Mr. Speaker, the individuals who looked at the bill and came forward with amendments looked very hard at the issues they are attempting to address. I have to say their attempts to remedy or improve the bill is evident.
However I have to take exception that the actual function they are bringing forward will be a benefit to agriculture in general. I would point out that in Motion No. 15 they are asking to legislate what the maximum time frame should be tied to six months within which time the review tribunal must complete its review.
Many times when a tribunal is involved in matters it would be rather imprudent to be fixed to a particular time frame and attempt to guarantee this time frame in legislation where reason dictates that flexibility would be required and needed. Therefore, a six-month time frame would not always be suitable. I think we would have to say that some flexibility in timing would be required.
Another purpose of the motion is to remove from the minister the ability to enter into compliance agreements whereby penalties could be reduced in recognition of costs incurred by industry by taking corrective measures. The important thing in these matters is that compliance is achieved. Whether or not there is a reduced or an increased penalty is secondary in most cases to bringing about the change by the perpetrator of the infraction.
By authorizing the department to enter into these agreements the bill gives the department the tool to negotiate the implementation by industry of measures that would change the violator's practices and process. That is the key. At the same time, the violator may pay a reduced amount of penalty in exchange for compliance. These funds to effect the necessary improvements leading to a future compliance may also be used to remedy certain situations.
Compliance agreements result in immediate corrective actions. Note that we are saying immediate. When that has happened of course, the ministerial or departmental approval would be achieved. Immediate corrective action leads to a better product, improved health and safety, and more effective enforcement. Compliance agreements are optional and no one is forced to enter into these agreements. The bill provides an incentive to enter into compliance agreements by making it possible to reduce the amount of monetary penalty. As we have said, the most important outcome is that there has been a change and there has been a remedy and compliance is achieved.
To remove the possibility of a ministerial review of a notice of violation is also deemed not suitable by this amendment. I would like to speak against that point as well. A ministerial review enables a violator who wishes to challenge a monetary penalty to have a fast, inexpensive and informal way to do so. Under current legislation he must do so through the court system. As we know, that can be slow. We also know it can be very expensive. Consequently, when we hear concerns from opposite sides that we do not have enough savings by these changes, we admit that we perhaps do not have a fixed number, but we know that by taking it out of the court system we will be putting a number of dollars into agriculture rather than into the hands of people in the legal system.
The ministerial review is optional in any event. The violator may choose to proceed directly to the review tribunal. Furthermore, anyone who elects to have a ministerial review may appeal its outcome to the review tribunal.
Finally, I would like to comment on whether or not to remove the possibility for a violator to pay less than the full amount of monetary penalty where the violator does not request a review. In other words, we would be putting in place a mechanism whereby there would be a smaller amount of money taken from the perpetrator of an infraction without his even asking for it.
The intent behind including in the bill a provision that enables this to happen is twofold. First, it is to enable a violator who does not intend to challenge the assessment of a penalty to pay a reduced amount of penalty if the department is satisfied that the violator would act in good faith and take the necessary corrective measures. Again, the compliance component is paramount here. Second, it is to promote compliance without engaging in long and costly hearings.
Hearings are of course expensive, as we said earlier. There are other regimes. It is estimated that the average hearing cost is about
$1,400, and some might be more. If we can save that $1,400, we will all be ahead of the game.
We are informed these types of reductions are common under other monetary penalty regimes both in Canada and the U.S. In these other regimes reductions are informally made on a case by case basis while taking great care to make a decision appropriately. Bill C-61 formalizes the procedure and makes the practice transparent and available to anyone.
I conclude my remarks at this point.