Mr. Speaker, it is a little embarrassing to get up after what the previous member was saying. It certainly is beneath me to get involved in that argument, so I will not. I will let him answer to his constituents and to the media and others who might be interested about that kind of behaviour in the House.
I am proud to stand here today in support of Bill C-18, the proposed agricultural growth act. Bill C-18 is about growth. It is about growth of plants and growth of an industry. Canada's farmers certainly know all about the benefits of growth. The double entendre was intended. They recognize that entrepreneurs who successfully harness innovation add value to the economy, create jobs, and stimulate growth right across the country.
We need to keep up the momentum. We need to look toward the future. The agricultural growth act proposes to modernize some of the legislation that governs the industry in our country and to encourage innovation. That is exactly what it does.
The agricultural growth act aims to support the long-term success of Canadian farmers and producers. The current law tends to discourage development, so this change clearly is needed. Farmers know that, and farm groups who represent farmers right across the country know that, and they have given us this message loud and clear.
The amendments proposed to the Plant Breeders' Rights Act would support growth by encouraging investment in plant breeding in Canada and giving farmers greater access to foreign seed varieties. Plant breeders' rights are a form of intellectual property and like any intellectual property, without adequate legal protection, plant breeders' rights have virtually no value. Adequate legal protection enables rights holders to obtain value for their intellectual property. For plant breeders, this means they have control over the sale of the reproductive material, like seeds, cuttings, and other items like that from the new plant varieties they develop.
Plant breeding is an intensive process that requires significant time and investment. It often takes 10 to 12 years for plant breeders to develop a new variety. That is a huge investment in time and money. As it stands today, Canadian law protects plant breeders' rights for 18 years. The agricultural growth act proposes to extend protection to 25 years for trees, vines and any other specified categories and to 20 years for all other crops, unless the breeder chooses to give their rights up earlier. In some cases, that happens. For most cereal crops and field crops, that would be a two-year extension to the current protection.
The agricultural growth act would also allow plant breeders to sell a variety in Canada for up to one year before applying for breeders' rights protection. This would give them time to test the market, to advertise, or even increase the amount of stock they have on hand before filing for legal protection. I have heard from some people in the industry that this is important. At the same time, the agricultural growth act would provide plant breeders with automatic provisional protection for a new plant variety from the date of filing, which would allow them to exercise their rights while applications are pending.
In other words, the bill would give these agriculture innovators the tools they need to protect their investment and would support continued innovation in Canadian agriculture.
The importance of innovation in Canadian agriculture was the focus of an exhaustive report published earlier this year by the Senate Standing Committee on Agriculture and Forestry. The committee heard from some 170 witnesses over a period of 14 months. In its report, the committee took a bird's eye view of Canada's agriculture and agrifood industry. The report identifies challenges and obstacles and makes no fewer than 19 recommendations, many of them relating to innovation, and that is no accident.
For instance, recommendation number 7 directly calls for improvements in patent protection. That is what this act does. However, I will come back to the committee report in a moment. First, I want to explain another form of intellectual property protection, plant breeders' rights, which is a specific type of legal protection for new plant varieties.
Trade depends upon trust. We know that. Buyers and sellers will do business only when they can trust the quality and the value of the goods and services to be traded. To build trust and foster trade, countries have long negotiated conventions and free trade agreements. Legal protection for intellectual property rights is often a feature of these conventions. The idea is relatively simple. The parties agree to establish a minimum level of legal protection for property rights. They agree to enforce their own laws on rights protection and to recognize equivalent laws in the countries they want to trade with.
The international convention on plant breeders' rights is known as UPOV, the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants. Over 70 countries, including Canada, are members of UPOV. Membership in UPOV allows a country to fulfill its obligations for protecting plant varieties under the World Trade Organization.
Over the years, there have been several updates to the UPOV requirements for plant breeders' rights protection. The current standard is known as UPOV '91. It is important to note, however, that Canada's current legislation does not meet this standard. By that I mean the legislation that is in place right now, because the legislation we are talking about here today has not been passed yet. It meets requirements of the previous version, UPOV 1978. It needs to be updated.
When the standing committee of that other place conducted its study of agriculture, it heard from many witnesses who called on Canada upon to update its legislation so that it would meet the current UPOV '91 standards.
One such witness was Ms. Patty Townsend, chief executive officer of the Canadian Seed Trade Association. She had this to say about this country's failure to meet current UPOV standards:
The consequence [of the non-ratification of UPOV Convention 1991] is twofold. Canadian plant breeders do not have adequate tools to protect their own intellectual property, their own inventions, and they cannot regenerate the funds that are required for reinvestment, but just as important and sometimes even more important is that we cannot attract international genetics or new varieties internationally because companies will not bring their varieties to Canada because we cannot protect them in the same way they are protected in other countries.
That is a quote from Patty Townsend, who has been an effective voice for agriculture on the Hill for a long time.
If we consult the standing committee's report, we will see that recommendation number 8 calls upon Canada to comply with UPOV '91.
The issue of UPOV was also a major focus of the House Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food during its review of Bill C-18. The committee heard from many witnesses critical of Canada's tardiness in ratifying the latest UPOV convention.
One of these witnesses was Chris Andrews, who spoke on behalf of the Canadian Ornamental Horticulture Alliance. Here is some of what he had to say on the topic:
...you may remember when plant breeders' rights were first introduced to Canada in 1991 under the UPOV 78 convention. Unfortunately, after 65 years of efforts, it came too late for the extraordinary Explorer roses, which were developed over the years by Agriculture and Agri-food Canada and were lost to a world that loved them, as we had no protection in those days.
He went on to say:
We had to buy our own plants back. My suggestion is, let’s not let that happen again to our new and innovative Canadian-bred varieties.
