Mr. Speaker, I am not my party's critic in this area, but I do have an interest in this bill because Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing is a large riding with many farmers. I think that it is important to review the bill and take a look at the laws it will affect.
The bill proposes amendments to laws that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the CFIA, is responsible for enforcing. The laws affected are the Plant Breeders’ Rights Act, the Feeds Act, the Fertilizers Act, the Seeds Act, the Health of Animals Act, the Plant Protection Act, the Agriculture and Agri-Food Administrative Monetary Penalties Act, the Agricultural Marketing Programs Act and the Farm Debt Mediation Act.
As my colleague said, the government has introduced yet another omnibus bill and is taking an unbalanced approach. When the government combines an omnibus bill with limited debate, it is easy to lose sight of some very important aspects that will negatively impact farmers and producers as well as the government. That is why the government often finds itself before the courts. We have seen this government go to court many times to defend measures it has put in place; it keeps losing. That is not an effective way to be spending the money it collects through our taxes.
When the government wants to introduce legislative measures, instead of wasting taxpayers' money, it should ensure that its legislation will be accepted and do everything in its power to ensure that it is good legislation.
As I said, this piece of legislation in particular would change nine different acts. One of them is the Plant Breeders' Rights Act. There are some positive changes in the bill; however, sometimes we have to see if the benefits actually outweigh the concerns and look at the impact they would have.
This particular piece, amendments to the Plant Breeders' Rights Act, would actually ensure that a variety of developers are able to see a return on investment for their plant breeding research efforts, providing incentives for an important sector of Canadian agri-business. It would grant farmers privilege, to allow farmers to save and condition seed for use on their own farms, and promote access for Canadian farmers to the results of private breeding research from Canada and other countries through effective intellectual property.
There are a few other benefits we can see: to protect researchers from infringement on plant breeders rights, enhance public accessibility and transparency when it comes to plant breeding, and maintain the existing compulsory licence system, providing some assurances that varieties can be made available at reasonable prices, widely distributed, and kept at high quality.
However, when we look at the concerns that the farmers have raised, we have to take those seriously, and that is why we have a concern. Yes, we want to move this to committee, and yes, we are supportive of having a good debate on this here and making sure that our piece of legislation will be a proper one. However, we have a big question mark when it comes to sending stuff to committee as well. We do not know whether or not the government would be supportive of changes that would actually strengthen the bill, because over and over again we have seen a government that wants to push everything forward and not take any suggestions into account—really good suggestions, changes, and amendments,.
Here are the concerns about the amendments to the Plant Breeders' Rights Act. People have raised concerns on this particular piece of legislation and this particular area, even in the riding of Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing. I hear about it in Manitoulin Island and along the Highway 17 corridor, including from people in the agricultural sector in Thessalon.
Here are some of the concerns. There are a few major concerns regarding the clauses on the farmer's privilege. The farmer's privilege does not include the stocking of propagating material for any use. Even if farmers are able to save seed for the purpose of reproduction, it appears in this legislation that they may have to pay to store it, which would effectively negate the privilege.
The farmer's privilege does not extend to the sale of harvested material. This means that farmers will 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 farmers' entire production rather than just on the seed purchased to grow the crop. This could have significant impacts on the profit margin of farmers.
Farmers are already having a tough time, especially when it is not a good season. To add another risk would be very detrimental to them.
Bill C-18 also includes amendments that would allow the CFIA to make changes through regulation, not through legislation, to the farmer's privilege. This means that the government could significantly hinder these rights at any time, without parliamentary oversight. We know how the Conservative government is about parliamentary oversight. Obviously it is not very good. We have to take that into consideration.
Allowing for farm-saved seed is an optional exception under UPOV 91, meaning that Canada could disallow farm-saved seed and still fulfill its international obligations under the agreement.
There are other concerns raised here regarding 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, accidental spreading of patented plant genetic material. However, these protections are not included in Bill C-18.
Given the expansion of plant breeders' rights under Bill C-18, it is likely that farmers will face increases in expensive litigation. As I said before, a lot of these farmers are already experiencing some tough times. If we want to encourage new young folks to take on farming, we need to make sure that there is no such hindrance in place, or we have to limit them.
While our producers may well be on an extremely uneven financial playing field in relation to plant breeders, there are no provisions in Bill C-18 to ensure that legal fees do not impede a farmer's defence in such cases.
Other changes in this bill, as I mentioned, were the amendments to the Agricultural Marketing Programs Act and the advance payments program. Again, there are some benefits, but we also have to look at the concerns. The Canadian Federation of Agriculture has called for an increase to the maximum amount in advances to address rising farm expenses. Unfortunately, such increases are not included in Bill C-18. This is exactly why the government has to be open to amendments.
When we look at the amendments to the Feeds Act, the Fertilizers Act, the Seeds Act, the Health of Animals Act, and the Plant Protection Act, one of the key concerns is that the amendments to the FDMA may require additional resources from Agriculture Canada, as the minister will now be involved in mediation cases. The government has yet to address whether it currently has the resources it needs to fulfill this new duty.
Under Bill C-18, the minister will not be required to review the operations of the FDMA as often. Given that the proposed changes to the FDMA involve an expanded role for the minister in the mediation process, this review period should not be extended.
Again, we cannot ignore some of the significant concerns about the provisions in this bill. I want to finish off by indicating that I think it is important to recognize how important farmers are to our communities and to Canada's food system.
New Democrats believe that farmers must be able to earn a decent living producing quality food for Canadians. That is why the government needs to make sure that when it introduces legislation, it takes the time to listen to the farmers, the opposition parties, and the professionals, whether it is the researchers or the farmers themselves, to make sure we get it right.