Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to use my remaining time at this point. I will remind you that I am sharing my time with the member for Compton—Stanstead.
Let me say very briefly, from the three minutes before the S. O. 31s, that we do farm in northern Ontario and agriculture is an important part of our economy in northern Ontario. I like to remind all the members whenever I can that the Prairies begin in my riding of Thunder Bay—Rainy River, and farming is a critical part of what we do.
It is my pleasure to speak to the bill. In my remaining time, I would like to speak to two things. One is about plant breeders' rights as they appear in the bill. The other is about one of the good things that appears in the bill, and that is improvements to the advanced payments system.
I would also like to talk about the advanced payments program because it is an important program for farmers who live in my riding.
Bill C-18 would make changes to nine different pieces of legislation, some of which we support and some which pose significant concerns.
First, we are troubled by the sweeping powers that are granted to the minister, which is always a concern, including the power in the regulations to unconditionally exempt farmers' rights and privileges on a case-by-case basis.
I find it interesting that the government refers to plant breeders' rights, but talks about farmers' privileges. We on this side happen to believe that these are farmers' rights, not privileges. For some people, that might be splitting hairs, but there is a big difference between rights and privileges.
The Plant Breeders' Rights Act moves Canada toward the ratification of the 1991 model law of the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants. This has been coming for some time. From 1991 until now is a long period of time. It expands the rights afforded to plant breeders for the varieties they develop and increases the places along the value chain where plant breeders can collect royalties. That will come up in the advanced payments section when I chat about that.
Bill C-18 includes new exclusive rights for plant breeders such as reproduction, conditioning, sale, export or import, repeated use to produce commercially another plant variety if the repetition is necessary for that purpose, and stocking for the purpose of any of the protected acts.
The term of the grant to the plant breeders rights has been increased in some cases to 25 years, in the case of trees and vines, for example, and includes a new clause which grants, and I alluded to this before, farmers' privileges, allowing farmers to save seed and condition seed for purposes of production and reproduction on their own farm.
As I said, we would have preferred to get rid of one of the grey areas in the bill. In my previous comments, I referred to the fact that farmers' privileges should actually be farmers' rights. It is important to note that this privilege was not extended to the storing of seed or the sale of harvested material from protected seed. The government adopted an amendment to include conditioning, but we believe this is still not explicit enough and leaves this area grey.
Bill C-18 also would grant CFIA the ability to make changes through regulation, to which circumstances and classes of farmers and varieties would be covered under the farmers' privileges. It would protect the right of researchers to use patented materials as the basis for developing a new variety or for another research use.
It would make a number of other changes, but because of my limited time, I will say that we have some major concerns regarding the clauses that deal with farmers' privilege. These should be farmers' rights, not privileges. I cannot emphasize that enough.
The bill does not adequately clarify or protect the fullest of activities that producers have called for, such as exchanging, cleaning and selling. Therefore, it remains a concern.
Let me reiterate that there are some good things in this bill, and I would like to highlight one, particularly for the farmers in my riding, which are the changes to the advance payments program. For those who do not know, the advance payments program is a financial loan guarantee program that gives producers easier access to credit through cash advances. This program provides producers with a cash advance on the value of their agricultural products during a specific period. This improves the cash flow of producers throughout the year and helps them meet their financial obligations so they can benefit from the best market conditions.
Essentially, the advance payments program has been expanded. Because there are a lot of beef farmers in my riding, there is one section that is particularly important. What this expanded access to the advance payments program does is allow for regulatory changes to cover breeding animals under the program, which, hopefully, can result in more opportunities for farmers to access the program. Animals that are or were used as breeding animals were not previously included under this program, so it is particularly heartening to see this part in the bill.
It also increases flexibility for producers on a number of fronts, including security arrangements, proof of sale and means of repayment. Not all of the people who appeared before committee were pleased with this bill, though a number were. There were mixed results. There are some things the New Democrats certainly support, but some things we do not.