As Mr. Andrews points out, Canada already knows what can happen when plant breeders' rights are not adequately protected. Explorer Roses are, indeed, a made-in-Canada success story, much like canola, which has really revolutionized and saved field crop farming in western Canada. There is no doubt about that. I know that. It saved my family's family farm. It certainly helped me with my family farm, and it is what is keeping farming farms going today. Canola is a Canadian success story.
However, the lack of legal protection meant that other countries could simply produce and sell them royalty-free. Mr. Andrews was talking about the Explorer roses.
It would have been great for the Agriculture Canada breeding program had these changes been in place back then, because farmers would have felt the benefit of having that protection and would have received revenue, which would have allowed them to continue to produce new and important varieties.
Canada's failure to meet the new UPOV standard affects more than the individual research teams and companies trying to develop the new varieties of plants. It also has a negative impact on Canada's innovation capacity and our economy.
Another stakeholder expressed this idea succinctly during her appearance before the House committee. Deborah Hart of the Potato Growers of Alberta had this to say:
...If UPOV 91 is ratified, it will allow our industry to compete with other international potato producing areas. It will encourage international breeders to introduce new varieties to Canada and allow our Canadian breeders, both public and private, the opportunity to use new genetic properties in their own breeding programs.
I have page after page of good quotes from people in the industry who have worked on this issue for a great deal of time. The final quote helps to further illustrate the benefits of meeting our UPOV standard. Here is another excerpt from the testimony of Chris Andrews of the Canadian Ornamental Horticulture Alliance:
...This sort of stuff also creates more investment by our growers and our breeders, which in turn creates more innovative plant material and helps us do research that will breed out disease in certain plants. I think that's very important because of all the openness with respect to trade around the world: we're a global economy now. There are more diseases, pests, and insects as well that come into the country, which we have to fight with respect to our new varieties.
Maybe this is why members of the New Democratic Party do not support this legislation. This legislation would truly allow trade to work more effectively and, as we all know, they simply do not support trade.
We listened to all of these witnesses at committee and after much productive discussion with other parties brought forward a further amendment regarding plant breeders' rights, making this legislation clearly and strongly confirm in explicit language that a farmer can store seed for planting in future years on his or her own farm. I hope members of the New Democratic Party heard that. It clearly states that; this legislation guarantees it. The Government of Canada recognizes the importance of meeting the new UPOV standard, and the proposed legislation now before us would take the necessary steps to meet this goal while at the same time protecting a farmer's right to grow and keep his own seed if he or she wants.
The agricultural growth act proposes to bring protection of plant breeders' rights in Canada in line with those of our international partners and competitors. As a result, Canada's plant breeding industry would benefit from a more stable and modern intellectual property network.
These proposed changes would encourage increased investment in plant breeding in Canada. They would also encourage foreign breeders to protect and sell their varieties here.
The Canadian Federation of Agriculture, the country's largest farm organization, has said:
...Canadian farmers will benefit greatly from increased innovation and an increase in new crop varieties as a result of these changes.
As well, a group of leading Canadian farm and agriculture organizations joined forces to support Bill C-18. By the way, any of us who deal with farmers quite a bit know that one thing that is very difficult to do is to get farm groups to work together to move something along, and yet that is what they have done with this. They see the importance to our industries of what is in this legislation.
Partners in Innovation includes the Canadian Horticultural Council, Grain Growers of Canada, and a number of commodity groups, including for potatoes, barley, and pulses. This group says that strengthening plant breeders' rights in Canada “...is critical for the future of our farmers and our agricultural industry’s ability to compete in the global market.”
At the same time, we will continue to consult with the industry before any changes are implemented, including regulatory changes. Our government continues to be committed to consultation to determine the best way to move forward.
I think that is important, and, quite frankly, it is one of the many things the two opposition parties have been calling for. It is reasonable and certainly something our government will continue to do. That said, I trust I can count on both sides of the House to move this necessary legislation forward.
The agricultural growth act proposes to modernize Canadian regulations on a foundation of science and technology, innovation, and international standards. I encourage my hon. colleagues opposite to join me in supporting Bill C-18.
As a farmer, for a number of years I have been following changes that I was hoping would happen a long time back. We all know that no matter what industry we are in—whether it is agriculture, any sector of our manufacturing industries, oil and gas production, mining, or whatever it is—what is going to allow Canada to remain competitive or become competitive is innovation. It is the new ideas spawned by Canadian industries that will keep us ahead of the pack. Quite frankly, in a lot of areas, Canadian industry is simply not competitive right now. We need exactly what this act would do for agriculture to help keep our industry competitive and ahead of the pack.
Farmers are doing their part. We all know the changes they have made so quickly. I would argue that farmers have become some of the most sophisticated managers in this country. The way they manage their businesses is remarkable. They way they adapt innovation is remarkable. The innovation they spawn in terms of new equipment and that kind of thing, often just in a shop somewhere on a farm in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, or elsewhere, is amazing. Farmers are doing their part.
Farmers have increased production on their farms remarkably. It was probably only 20 years ago that an average yield of canola was 25 or 26 bushels to the acre. Now, very commonly, canola yields are 40, 50, 60, or even 70 bushels to the acre. Certainly innovation and new varieties being developed in Canada in the case of canola have made a huge difference in this country for farmers. I know that I have seen the benefits of these developments, but there is much more to be done. The act before us would allow those developments to continue, and in commodities other than canola as well.
This act would truly help farmers keep ahead of the curve. It would help farmers with the innovation it would spawn to truly remain world leaders and continue the growth in production and marketing.
Canadian farmers have demonstrated clearly that they can compete with anybody in the world. In fact, in many cases even individual farmers and in other cases groups of farmers are trading with countries around the world. Our commodities are sought after because, quite frankly, they are better than most others in the world.