Madam Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to rise in the House today and put a few thoughts on the record concerning Bill C-40 and the protection of Canada's right to identify what grain is coming in, what grain is moving across our land and what grain is making its way into all of those industries in our country that make product and supply consumers. This is so that all of us are confident and convinced that our health is protected, our economy is protected and, most important in this instance, our farmers are protected.
Having been here for the last eight or nine months and having listened to debate in this House, I have to say that I get a very uneasy feeling that the government does not really understand in a fulsome way the challenges faced by farmers across this country, challenges faced by farmers in my own riding of Sault Ste. Marie, in constituencies across Ontario and in other provinces.
We have had at least three take note debates in this House about the issue of BSE and the impact it is having on producers across this country. People and families invest their life savings and every ounce of energy they have to bring their best game to the table, yet at the end of the day decisions are made at higher levels by governments and organizations that do not seem to understand the priority of the small farmer in this country, and they continue to make decisions negatively.
We have some concern that this is in fact what is happening again in Bill C-40. In some ways we are putting the cart before the horse here. In other ways we are being hauled around by the nose by these organizations out there on the world level, organizations that continue to protect the interests of the most powerful against the smaller entities, the smaller countries that simply want to have a level playing field where these kinds of things are concerned.
BSE continues to rage as a huge challenge to farmers and to farming. The family farm is affected very directly by this. We still cannot get our product across the border because, from everything that I have read, the Americans have decided that it is in their best economic interests not to do that. There is nothing in that decision about health or science or good farm practices. It is all about politics and power and influence. This concerns me. It concerns me in that instance and it concerns me in regard to Bill C-40. I will certainly talk more specifically about the bill in a few minutes.
Just a few minutes ago, we heard the member for Joliette talk about the impact of a decision that came down last week on milk products and supply management. Supply management is a very important vehicle in this country to protect farmers and to protect the dairy farm. In constituencies across this country and in my own riding, particularly out in East Algoma, supply management is what keeps producers viable where dairy farming is concerned. It is what keeps them from falling into the very difficult circumstances that we see in the cattle and beef industry at the moment in this country. As a matter of fact, dairy producers are certainly affected by it, both directly and indirectly.
Let us not start meddling with the supply management template that is out there now. As has been spoken of, 20% now is going to be taken away because of new imports coming in, a ruling by the WTO that affects Canada negatively, and this government does not have the intestinal fortitude to stand up and call on article XXVIII to be put in place so we can actually go to the table and appeal that ruling and decision.
All we have to do is look at the effectiveness of the United States, the American farmers. When they see absolutely anything coming down the pipe, by a WTO ruling or something the Canadian industry or government does, they immediately use every vehicle at their disposal to challenge those decisions if they think it will affect negatively their industry, their farmers, their economy and their communities.
In Canada we seem to always be timid, almost afraid, to stand up to the powers that be. In the instance of supply management, it seems the country we are most concerned about somehow insulting or affecting in some negative way is New Zealand. Apparently calling on the World Trade Organization to appeal the decision would somehow affect negatively our relationship with New Zealand.
What about our relationship with our farmers? What about our relationship with those communities that depend on farming as their prime industry? What about the relationship of the government with its economy overall, recognizing that farming is one of those pillars of the economy that has served us so well for so long? We now are so ready and so easily willing to say that there are bigger priorities that we have to be concerned about and that we have to play on a national playing field. We have to be concerned about the temperament of other countries and what they do.
The government has a responsibility to have some backbone. It has a responsibility to stand up whenever a sector of our economy, our country, our industry is challenged and affected. It has a responsibility to say no, to hang on for a minute and look at it. It should not be afraid to appeal decisions by organizations like the World Trade Organization.
The purpose of the bill before us is to amend the Canada Grain Act and the Canada Transportation Act to bring them into compliance with the WTO ruling that decided Canadian grain handling and transportation practices violated Canada's national treatment obligations under GATT. Here we go again. The government wants the bill passed before the current crop year of July 31 in order to coincide with the WTO deadline of August 1. We do not want to attract retaliation from the U.S. We want to avoid paying compensation, but there should be some way for us to put on the table some of our very real concerns about the bill.
We have to understand that even though the purpose of the changes affect grain shipments west of and not including Thunder Bay, this is a national issue, something about which all farmers need to be concerned. It could be another block in that wall which will expose the Canadian farming and agricultural industry to all kinds of attack by big U.S. and European interests and organizations that do not readily, if we do not challenge them, recognize the impact all this will have on Canada and Canadian farmers.
