Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure I rise today to address Bill C-18, the most recent omnibus bill from the Conservatives. They seem to have grown somewhat addicted to this particular way of doing business, of writing legislation that encompasses many laws all in one bill. It is a kitchen sink approach to writing legislation in government. In their previous incarnation in opposition, they had some sort of ethic around democracy and accountability in the process of law and they questioned this approach significantly when Liberals did the same thing.
This omnibus bill is certainly not the worst. It only affects nine different pieces of Canadian law at once. Some might say that is a lot, but we have to see that in comparison to the massive omnibus bills the Conservatives have introduced, which sometimes affected upwards of 50 or 60 different Canadian laws all at the same time.
It is a challenge for those not familiar with parliamentary business, and why should they be? It is a technical and complicated thing. The challenge for parliamentarians from all sides is that our primary job here in this place is to analyze and dissect bills as well as we are able in order to understand what is being presented and what the impacts are likely to be.
We can never know fully what the impacts of any piece of legislation might be once it applies in the real world, since once the civil servants and industry get hold of it, there is a to and fro. However, as parliamentarians we can at least try to do our best to anticipate, by hearing the best advice from witnesses and experts who do know things like the farming industry much better than most members of Parliament. We can hear their input, bring the legislation into effect, and go through a process.
The challenge we have had with the current government is twofold. One is that the Conservatives tend to use the technique they are using here today, an omnibus bill that addresses several or many laws at once. In this case it is nine different laws at once, and separating them is incredibly difficult.
The second challenge is that the Conservatives have grown quite addicted to a technique called time allocation. What that means is that rather than negotiating with the opposition to decide how many days of debate a certain piece of legislation might get, the government invokes and enforces the shutting down of debate even as the bill is being introduced.
This is the most common tendency we see now from the Conservatives. They introduce a new bill, and before anybody in the place other than the minister has cracked a single page, they then follow the introduction of that bill with a technique called time allocation, which means debate will then be shut down.
The Conservatives do not just shut down debate at one stage. As we all know, bills go through several stages of debate, but the Conservatives shut it down at every single stage. They shut down debate again and again.
This has two effects on what happens in Parliament. One is it limits the number of MPs who can speak to a bill and understand what is being presented. I and all of my colleagues find that one of the best ways to understand a bill is to compose a 10-minute or 20-minute speech on it or to study it at committee. We consult with our constituents and hear from experts in order to form up what we will say.
The second thing is that it breeds a natural suspicion, a suspicion the Conservatives used to feel when Liberals did the same thing. When Liberals used time allocation and closure to shut down debate, Conservatives said the Liberals were doing so because they had bad legislation that they did not want the public to fully understand.
I think the Conservatives have now applied this technique over 70 times since the last election, which is breaking all the records set by any government in Canadian history. They do it even on bills like this one, bills that the official opposition has said it would support to second reading. Throughout Canadian history, the natural consequence of being assured of that support is that the government, as a next step, would sit down with the opposition and essentially negotiate. Acknowledging that the opposition wanted to see the bill pass second reading and go to committee stage, the Conservatives would ask approximately how many speakers the opposition wanted to have speak to the bill. That is because every party has a certain number of requirements. Each party has certain members from certain agricultural districts, as is applicable in this case, and those members need to speak to the bill. It is perfect common sense and it is required of Parliament.
Instead, the Conservatives have been invoking time allocation right away. It builds suspicion and opposition from New Democrats and from others, as it did when Conservatives were in opposition, so they know exactly what this feels like, but they do it anyway.
Let us get to the merits and the demerits of the bill itself.
Bill C-18 is attempting to strike a difficult balance on the rights of plant breeders. Plant breeders innovate and develop new seeds, new technologies, and new approaches to farming, growing, and raising food in Canada. It is an incredibly important endeavour, because innovation has always been at the heart of agriculture. In Canada we have had incredible experience and success in innovation, not only in breeding livestock but also in developing plant varieties that are more weather resistant and require less water and less fertilizer. All of that is incredibly important.
