grants the government the ability to define new means of repayment. This could provide greater flexibility for producers, including in situations like farm liquidation.

These are all very good elements.

I want to go back to the international protocols that have been put in place through the World Trade Organization, through international agreements. What we need to do is ensure that these are not simply there to benefit very large corporate interests, like Monsanto, but also respect the variety of agricultural experience across the world, including the third world.

We know there has been a huge issue about genetic contamination, the possibility that GMO crops could reach into other crops and affect them. Since 2005, there has been a GM contamination register in the United Kingdom.

The other issue is in India there has been a huge local fight back among farmers about what their plant rights are, and the fact that they have grown the kinds of crops they have for decades and centuries, and corporate control over them has led to a huge pushback. Some of these issues were raised.

Many of the Indian companies are locked into joint ventures and licensing agreements, and concentration over the seeds sector was the result. It has been said that Monsanto now controls 95% of the cotton seed market through its genetically modified organisms in India; that seed which had been the farmers' common resource suddenly has now become, as is being accused by a number of Indian farmers, the intellectual property of Monsanto; that the open pollenated cotton seeds have been displaced by hybrids, including genetically modified hybrids. Cotton used to be grown as a mixture with food crops and other crops, but pressure has been put on to do mono-cropping. That certainly may have restored some measure of yields in India, but on the issue of mixed crops and how farmers grow their crops, particularly cotton, local farmers feel larger corporate control has taken over their ability to control their own land.

These are questions about economics, but they are also about agriculture and the basic issue of civil society and where we go. We are certainly interested in seeing this issue being brought forward and more closely examined at committee.

Agricultural Growth ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.


Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I did enjoy the member's remarks. He touched on a lot of very valid points.

If we could sum up this bill with three or four words, we could call it the good, the bad and the ugly. There are some good points in it, and there are some worrisome points as well. The biggest overall concern with this bill is the global corporations having so much control over the family farmers around the world.

One of the areas that I am concerned with in the bill is the plant breeders' rights aspect of it. I have not actually determined in my own mind where we can go on it.

The minister talks about a farmer's privilege, and the member mentioned that as well. I believe it should be a farmer's right to retain and reproduce their seed. What implications will that have on the international agreement we have already signed as a country? I do think it needs to be discussed a lot more. How does the member see, or is there any way of getting around, ensuring that farmers have rights and not just privileges? It should be their rights. They are the ones who are doing the producing. How does the member see getting around that in the context of the international agreement?

Agricultural Growth ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.


Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, that was an excellent question. I have worked with the member on agriculture and he has a wide background on this.

The hon. member has touched on the issue of the rights being afforded in this bill are corporate rights. Everybody knows that a privilege is something that can be taken away. A right is something that one fundamentally has.

I would argue that since time immemorial there has been the fundamental right of the farmer working with nature itself. This is the most fundamental relationship that has existed since humans first stopped hunting mastodons, and maybe even back then. It is that relationship between the grower and what is grown.

Now that there are limits or an ability through international trade agreements to determine how that is done is very disturbing. We know that around the world there has been a pushback against the larger bodies that tell us at the local levels what we can and cannot do.

That is why we need to get this bill to committee, so we can actually look at the legislation and determine whether or not we are actually trading away the God-given rights that farmers have had since time immemorial. That has to be protected.

The devil is in the details, and the devil will certainly be in the details of this bill.

Agricultural Growth ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.


Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, the member, as usual, has widened the scope of his speech to talk about his constituency and about the rights and interests of all of our agricultural producers in Canada.

The member made a very important point. Typical of the legislation the government has been bringing forward is a law which includes provisions for the possibility of regulations to be promulgated.

A more open and transparent process would be to table the legislation and at the same time reveal what those regulations may say so that members of Parliament, the agricultural producers who are impacted, and the breeders could know what the government proposes.

I wonder if the member could expand a bit more on the fact that it is nice the bill is being tabled, but there are two significant areas where there will be regulations, and one could potentially severely limit these privileges to the producers.

Agricultural Growth ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.


Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I do not want to sound like I am getting all biblical but it does say in the Book of Luke that what is done in the dark shall be seen in the light and shouted from the rooftops.

