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Track Robert

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Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word is environmental.

Conservative MP for Dauphin—Swan River—Neepawa (Manitoba)

Won his last election, in 2015, with 46% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Transportation Modernization Act June 15th, 2017

Madam Speaker, as the minister knows, I represent a constituency in western Canada where the shipment of grains and oilseeds is the lifeblood of our economy. Often there is a strong tension between shippers and the railways and how the railways operate.

One of the policies that our government brought in that was very important was the concept of interswitching, which greatly improved the efficiency of grain transport and reduced the cost for shippers.

I gather from my own consultations that the issue of interswitching has not been dealt with in this bill. If the minister could clarify that, I would appreciate it. Does the minister know how many grain elevators and shippers will lose access to a second railroad once the 160-kilometre regulated interswitching expires?

Fisheries and Oceans June 12th, 2017

Mr. Speaker, the Atlantic Salmon Federation has recently urged the Liberal government to take an aggressive approach to dealing with the egregious overfishing by Greenland of Canadian Atlantic salmon. Canadian Atlantic salmon numbers are critically low and greatly affecting the economy of many maritime communities. While Greenland plunders Canadian salmon while producing no salmon of its own, our stocks are becoming more difficult to maintain.

When will the Liberals stand up for Atlantic Canada, and put strong diplomatic and economic pressure on Greenland in order to restore Canada's Atlantic salmon and protect our fisheries?

Excise Tax Act June 8th, 2017

Mr. Speaker, on a point of order, the member should be addressing his comments to the Chair.

Day at the Range June 6th, 2017

Mr. Speaker, this morning, many MPs and staff took part in the sixth annual Parliamentary outdoor caucus day at the range. This all-party event allows people from diverse backgrounds and political leanings to have the opportunity to experience using firearms in a safe manner, with professional instructors helping everyone with safety measures and tips on how to fire accurately.

From the smallest villages to the most urban centres, there are millions of law-abiding firearms owners across Canada. These are people from all walks of life who enjoy finding themselves in nature while hunting or who love the excitement of precision target shooting.

The rain this morning could not dampen our spirits, and it was evident that those who had their first experience with firearms were quite simply having a blast. I would like to thank the sponsors as well as the Parliamentary outdoor caucus for organizing the event. My hope is that the participants' experiences will help them understand that the rights of law-abiding firearms owners and enthusiasts must be respected. They should not be attacked for enjoying their way of life. Canadian firearms owners deserve nothing less.

Business of Supply June 1st, 2017

Mr. Speaker, I started my environmental career in the 1970s and I remember the very first Earth Day. It is quite clear to me, regarding the NDP, that they are pure environmental phonies. They use the environment as a political tool to advance a left-wing agenda that otherwise they could not advance.

I find it quite hilarious that there are NDP members from Hamilton arguing strongly about the steel industry. They want the steel industry to grow to protect steelworkers. Pipelines are made of steel. What do they expect, empty pipelines made of steel? This is completely ridiculous.

At this point in time there are 2.5 million miles of pipelines in North America. That is a staggering number. They are 70 times safer, based on articles in Scientific American, than trucks or trains. To argue against pipelines is to argue against community safety.

I had the honour of working in the oil sands for a winter and I lived in a camp. There were senior couples there saving for a dignified retirement, young couples saving for their first home, and a father saving for his child's education. I lived with the workers in the oil sands and they are decent, honest, honourable, hard-working people. Why does the NDP hate working people so much?

Business of Supply June 1st, 2017

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The member used a personal name in her speech and that is not according to the rules.

Business of Supply June 1st, 2017

Mr. Speaker, I would like to correct the record on some of the statements that some of the previous speakers have made. Under our watch as the Conservative government, most environmental indicators improved in Canada for things like sulphur dioxide, nitrous dioxide, and our freshwater quality was rated number two in the industrialized world. We have a very proud environmental record as a Conservative government.