Protecting intellectual property rights is important for us as New Democrats because it would provide a shield over those who innovate, protecting them so that they would have some benefit from their innovation. Many regimes in the world have very low standards of intellectual property. China is constantly struggling with this problem, and India as well. If we have very little protection, innovators are not encouraged, and if the innovators are not encouraged, they do not innovate, because it is often very expensive for innovators to test and retest until they achieve something that the market will actually reward.
On the other side of the balance we have farmers' rights, which are incredibly important as well. Farmers are raising some legitimate concerns, and I hope my Conservative colleagues across the way recognize the legitimacy of those concerns. If the balance is placed too far on the side of the intellectual property regime, on the side of those doing the innovating, and as a result farmers pay more or pay in ways that hurt their ability to make an income, it is a significant and valid concern. If farmers have to pay to store seeds or to replant seeds that they have kept from the previous harvest, those are legitimate concerns.
As we know, the farming community is not a unified body. There are obviously many different types of people working in the farming industry, growing and raising different types of crops and cattle and livestock, yet there are great divisions within that farming community in prosperity. Some farmers have extraordinarily large farms that are very profitable, both on the livestock side and on the plant side, on the pulses and grains and whatnot. Other farmers are more on the margin and are just trying to make it. They are in niche markets, with smaller farms that are servicing a nearly urban economy. Those farms may be affected by this bill in disproportionate ways.
Therefore, New Democrats are seeking to get the balance right. In supporting the bill at second reading, we are saying we have some concerns over the new powers of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency around regulating and licensing. While those new powers might be quite needed for the innovative farm industry that we want to continue to grow, there are no resources attached to it. The CFIA has had massive cutbacks over the year. It is a department that has seen multiple rounds of cutbacks to its ability to deliver services to farmers and Canadians. The government is going to give it new powers and responsibilities, so one of our legitimate questions for the government is whether, with the new powers and the new work that will be required, the government is attaching any more resources or any new people to do the work.
We do not want to create these new powers and give farmers hope that this, this, and this program are now going to be a part of reality, and then not have anybody in the department actually assigned to do it. That is a false hope, and too often what we have seen from the current government is false hope.
I speak to the bill as a representative of the riding I represent in northwestern British Columbia, Skeena—Bulkley Valley, which incorporates a great variety of people in the agricultural industry. It does not include the full sweep that we see in some of the ridings around Canada, the so-called mega-farms, but we have very large agricultural operations, those growing the pulses and seeds side of things, as well as an extensive and diversified group of farmers who are raising cattle, pig, sheep, and whatnot, who are occupying this conversation in completely different ways.
We have a growing and extensive local farmers' market system in the northwest, which is incredibly important, because regions like mine are very far from some of the high-production areas of the country. As a result, food security is an enormous issue for us because of the great distances, the impacts of climate change, and the need to move food farther to the consumer. We know that the average bushel of produce is moving farther afield. That has serious food security questions, because we have a system that is called “just-in-time delivery”. Many of our retailers depend on food that has to be ready and delivered just in time for the consumer to buy. That creates, unfortunately, a certain level of food insecurity.
The farming community is enormous in Canada. It contributes more than $100 billion to the GDP. One in eight workers going to work this morning went to work in the agricultural sector. In scale it dwarfs many of the other sectors of our industry that get a lot of attention, so it is good that the government is paying this amount of attention.
There are other aspects of the bill that we quite favour. We are raising concerns because we think it is our job. We are raising concerns because that is what Canadians want us to do. In such an important industry in Canada, getting the balance right by allowing for the innovators to innovate while allowing for farmers to earn a living as they feed over 35 million Canadians seems to us a worthwhile cause and an exercise worth doing.
We look forward to the debate at committee. We hope that for once the government will be open to amendments based on the information and the expert testimony that we hear. That would be a welcome relief, as the government so often rejects all science and evidence that comes before us. It is something we think is possible, because hope springs eternal. We believe we can make this bill better than it is right now. We believe we can make it one that an even broader number of Canadians and Canadian farmers can support.