This is the problem with regulation. We have a few hours of debate on something as substantive as the issue of plant breeders' rights and how the rights of farmers and the rights of an ecological system for growth balances off the larger corporate interests and larger international trade interests. Then it goes to committee, and then it is voted on. Then all the little booby traps can be brought in through regulation, which the public will have no ability to hear.

When we deal with these issues, the public looks to us as parliamentarians to try to find a reasonable solution. Do I know how to balance off plant breeders' rights with what is called the farmers' privilege? I think it should be the farmers' rights. No, because it is in those details. They are very complicated.

The issue that it can be dealt with in regulation after the fact means there can also be the problem of certain interests that will have the ear of the people writing the regulations while the public is sitting on the outside. I do not think that is in the interests of the public.

Agricultural Growth ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.


Bruce Hyer Green Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

Mr. Speaker, we do indeed have an omnibus bill on agriculture here of 108 pages, with very small font. It is unbelievably important stuff.

To again join my hon. member for Timmins—James Bay, and to get biblical, the part that particularly worries me is that the Creator put these genes on the planet. For us to be saying that a large corporation can control them, monopolize them, and modify them in ways that cause serious potential problems is worrisome to me.

In terms of process, what worries me is that with a bill of this scope, we have five hours to discuss this in a House where the number of people with a scientific background is in the single digits. We desperately need to have expert testimony. We need to have more information.

I would like the hon. member for Timmins—James Bay to give us his thoughts on the process of ramming and cramming this bill through in such a last-minute, draconian fashion.

Agricultural Growth ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.


Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, there are very profound questions here. Internationally, we see the whole fight of indigenous cultures who have had their traditional medicines for years, and suddenly they are patented. Maybe it is okay to patent something that was used for hundreds of thousands of years that can benefit all of humankind. There is a public good there. The question is whether the original people who created and used those natural resources should not be disenfranchised, in the same way farmers should not be disenfranchised, in the same way the consumer should not be disenfranchised if Monsanto decides that it will start sticking fish genes into tomatoes and does not want the public to know. These are all issues that as human society we need to be deeply involved in.

To take all these elements of an agricultural bill, some of which are very positive and will help our producers, and throw them all together, ram them through, and not have sufficient time to do the review, when we need technical experts and people of scientific and cultural backgrounds who can talk about what will work and what will not, is not what the Canadian public sends us here to do.

We see in this House the idea that debate is always being called stalling and filibustering. Debate is about raising these issues so the people back home who are listening can say, “I understand what's going on. I see that there are questions that need to be answered”. Then they look to us to be able to provide those answers at the end of the day. If we as parliamentarians are not able to do our job, if we are not able to do the due diligence, how then do we go back to the public and say, “Be reassured, the Parliament of Canada did the right thing with this legislation”?

Agricultural Growth ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.


Megan Leslie NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I have talked a lot in the House about the different areas of expertise we have as members of Parliament. We come here with different backgrounds. Some of us are experts in academic issues or technical issues. Some of us are just experts in what it is like to come from our regions. We are very much like Canada in that way, and like Canadians, we have different backgrounds.

My background is not agriculture, and so the bill has been a real learning experience for me. I want to share with the House where my learning experience on the bill actually started, because I will be honest, the bill was not on my radar when it was first tabled. Look at the fact that I am a member of Parliament for Halifax, an urban centre. There are a few fishing villages in my riding, but I really do not represent any agricultural areas.

I talk often in the House about how important it is for us to talk to constituents to tap into their expertise but also to hear about their hopes or dreams or to hear about their fears about different pieces of legislation. That is exactly what happened to me when the bill came up. I looked in my calendar one day and saw that members of the Food Action Committee, which is a committee of the Ecology Action Centre, had scheduled a meeting with me to talk about Bill C-18. I am not one to even remember bill numbers very quickly, so I had to look it up. I realized that it made sense that the Food Action Committee wanted to talk to me about the bill, which is called an act to amend certain acts relating to agriculture and agri-food, but I wondered why they wanted to talk to me about it.

I immediately contacted my friend and colleague, the member for Welland, who is our agriculture critic, and he forwarded a lot of material about what Bill C-18 sought to do or purported to do. He walked me through some of the key issues for him as our critic and also very likely for the Food Action Committee.