The member talked about ensuring that pipelines are built to high standards. As someone who has done environmental assessments of pipelines and has worked in the oil sands directly, one thing I can assure him and all others in the chamber is that every single industrial process, industry in Canada, and development is built to the highest standards in the world. Of that, members can be sure of. To check and recheck after doing it right is simply a waste of time in many cases.

One thing I found out in my time in the Mackenzie Valley is that prolonged processes kill projects. I know the Liberal Party wants to talk about process after process. After 25 years of environmental process in the Mackenzie Valley, there is no pipeline and dozens of impoverished communities.

My question relates to national unity. I find it appalling when one province wants to block the exports of a province inland. Look at the ramifications of this. My province exports wheat, grain, and oilseeds. We are an exporting country. What if every coastal province decided that they did not like a certain product going through their jurisdiction? The impact on national unity would be horrendous. This project needs to go through and B.C. needs to be told it is part of this Confederation and it is its responsibility to ensure that this pipeline is built and the oil flows.

Contribution of Ranchers and Farmers May 29th, 2017

Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to support Motion No. 108. I am also very proud to represent the constituency of Dauphin—Swan River—Neepawa, a major farming and ranching constituency. In fact, my constituency produces the most canola in Canada of any constituency.

Canada is a very large country; 10 million square kilometres. Within our 10 million square kilometres, there are just over 200,000 farms. They farm a very small part of Canada. They farm 680,000 square kilometres, or 6.8% of Canada's landmass. However, these 200,000 family farms, on 6.8% of the land area in Canada, provide a disproportionate contribution to Canadian society and the Canadian economy. They are also a repository of cultural and traditional ecological knowledge and values.

This constituency also has a very strong stewardship ethic and is blanketed with organizations known as conservation districts, where local people have gotten together to develop and promote conservation programming.

Right now, agriculture counts for about 8% of Canada's GDP and 12% of all employment. The food and beverage processing industry is the largest of all manufacturing industries in Canada. Overall, about 50% of Canada's agricultural production is exported, but in the west, where I come from, the number is 80%. Therefore, agriculture not only helps our Canadian economy, but it contributes very strongly to the balance of trade as well.

It is very clear that the relatively small number of primary agricultural producers in Canada sets off an enormous chain reaction of jobs, growth and employment that ripples throughout the entire Canadian economy. Not only that, but Canadian farmers produce the world's highest quality food and deliver extremely affordable food to Canadians.

In Canada, we spend about 10% of our disposable income on food. It is among the lowest in the entire world. The fact that low-income people can afford to eat well is one of the best social programs a country could ever have. In other words, we are all part of the culture of agriculture. Not only that, Canada's major cities are largely located within the agricultural regions of Canada, reflecting our country's settlement patterns.

However, we tend to take agriculture for granted and we all expect this flow of high quality, abundant, and low cost food to continue indefinitely, which is a good thing. However, society is now placing new environmental demands on farmers and ranchers and they have responded, utilizing techniques that were described earlier, such as zero tillage, where crops are grown without disturbing the soil.

I recall during the dry 1980s in Canada's Prairies when there were horrific dust storms in the spring. Much of the land was bare and high winds developed. These dust storms are no more, thanks to conservation farming techniques.

I know modern agriculture has been criticized in some corners, but I am a strong proponent of high-tech modern agriculture as an environmental benefit to all of society. The fact that we can grow more food on less land means we can also reserve certain lands for conservation purposes.

Let us look at ranchers like my colleague did. Ranchers have developed grazing techniques such as rest rotational grazing and remote watering that improve cattle weight gain, enhance water quality, and conserve biodiversity.

Regarding cattle ranching, I vehemently disagree with those who criticize the environmental performance of the beef cattle industry. Quite frankly, if we care about the environment, we should eat beef.