Within the framework of the WTO ruling, these changes need to happen before August 1. However, there are a few areas of concern that are not addressed in the new legislation. Some concerns are on the implications in treating imported grain differently than Canadian produced grain.
The proposed amendments will repeal or amend existing provisions in the two acts which treat imported grain differently from Canadian produced grain. This includes removing the requirement that authorization be sought from the Canadian Grain Commission before foreign grain can enter licensed grain elevators. They remove the requirement that operators of licensed terminal or transfer elevators must seek Canadian Grain Commission permission to mix grain and extends the railway revenue cap to imported grain.
The first concern with the bill is with the provision of reporting U.S. and other grain imports into Canada. The proposed amendments allow for reporting, but there is little direction or evidence it will be effective as it now will come after the act instead of before. It is like closing the gate when the horses are already out
To fill the gap, the amendments to cause the process of reporting, the government has stated that it will put in place a regulation that will require elevator operators to report to the CGC, the Canadian Grain Commission, the origin of all grain and if they mix Canadian with foreign grain, to identify them as mixed.
However, it is our understanding that the CGC, CFIA and CWB are only now drafting the regulation. The timeframe allows for it to not be put in place until August 2006, a full year after Bill C-40 has gone through the House. This again brings us back to the point of closing the gate after the horses are out.
The second concern with the bill is the differentiation between imported grain and in transit grain. The legislation does not seem to be clear whether these will continue to be treated differently, or how the requirements might be different or if they will become one and the same. Currently, most grain coming into western Canada from the U.S. is simply in transit, being shipped to one of the ports. The WTO ruling seems to allow for in transit grain to be treated just as that so it does not need to receive national treatment. However, the legislation seems to redefine all grain coming in from the U.S. as imported.
Our party believes it is very important we define that in transit grain should not receive national treatment, otherwise we are left vulnerable and with very little recourse should American producers choose to take advantage of our rail line and our elevators.
Our party does not see a real problem with amending the two acts so we are in compliance with the WTO ruling. The government has already stated clearly that it will not appeal the decision. If we take too long, farmers might end up facing retaliation from the U.S. and WTO, which will not help them at all. However, the government should be making these changes with care. We do not want to leave western grain producers without regulations or protections. Those in the field have pointed out that previous protocols or regulations established by the CGC have had questionable results. This cannot be allowed to happen with the mixing of grain as it could call into question the quality of Canadian grain.
We are hearing that most producers are okay with the amendment to be in compliance, but are concerned that there be a defined difference between the treatment of in transit and imported. As well, there is the worry of the loss of reporting and what that will mean in keeping out unregistered varieties or even genetically modified grain or seed.
This brings me to another point that was raised in the House, which still has not been addressed by the government. It is an area where the government is being weak-kneed again and not taking a stand. What will we do about genetically modified seed and what is referred to as the terminator seed?
The WTO wants to allow big seed corporations and multinationals to introduce the terminator seed which will, after a seed is used once, render it useless again. The impact that will have on our own farmers, particularly small farmers who go from year to year wanting to reuse their seeds, and on developing countries and smaller third world countries, not to speak of a crime against nature, is it will decimate those economies and farming operations. We are afraid that Bill C-40 will have an impact too where we might not have the facility to recognize and know what is crossing through our territory, particularly where GM grain and seed is concerned.
We have some concerns about the WTO, an unelected body. Why does Canada have to endanger the quality of its grain because an unelected trade body says so and do so in a timeframe that is obviously too rushed for the government?
As well the U.S. consistently chooses to ignore WTO rulings, as well as those through NAFTA. Why do we have to follow through to make trade easier for American producers when the U.S. is violating such trade obligations, such as those under the GATT, with impunity?
Again I raise and point out what is happening with BSE and cattle. It is not a big stretch to talk in the House about the impact on our industry with regard to softwood lumber and the tough stand that the Americans have taken. Why can we not have that kind of backbone and intestinal fortitude?
The government is going along with globalization, but is not dotting the i 's and crossing the t 's. If we are not careful when we change legislation like this to create compliance, we could be allowing a back door where problems like unregistered seed and GM crops could get in and contaminate Canada's grain supply, which is certainly not something Canadian farmers need.
We have consulted with a fair number of western farm organizations, as well as with the Canadian Wheat Board. All in all, most producers are okay with amending to be in compliance, but are concerned that there be a defined difference between the treatment of in transit and imported, as well as the worry of the loss of reporting and what that will mean in keeping out unregistered varieties or GM grain or seed. The Wheat Board in particular believes that without regulatory changes that coincide with the implementation of the bill, Canada's reputation for providing high quality, value added grain will be diminished because imported grain will not be reported properly.