I went ahead with the meeting and met with Jonathan Kornelsen and Mary Ellen Sullivan, and it was a typical MP meeting, where folks say that these are the issues with the bill and ask what the NDP's position is on it. They presented me with a petition entitled “The Right to Save Seeds”. It had 145 signatures on behalf of the Food Action Committee. They explained that their friend had three pages of petitions and could not keep up. He was at a grocery store in downtown Halifax and quickly ran out of pages because people were so passionate about this.

The petition addresses the agricultural growth act portion of Bill C-18. It has raised serious concerns among farmers and consumers. They put together the text of the petition with the help of the National Farmers Union website.

Before I get to the content of the meeting or of the bill, I want to read something from a blog Mary Ellen Sullivan contributes to called “Adventures in Local Food”. I want to read it because if there is any message I have tried to communicate during my time as a member of Parliament, it is that politicians are just members of our communities. We are not experts. We rely on the expertise of our communities. We want to talk to people and have our constituents shape our views on policy and legislation, even if we are going to disagree in the end. It is so important to be in touch, and I am always thankful when people do that.

On the blog, “Adventures in Local Food”, Ms. Sullivan wrote about our meeting. She wrote:

Our meeting was a relaxed exchange of information, questions and discussion, with [our MP] advising us of the position of the NDP and the workings of the political process. Because we received more than 25 signatures she can present our petition in Parliament!

It was a great learning and rewarding experience for Jonathan and me. [She] instilled confidence in us that grassroots actions such as petitions, demonstrations, and meeting with your MP do have an impact. Politicians do take note of these actions.

I found that the NFU website provided excellent educational and action resources including background information on C-18 and other issues--just use the search box for issues you’re interested in. It gives advocacy suggestions including how to meet with your MP, and information sheets that can be given to them. NFU works in collaboration with such organizations as the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN) on issues affecting farmers and consumers.

Meeting with [our MP] was a great education for us and gave us confidence to continue to take food action! I was delighted to have Jonathan join me--a fledgling FAC member with two meetings under his belt, a background in biology, experience working on a farm in BC, and lots of knowledge and passion. Glad he decided to see what’s going on in NS. We hope you’d be inspired to meet with your MP too. Learn about the issue and relax--our MP’s are working for us.

That is pretty inspiring. I am really glad that Mary Ellen Sullivan took the time to lay out that it is not difficult, that people can meet with their MPs, and that we are working for them. Let us sit down and relax. She actually says “relax”. I thought that was a great message.

Let us move on to the content. As members heard from Ms. Sullivan, we talked about the issues in this bill, including an issue that was very important to them. This was probably the main issue they wanted to communicate to me, and it was about the ability to save seeds. Members heard my colleague from Timmins—James Bay go into this quite a bit.

When people come and meet with us, they want to explain their perspective on different issues. They also want to hear what our perspective is, and they want to know what our party will do. Is it going to support this bill? Is it going to vote against it? What are people saying about it? They asked me my position. I explained to them, as I will explain to the House now, that this bill is problematic. It is another omnibus piece of legislation that would make changes to nine different pieces of legislation. Looking at them and breaking down what these changes are, and they are extensive, there are some we do support. There are other parts that, on their face, we oppose and find problematic.

What do we do when we are faced with this kind of situation? What do we do when we like some parts but think that other parts would do damage?

I think that our critic, the member for Welland, and his deputy critic, the member for Berthier—Maskinongé, have put a lot of thought into this. They have consulted with stakeholders, and they have done an excellent job of dissecting all the points in this bill to bring them to a balanced conclusion.

My colleague from Malpeque posed a question to my colleague from Timmins—James Bay and asked what the solution is. He has great expertise in this area. He said that we are not sure where we are with farmer's privilege. How do we balance that? How do we figure out farmers' rights versus farmer's privilege? That is a great question to ask. We do not always have all of those answers when we are here at second reading just fleshing out the ideas of a bill. It is so important that we bring this to committee and study it, listen to experts, and maybe try to come up with those solutions. I do not have some of the solutions before me right now, but I am eager to hear from my colleagues what some of those solutions might be.