Well-managed grazing not only conserves and protects vital grasslands, but is critical to the survival of many endangered prairie birds. In fact, the Audubon Society, undoubtedly North America's most prestigious bird conservation organization, has launched the conservation ranching program. It works with ranchers to improve conservation outcomes. I will quote from one of its documents:

To combat these negative impacts and to keep grass on the landscape throughout North America, Audubon has developed the Conservation Ranching Program. This program is a collaboration with local ranchers within the North American Grasslands, ensuring that grazing regimes produce healthy habitats for target grassland bird species....cattle are an essential management tool for the prairie which led to Audubon's decision to promote their presence on grasslands.

Again, those of us who strongly support the cattle industry should speak loudly and proudly about the conservation benefits of the cattle industry.

The NAFTA Commission for Environmental Cooperation essentially said the same thing. The CEC is a commission of Canada, Mexico, and the United States created under NAFTA. It has released a series of reports underlining the importance of sustainable ranching and beef cattle trade to the grasslands and to the societies and economies of North America.

The crux of the issue, when it comes to conservation programming on private land, is that there is a mix of property rights on private land. The soil is privately owned, but the wildlife belongs to the crown. These rights often come into conflict. Farmers and ranchers by necessity change the landscape to continue agricultural operations, but quite frankly, the public has a legitimate interest in the management and conservation of public resources, such as wildlife, on private land.

The big question is how to manage the public interest while at the same time maintaining farm and ranch profitability. We can emphasize the enforcement approach or the incentive approach. Motion No. 108 talks about the incentive approach.

In most cases, the enforcement approach, which is telling farmers and ranchers how they must run their operations, has been a dismal failure. I recall the actions under the pre-2012 Fisheries Act and the current Species at Risk Act.

I am a member of the fisheries committee. In testimony before the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, when we were reviewing changes the government wants to make to the 2012 Fisheries Act, which our government brought in, there was testimony from Ron Bonnett, president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture. On November 21, 2016, he said:

The experience that many farmers had with the Fisheries Act, unfortunately, was not a positive one. It was characterized by lengthy bureaucratic applications for permitting and authorizations, and a focus on enforcement and compliance measures taken by officials coupled with a lack of guidance or outreach on the purpose of these measures or information on how to navigate through the process.

Many farmers were then relieved when the changes that were made just a few years ago drastically improved the timeliness and cost of conducting regular maintenance and improvement activities to their farms as well as lifting the threat of being deemed out of compliance. That being said, I think we could find ourselves with an important opportunity to look at how protection can be enhanced in a way that works on the ground for those who earn their livelihood from productive natural resources.

The Species at Risk Act is problematic as well. It has a very strong enforcement role. Currently, it is actually a disincentive to have an endangered species on one's farm.

On the other hand, the incentive approach to dealing with conservation on private land has delivered real conservation outcomes. Again, from Mr. Bonnett's testimony:

I'd like to take this opportunity to share just a few examples from my own farm of growing stewardship actions that have improved fish habitat outcomes. Through Growing Forward 2 and species at risk funding, we were able to access incentive programs that contributed to the improvement of fish habitat. More specifically, through the provincially delivered environmental farm plan and the Species at Risk Act, we put fencing in to keep our livestock sufficiently away from water courses, which has increased water quality and fish population.

In order to provide fresh water for our cattle, we installed a solar powered off-stream watering system. This has led to the rehabilitation of the stream that runs through our pasture areas. These are just two examples from a single farm in northern Ontario that illustrate how stewardship approaches have improved fish habitat in agricultural landscapes through means other than a regulatory-based approach under the Fisheries Act.

When the committee reviewed the Fisheries Act, it unanimously approved recommendations 8 and 9. Recommendation 8 stated:

That Fisheries and Oceans Canada put sufficient protection provisions into the Fisheries Act that act as safeguards for farmers and agriculturalists, and municipalities.

Recommendation 9 stated:

That Fisheries and Oceans Canada work with the farm community and rural municipalities to provide incentives and expert advice to conserve and enhance fish habitat and populations and utilize the enforcement approach as a last resort.

It was made clear to the fisheries committee by the farm community that the enforcement approach simply does not work and that the incentive approach is the one we must take.

