Mr. Speaker, after a long wait, I am rising to speak. I was prepared to speak at 3:15 p.m. It is now 5:30 p.m. I apologize for my nervousness and confusion. I have been thinking about this constantly, and I still have many questions about Bill C-18.
Bill C-18, An Act to amend certain Acts relating to agriculture and agri-food is yet another one of these omnibus bills. The Conservatives have practically admitted that it is intended to dazzle us while straying from the real objectives that should have been the focus of an overhaul of the agriculture and agri-food sector.
Of course, our legislation needs to be modernized and updated, but we also need to look at the resources we have and consider the environment and the economy. I will talk about the environment and climate change a bit later.
This bill is proposing changes to nine different laws, seven of which fall under the responsibility of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. The other two are under the purview of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. We are talking about nine different laws in a sector that is absolutely vital to our economy. It was once the pride of our economy from coast to coast. It is a critical part of the mix of prosperous activities that feed millions of people, not just in Canada, but also around the world.
This is a complex sector that generates hundreds of thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in economic benefits. It is the lifeblood of regions across Canada. Even the most knowledgeable are confounded by this bill. All the issues addressed in Bill C-18, from plant breeders' rights to the consolidation of border security mechanisms, as well as increased access to the advance payments program—the famous APP—certainly deserve debate and a very thorough analysis. We shall see what twists and turns the bill will take. It does deserve special attention.
With respect to plant breeders' rights, the NDP believes that a more orderly and balanced approach is required. We all want to protect our Canadian farmers and public researchers. This sector of activity generates what is known in economic jargon as value-added, as well as hundreds of thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars.
Although we understand the vital role of intellectual property rights in encouraging innovation—and Canada has always been a leader in innovation—we want to ensure that Canadians have access to their extremely important agricultural heritage and that they can benefit from it. Various stakeholders across the country will be affected by the proposed changes in Bill C-18. For that reason it is important to consider its repercussions and to follow the normal process for studying this bill.
We must not let our farmers and researchers become ensnared in a bureaucratic maze that is already too cumbersome for them.
What is the purpose of the bill? It would amend the Plant Breeders’ Rights Act in order to change various aspects of the plant breeders' rights granted under the act, including the duration and scope of those rights and conditions for the protection of those rights.
In many countries, such as the United States, and even in Europe, the term of the grant of rights may be up to 25 or 30 years. This bill proposes to make it 18 to 20 years. We shall see what impact that will have.
Let us move on to the Feeds Act, the Fertilizers Act, the Seeds Act, the Health of Animals Act and the Plant Protection Act.
The bill would amend the Feeds Act to authorize inspectors to order that certain unlawful imports be removed from Canada or destroyed, authorize the Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food to take into account information available from a review conducted by the government of a foreign state when he or she considers certain applications, and authorize the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food to issue certificates setting out any information that he or she considers necessary to facilitate certain exports.
Farmers just want to prosper and develop in a healthy environment.
I talked about climate change. In some regions of Canada and elsewhere in the world, but particularly in Canada, these changes are making livestock and crop production more and more difficult. We might have to start importing livestock and wheat and canola, which we have had in Canada for decades. I have not even mentioned floods or drought.
I also talked about the economic environment. At the beginning of the tough winter that Quebec went through, when the temperature started to drop, the price of propane, which is essential to the pork industry and for quick backup heating, went from 39¢ a litre to 72¢ a litre. Up to a certain point, propane was inexpensive. Overnight, heating costs doubled on hog farms throughout Quebec and Ontario. The pork industry is already very fragile. Producers need a prosperous, healthy and economical environment. They need new money.
There is talk of advance payment programs. That is nice. It is certainly useful, but the pork producers in my riding are deep in debt. Their parents and grandparents earned their living raising pigs on ancestral lands. Their families have been there for 100 or 150 years. Now, they no longer have this healthy environment in which to prosper and adequately support their family. They are so deep in debt that they can pay only the interest. They cannot pay down the principal. What are they going to do? They need new money. Bill C-18 makes no mention of new money.
The government says it wants to facilitate free trade. That is nice, but pork producers still need to be able to successfully bring their pigs to market. The same goes for cattle farmers.
For farmers, the cornerstone of the food system is earning a decent living by producing quality food. Above all though, they have to own the means of production.
Seeds are now infertile and sterile. Genetically modified organisms are a serious problem. For large-scale production, that might be a solution. In Quebec, particularly in the Eastern Townships, hundreds of farmers are now farming organically. That segment has seen the strongest growth and has the greatest export potential. However, the government is not doing anything to help them or make their lives easier. There is plenty of demand but not enough supply.
In conclusion, I would say that the bill is not good enough and needs our attention. It is a step in the right direction, but there are serious problems, such as the Monsantos of this world. We absolutely have to take the time to protect our food supply. It used to be 100% Canadian. Today, our farmers own only about 15% of it. That is unacceptable. We have to save our agriculture.