I told Ms. Sullivan and Mr. Kornelsen that I was prepared to support the bill at second reading and that at committee we plan to work on making the problematic aspects of this bill better. We plan to try to fix the problems. I have to admit that I am not overly optimistic that the Conservatives will listen to our proposal, but I refuse to be cynical about this and just give in. I do think we have to try.

What are the problematic aspects of this bill? I have received a number of postcards from constituents speaking out against the bill. In particular, I have received a lot of postcards from a postcard campaign on the issue of farmer's privilege. On the front of the postcard, it says:

Save our Seed

Stop Bill C-18! Farmers’ age-old practices of saving, reusing, exchanging, and selling seed are in jeopardy.

The postcard has some really compelling language in it. It says:

[The bill], now before the House of Commons, would allow the biggest seed companies in the world to exercise almost total control over seed in Canada. These companies would also be able to charge royalties on a farmer’s entire crop. The Bill includes power to make regulations that would quickly undo or severely limit the so-called “Farmers Privilege” to save seed. This means Canadian farmers would pay giant corporations hundreds of millions each year for the right to grow a crop.

Canadians do not want multinational seed and chemical companies like Bayer, Monsanto, DuPont, Dow and Syngenta to control our seed, and ultimately, our food system.

I am asking you, as my democratically elected representative, to safeguard Canadian farmers’ right to save, reuse, exchange and sell seed by taking all actions necessary to stop Bill C-18.

That is pretty passionate. They are not asking for a rewrite here; they are saying to stop.

I want to thank some of my constituents who have reached out to me on this, including Tessa Gold Smith, Jim Guild, Herb and Ruth Gamborg, Steve Burns, Aaron Eisses, Mark McKenna, Josh Smith, Elisabeth Gold and Peter Gravel. All these folks have signed onto this, saying that we should stop Bill C-18.

I sympathize with their demand to stop this bill, even though I will support it at second reading. This is one of these balancing acts that we have to play from time to time. When I sat down with Jonathan and Mary Ellen and said that there were some aspects of this bill that we would support, they asked me which parts.

I believe there are some pieces of this bill, like putting stronger controls for products that are being imported or exported. There are new strengthening of record keeping requirements, whether for plants, for feed or for fertilizer. There are some safety measures in there to prevent risks to human, animal and environmental health. One big part that everybody could support is prohibiting the sale of products that would be a subject of a recall order from the CFIA. That is a great step toward strengthening our food safety system. It makes me wonder why that has not been there all along.

It is a balancing act to figure it out, so we will try to get it to committee.

I agree with constituents of mine who have written to me in this postcard campaign about the farmers' privilege piece. I have two more letters that I received from some constituents about this issue.

One is from Margaret Murray who says:

No doubt you have done some investigation on Bill C-18. I'm wondering what the NDP issue is on this important issue. Multi-nationals like Monsanto MUST be curtailed in their attempts to 'own' what ought to be in the public domain. Taking a renewable common resource an turning it into a non-renewable patented commodity is simply wrong!

I have also heard from Cynthia O'Connell who asked me to oppose Bill C-18 as it would harm organic farmers on whom she depended for organic food.

Even though the bill is ostensibly about agriculture, it really would impact consumers, including consumers in urban centres like Halifax, which I represent. It is capturing the hearts and minds of people. They are writing to me.

As I said, there is a balance that has to be met here. There would be some benefits of the changes found in the bill, like enhancing public accessibility and transparency when it comes to plant breeding and, for example, protecting researchers from infringement of plant breeders' rights. However, the issue of farmers' privilege is significant, and that is the number one issue about which people have written to me.

Let us get to farmers' privilege and what the NDP would see as very problematic.

Farmers' privilege does not include the stocking of propagating material for any use. What does that mean? Even if farmers are able to save seed for the purpose of reproduction, it looks like they may have to pay to store it, which would effectively negate that privilege. Earlier, when I said that we did not necessarily have all the answers when we came here at second reading to debate the bill, I am very clear when I say it looks as if farmers would have to pay to store it. I would want to explore this issue and find out from the minister if that was actually the intention. If it is not the intention, then maybe that could be fixed with a simple wording change.