Under the Species at Risk Act, there is a really good program in place called the species at risk partnerships on agricultural lands program, or SARPAL. In Manitoba right now, the Manitoba Beef Producers are delivering the SARPAL program, which is as it should be, with the people who know what is going on on the land delivering actual programs.

However, Canada lags far behind the United States and Europe in terms of incentive-based agricultural programs. I hope Motion No. 108 will go a way toward changing that. I strongly urge all members to approve Motion. No. 108, which would not only improve the environment but also improve the lives of Canada's farm and ranch communities.

Food and Drugs Act May 10th, 2017

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak in the House this evening. I stand in opposition to Bill C-291 on the following grounds: it is anti-science, anti-development, inhumane, and anti-environmental. These kinds of bills are merely Trojan Horses for an anti-GMO approach.

Let us go back to the development of agriculture, and why it was so important for humanity.

Agriculture developed about 10,000 years ago and changed humanity forever. The greatest attribute was the production of surplus food, which resulted in the specialization of occupations that people could do, and that resulted in the evolution of arts and culture, science, cities, and civilization itself. It is not too far a stretch to say no agriculture, no Silicon Valley.

Human lifespans increase because of agriculture as did populations. There is obviously a need for more and more food in the form of agricultural productivity. Farmers vary innovative and selected varieties to increase yield, and the result is abundant and very inexpensive food.

In Canada right now we spend about 9% of our disposable income on food, and that is among the lowest in the entire world. That means that people on low incomes in this country can afford to eat well. There has never been a better social program in Canada than that which has been given to Canadian citizens by agriculture, so poor people can eat well.

The acceleration of crop development really occurred out of the great Norman Borlaug, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, who accelerated crop development using conventional breeding technology. I am going to quote from an article in The Atlantic about Borlaug:

Perhaps more than anyone else, Borlaug is responsible for the fact that throughout the postwar era, except in sub-Saharan Africa, global food production has expanded faster than the human population, averting the mass starvations that were widely predicted...The form of agriculture that Borlaug preaches may have prevented a billion deaths.

Interestingly, even back then Borlaug was opposed for his modern approach to agriculture. I am quoting from the same article:

The environmental community in the 1980s went crazy pressuring the donor countries and the big foundations not to support ideas like inorganic fertilizers for Africa.

Borlaug, of course, fought back very strongly. He said at the time:

Some of the environmental lobbyists of the Western nations are the salt of the earth, but many of them are elitists. They've never experienced the physical sensation of hunger. They do their lobbying from comfortable office suites in Washington or Brussels. If they lived just one month amid the misery of the developing world, as I have for fifty years, they'd be crying out for tractors and fertilizer and irrigation canals and be outraged that fashionable elitists back home were trying to deny them these things.

The next iteration of crop development was genetic engineering, and that was done by introducing desirable traits into crops from other species, and there were some terrific results: higher yields, canola, wheat, potatoes, better nutrition, golden rice, yellow flesh sweet potatoes, and reduced pesticide use.

Another application of genetic engineering technology has allowed farmers to cease spraying altogether by incorporating pesticide toxins into the tissues of the crop plant itself. Examples include insect resistant corn and cotton now planted across the globe. I have in my hand a table that lists some of the crop plants that have been developed. This is a paper by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research.

Let me talk for a minute about golden rice. This is a rice that has Vitamin A bred into it due to genetic engineering. Vitamin A is critical in the prevention of blindness in children. By opposing golden rice in Asia, for example, the activists stated, and I am going to quote from an article in Environment and Development Economics with respect to the opposition to golden rice:

This is an indicator of the economic power of the opposition towards Golden Rice resulting in about 1.4 million life years lost over the past decade in India.

The opposition to food technology, and the development of better food and crops is not just a simple thing. It has real world, inhumane consequences.

