Mr. Speaker, I am happy to rise today, on behalf of the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, to speak to the motion requesting that Bill C-60, an act to establish the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, be referred to the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food before second reading.
This bill is the starting point of a very important journey. The plans for the trip began in March 1996, when we were preparing the budget speech; at that moment, our government stated for the first time its commitment to establish an agenda aimed at finding alternative solutions for the delivery of programmes, at finding the most efficient and least expensive way to carry out programs and provide services.
This journey is an important part of that agenda and it will lead us to the creation of a unique food inspection agency, gathering under one roof all the activities previously performed by three different federal departments. Our government knows some of the important port of calls where it will have to stop along the way.
The Canadian fishery is an important contributor to national import and export activities. In addition to considerable domestic consumption of Canadian fish and fish products, substantial markets exist for Canadian products abroad. Fully 84 per cent of fish and seafood caught by Canadians is destined for foreign markets.
Similarly, markets exist within Canada for fish species that are not indigenous to Canadian waters. Some 50 per cent of the fish and seafood consumed in Canada is imported. To support these high import and export figures and to promote confidence both at home and overseas in fish destined for human consumption, this government is committed to ensuring that fish inspection policies within this new agency retain the prominence and the high standards that they now have as part of fisheries and oceans.
In order for any food inspection service to meet the needs of its many client groups not the least of which are consumers, ensuring food safety for all Canadians must be the first priority. A new agency must uphold the excellent reputation of existing inspection
services to ensure the safety of products consumed by the Canadian public whether these products originate in Canada or elsewhere.
As we know, since at least 84 per cent of all fish caught in Canada is destined for foreign consumers, a new inspection agency will also have to improve and guarantee access to foreign markets for our products.
We must assure our foreign trading partners that Canadian sea products are of good quality and meet the requirements of strict regulations. That means we will have to keep up the excellent work that Fisheries and Oceans is doing now in the area of fish inspection.
Finally, to reach these goals in a period of budgetary cuts, we will, of course, have to maintain a certain form of cost recovery so that those benefitting from the inspection services will pay part of the costs.
The new single food inspection agency, which will become a reality if the bill is passed, stops in each one of these ports of call, that is to say that it takes into account all these needs while drawing on new approaches for the delivery of inspection services, many of them initiated by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and creating new opportunities for the future.
We all know that the Canadian fish inspection program is world renowned. We must keep this reputation, and we will, since the new agency will be operating from such a solid foundation.
The bill enshrines the quality management program and the new importer quality management program, which are based on the premise that food safety is the main concern.
The new agency will rely on highly specialized fish inspectors, who are currently controlling the industry's quality management systems, ensuring their efficiency.
The new single food inspection agency will also be forward looking. It will create a food inspection regime that consolidates inspection activities at the federal level. It will enhance ease of access for products to foreign markets. It will facilitate greater collaboration between the various levels of government in Canada, providing the basis for equivalency of standards and programs. It will simultaneously reduce overlap and duplication while promoting a more efficient and effective service delivery system. This government is fully cognizant of the necessity of maintaining open and frequent dialogue with the new agency's many clients. This we will do.
As Canadians grow and their needs change, the government also evolves to continue to meet their needs. We are committed to doing things differently and the Canadian food inspection agency represents a significant step in this direction.
We all recognize that this is an opportunity whose time has come. As Secretary of State for Fisheries and Oceans as well as for Agriculture and Agri-Food, I remain certain that the fish inspection system will be enhanced within this new agency.
Our journey is starting now with the passing of this important bill establishing a canadian food inspection agency. I believe it will result in the setting up of a agency, which will see to the efficient and effective implementation of a world class food inspection program.