The farmers' privilege also would not extend to the sale of harvested material. This means that farmers would likely still be required to pay for the sale of the crops grown from farm-saved seed. It also means that plant breeders could potentially generate revenue on a farmer's entire production rather than just on the seed purchased to grow the crop. This could have significant impacts on the profit margins of farmers.

Some farmers say that paying a royalty base on what they produce instead of on the seed that they buy actually reduces their risk. If they harvest a poor crop, they pay less with an end-point royalty compared to paying upfront when they buy seed. Even in what I am presenting to the House right now, I am a bit unsure, so this is something we would need to explore further as well.

Bill C-18 includes amendments that would allow the CFIA to make changes to farmers' privileges through regulation, not through legislation, and that is an important distinction. This means that the government could significantly hinder these rights at any time without parliamentary oversight.

Not a lot of people understand the difference between regulation and legislation. Legislation would have to come before the House where we would debate it and vote on it. There is a process involved. Regulation is just an order-in-council. What does that mean? Effectively it means that the Prime Minister's Office has written something down and given notice, but it is not democratic. It is an interpretation of the legislation, and who knows where that comes from. In theory it is the Governor-in-Council, but in reality I doubt that is the case. There is no parliamentary oversight, and these rights could be changed at any time, at least that is my reading of the bill.

Allowing for farm saved seeds is an optional exemption under UPOV 091, the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants that we signed in 1991. That means Canada could disallow farm saved seed and still fulfill its international obligations under the agreement.

Bill C-18 goes so far as to define what is meant by a document, so that is good because there is some detail there. However, it does not give a definition of farmer, which is problematic. This would have some important implications for the enforcement of farmer's privilege. It goes to the root of the issue here, especially given that Bill C-18 would allow the government to make significant changes to the farmer's privilege provisions through regulation. There we are again. Changes could actually be made, without any parliamentary oversight, through regulation, and there is no definition of what a farmer is.

Given the government's recent changes in Bill C-4 that limit farm loss deductions to people whose primary income is from farming, this is an area where more clarity is needed. Do I count as a farmer if I am participating in a community garden in downtown Halifax? I am not sure.

To prevent the privatization of existing varieties, we have to ensure a variety registration system that would ensure that new crop varieties would be as good or better than existing ones. We also have to ensure that farmers will continue to have access to existing cereal varieties that are developed by public plant breeders.

I will finish up with a couple of other concerns about the potential legal burden for producers.

The Canadian Federation of Agriculture has called for protections for producers from claims of patent infringement with respect to natural or accidental spreading of patented plant genetic material, but they are not included in Bill C-18.

Given that the expansion of breeders' rights under Bill C-18 would be so significant, it is likely that farmers would face increased and expensive litigation. There is no provision in the bill to ensure that legal fees do not impede farmers' defence in these cases.

That is the overview of what my constituents in downtown Halifax have written to me about. There are other issues in the bill which I am sure members will hear about from other members of Parliament, but that is the big one for the folks who I represent.

While I will be supporting this legislation at second reading, as I have pointed out, we have to watch this closely. We really have to push to change this, to make amendments to the bill to protect farmers. I look forward to being able to do that at committee.

Agricultural Growth ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.


Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased the New Democrats have not adjourned the House, or attempted to adjourn the House. That is a positive thing.

Next thing is that we have good pieces of legislation. When I say “good”, I should qualify that. This legislation attempts to make changes to nine other pieces of legislation. The government's track record in making changes to legislation that impacts our farmers is not very encouraging. In fact, there are many other things which the government could have done to work with a number of the changes that it would put into place through Bill C-18.

The member highlights that in certain areas there are some aspects of the legislation that are positive and I think would receive fairly decent support from our stakeholders, in particular, our farmers. We within the Liberal Party are very grateful for that. However, there are other aspects that are not.

The concern has to be that we have, yet again, this large bill before us that which would make change to several pieces of legislation.

Would the member not agree that it would have been far better off had the government done its homework and worked with our different communities and stakeholders to come up with what should have been several pieces of legislation? This way we probably would have had better and easier passage on some of the more positive aspects of Bill C-18.

Agricultural Growth ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.


Megan Leslie NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for qualifying the word “good”, because we still have not said that this is good legislation. Yes, there are some good pieces here, but there are some problematic pieces.