Interestingly enough, one of the things that people never talk about in terms of the environmental benefits of genetic engineering is that by having high yields produced on smaller pieces of land, we can then have room for wildlife and wildlife habitat. For example, there is a reason why the Ottawa Valley is not 100% cultivated. It is because we can produce enough food on the land that is currently under cultivation, and the rest can be left for environmental purposes. This is one of the major benefits of high yield agriculture, and it will only get better with genetic engineering.

Why is GMO labelling a bad idea? It stokes the fear of genetically engineered crops. It is kind of like a warning label. It provides no information. If the label is supposed to provide information, it should also say, “This crop was produced with less inputs, less fertilizer, and less pesticide”, like is common among many GMO crops. Most importantly, it gives anti-GMO activists a platform, and a foothold to continue this campaign against modern agriculture.

A couple of the previous speakers talked about the peer reviewed studies. In my research, we came up with 1,736 peer reviewed studies that found GMO crops to be as safe or safer than conventional or organic agriculture. I am glad the parliamentary secretary brought up the apple. It is called the Arctic apple. It was developed in the Okanagan. It is a genetically superior apple. It is sold in the United States, but is still held up in Canada.

In terms of Europe's phobia about GMOs, we have a perfect experiment in place right now. GMO crops are consumed in North America in great amounts, much less so in Europe. If there were any health or disease impacts, that would show up. We have a perfect policy experiment here, and there is no difference in the health and longevity of Europeans.

I will quote Stewart Brand, a prominent environmentalist, whom I admired back in the 1970s. He wrote a book called Whole Earth Catalog. Brand underwent an evolution in his thinking on the environment, and in 2010 wrote a book called Whole Earth Discipline. In it, he castigates the environmental movement very strongly for being against modern agriculture. He wrote:

I daresay the environmental movement has done more harm with its opposition to genetic engineering than with any other thing we’ve been wrong about. We’ve starved people, hindered science, hurt the natural environment, and denied our own practitioners a crucial tool.

National Seal Products Day Act May 5th, 2017

Madam Speaker, it is an honour for me to follow my colleague from British Columbia in support of Bill S-208, put forward by the member for Coast of Bays—Central—Notre Dame, the illustrious chair of the fisheries committee.

I, too, serve on that committee. In fact, I have been on the fisheries committee ever since I became a member of Parliament, nearly seven years ago, and it has been a great committee to be on. Not that long ago, the chair talked about how many reports the committee had put out, 10 reports so far since this Parliament began. We have a very productive, interesting, and significant committee.

I very strongly support this bill. I represent a large rural area in Manitoba, and Manitoba is a coastal province. There are seals in Churchill in Hudson Bay. We do not seal hunt, but it is a coastal province.

For a prairie boy who grew up hunting, fishing and being the ultimate romantic when it comes to the outdoors, many years ago I got my hands on a book by George Allan England called, The Greatest Hunt in the World. He was on Captain Kean's boat in the 1920s and went on a seal hunt himself. As I read this direct account of the seal hunt, I could not imagine the toughness, the bravery, and the sheer guts it took for those men to go out on the ice every spring to harvest seals.

Canada's seal hunt is sustainable, and previous speakers have talked about the sustainability of it. Unfortunately, Canada's seal hunt has been the target of very unfair and fraudulent campaigns by the animal rights movement, led by groups like Animal Justice Canada, International Fund for Animal Welfare, and so on. It is clear that the sole purpose of these anti-sealing groups is to raise funds for themselves, and the collateral damage to coastal communities has simply been staggering.

A witness at the aboriginal affairs committee not that long ago talked about the increase in suicide rates in some Inuit communities, partly attributed to the collapse of the seal hunt. These people do not want to save cuddly animals. These people are a danger to rural and remote communities. The seal hunt is the canary in the coal mine. As somebody who has fought the animal rights movement and the people who want to shut down communities like the one I represent, the seal hunt, the canary in the coal mine, the tip of the iceberg, pick a metaphor, whether it is anti-logging, anti-trapping, anti-hunting, anti-mining, and, quite frankly, anti-oil and gas, it is the rural communities that bear the brunt of these campaigns. One of the reasons I became a member of Parliament was to protect and defend rural communities. I have had experiences fighting the good fight on all these issues.