I am holding in my hand some notes that my colleague from Welland has put together for folks like me, because this is not our area of expertise. These notes are really quite incredible because they outline each act that would be amended. As we heard, there are nine different acts. This is omnibus legislation and so, we have to look at it that way. There are amendments to the Feeds Act, the Fertilizers Act, the Seeds Act, the Health of Animals Act and the Plant Protection Act. The notes set out what is good about it and what is problematic about it. There are amendments to the Agricultural Marketing Programs Act and the advance payment program. Again, the notes state what is positive about it and what is problematic about it. This is too much.

I go back to 2012 when we had two omnibus budget bills. The first one touched over 70 pieces of legislation, completely rewrote our environmental legislation and there were changes to the Assisted Human Reproduction Act, which is the law that governs whether we can sell or trade eggs or what we do with eggs, with sperm. This act was changed. I searched Hansard to see who debated it. I raised it once and one of my colleagues from Hamilton also raised it. It was just a mention. This is whether women can be surrogate mothers. The law was changed and it was buried in omnibus legislation.

God willing, there are no changes to our reproduction rights in this bill, but who knows? We will see.

Agricultural Growth ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.


Dany Morin NDP Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for her excellent speech.

Along those same lines, we are wondering why the Conservative government is making all these small changes and amending a number of different laws when they have yet to convince us that these changes are warranted and that they are in the interests of Canadians. Today we are speaking on behalf of Canadians, and farmers in particular.

What does my colleague think about the fact that Bill C-18 goes so far as to define what is meant by a document but does not give a definition of farmer? There will be a significant impact on farmers' privilege.

Does she think it is reasonable for the government to be amending one definition but not defining the term “farmer” when this bill touches on the importance of farmers' privilege? I am concerned that this will create loopholes in the system.

Agricultural Growth ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.


Megan Leslie NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for the advocacy that he does on behalf of his constituents here in the House. He is here talking about the bill. He is always here raising issues that impact his constituents, and I think he should be commended for it.

He should not take my word for it. He should take the word of some of the experts out there. For example, there is Ann Slater, first vice-president of the National Farmers Union, and an Ontario farmer. She argues that the government's changes to plant breeders' rights will turn the customary practice of farmers saving and reusing seeds as part of normal farm activity into privilege, and that privilege could easily be revoked in the future.

Dominique Bernier, from AmiEs de la Terre de Québec, said that the bill significantly weakens farmers' ancestral rights, by forcing them to pay allowances to agro-industrial giants on the entirety of their harvest. However, the marketing of new crop varieties by the big breeders rests on a world heritage, the patient selection over a thousand years of crops by the succeeding generations of farmers.

There are people raising problems with the bill who have expertise.

The member mentioned the omnibus nature of the bill. To get back to that, there are people saying positive things about the bill. However, it is not a dispute. It is not, “I think that this policy x is good; I think this policy x is bad”. There are so many x, y, and zs in one piece of legislation that there are, I want to say competing points of view, but that is not it at all. People are saying they want x, but they do not want y.

It is quite amazing, when there are this many pieces of legislation that are being touched. I think that something needs to be done to stop this ramming through of so many changes.

Agricultural Growth ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.


Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the speech by the member for Halifax on the bill. It is good to see people who have urban ridings talk about their concerns, and I think we all agree that it needs to go to a committee to be discussed.

My question relates mainly to her constituents' opinions on this. Where would those people who buy the food products that farmers produce rather they come from? The bill, as many of the bills that the government has put before this House, has transferred a lot of control away from primary producers to the corporate sector.

We have seen the results of the changes to the Canadian Wheat Board this winter. Farmers used to received about 87% of the export price; now they are receiving about 48% of the export price. The corporate sector is gaining there.

I would point out to the member that, in 2002, Canada ratified the United Nations International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for food and agriculture. Canada was a signatory to that. In that agreement, it was agreed not to limit any rights that farmers have to save, use, exchange, and sell farm saved seed and propagating material, subject to national law that is appropriate.

My question to the member, because she does represent a lot of urban constituents, is on their views. Where would her constituents rather see that their produce comes from? Who would they like to see in control of that produce, family farmers, or the big corporations like Monsanto?