Interestingly enough, again going back to the animal rights movement and the animal rights groups, these people do not care about cuddly animals. They want an end to all animal use, farming, ranching, trapping, and sealing of course, and sealing is the easiest target. However, if we look at all their websites, they also want an end to animal-based medical research. I do not know if members in the House realize it, but when I met with the Heart and Stroke Foundation some time ago, I asked point blank how much of the cardiac research was done on animals and it was 60%. Again, these anti-animal use campaigns can be extremely harmful.

I will also talk about the unfairness of countries that ban seal products. The European ban was completely uncalled for. It is easy for another country to point fingers at another jurisdiction and pay no political price for it, while being made to look like people who care about the environment. The U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act prevents seal products from entering the U.S., no matter how abundant seals are.

The animal rights movement caused a decrease in the seal harvest, and as colleagues talked about a minute ago, the number of harp seals has increased dramatically, from 1.8 million in 1970 to about 7.4 million now; and grey seals, from 13,000 in 1970 to 505,000 now. There are varying estimates, but the seals consume between 10 and 15 times what the east coast fleet harvests. It is quite clearly established that the high grey seal populations are preventing a recovery of the gulf cod.

Not that long ago, our fisheries committee submitted two reports to Parliament, one on Atlantic salmon and one on northern cod. In both studies, the seals were implicated in the decline of the Atlantic salmon in particular, and in the prevention of the recovery of the cod as well. Both committee reports recommended an expanded seal harvest, done humanely but expanded, to reduce the numbers of these seal species to improve the populations of Atlantic salmon and cod.

Nobody wants to wipe out the seals. However, I think it is our duty as human stewards of this earth to restore a balance that is completely out of whack right now.

I had the honour many years ago of doing work in the eastern Arctic, around Southampton Island, on Arctic char, and I had the honour of living with an Inuit family. I participated in a seal hunt and a walrus hunt. I have had a lot of experience in the outdoors, but I have had some Arctic experience. I do know what it is like to plunge one's hand into a freshly killed walrus and experience the joy and exuberance of the hunt when one is successful. It was an experience that I will cherish. I have eaten raw seal, raw walrus, and I found the tastes interesting, to say the least. It can be good.

I am very pleased, as well, to see an increase in demand for seal products, the seal oil, the high levels of omega 3. We have companies that are exploiting this. I applaud my colleague and the colleagues from all parties who support our traditions of sealing, hunting, trapping, and fishing. Many of us belong to an organization called the outdoor caucus, and I see a number of members wearing an outdoor caucus pin.

I want to finish up with the tale of Bill C-246. As we know, a Liberal member of Parliament introduced a private member's bill that many of us viewed as a closet animal rights bill. I was very pleased to see that many Liberal members of Parliament, and almost all Conservative members of Parliament, worked very hard to defeat that particular bill. We motivated people from all across the country to build a coalition of sealers, trappers, hunters, anglers, and medical researchers, who realized the implications of that particular bill.

While I must thank the member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie for his speech, and I listened with great interest to it, I would note that almost all of the NDP caucus voted for Bill C-246, except for one, the member for Kootenay—Columbia. I do not say this to be mean, in any sense of the word, but it is very important that we, as members of Parliament, stand on principle to protect our communities and the people who hunt, trap, fish, and harvest seals.

I must also say that sealing is largely a rural industry, but we have a lot of people who live in cities who love to hunt, fish, and trap. Again, I want to compliment my colleague for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, a Montreal area member of Parliament, who has chosen to throw his support behind the bill for a national seal products day.

In conclusion, I am very proud to support the bill. I am proud to serve with my colleague on the fisheries committee. I look forward to the bill being passed and being a very great help to the sealing industry, now and into the future.