Mr. Speaker, I am presenting two petitions today.
The first petition is from members of the St. Kevin's parish in my home riding of Welland. It talks about the creation of a mechanism for a legislative extractive sector ombudsman in Canada with the capacity to look at complaints be received from abroad where our extractive industries go. The petitioners are looking to see that this be enacted in legislation.
Mr. Speaker, the third little spot in a row to stand up and talk about this point does not exactly scream diversity, does it?
Earlier, I asked my colleague from Welland a question. As I mentioned, I hoped that I would have a longer period of time because I want to get this out. I want to air this.
What we are talking about here, is my colleague from Skeena—Bulkley Valley moved that there be a prima facie finding of contempt. The Speaker found that the matter merited further consideration by the appropriate committee. We have a motion. We have a decision. The Speaker then invited the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley to move the traditional motion. That is what happened. The Speaker is referring this issue to committee.
I have found it very curious, over the past day and a half, that Conservative members have stood up in the House and by the way they are arguing and presenting the “facts”, which I will put in air quotes, it sounds like they are disagreeing with the Speaker. They are saying that it is not contempt. It was not to mislead. I just heard the member for Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley say that he believed the member meant this, and that he believed that the member did not mean that.
It sounds to me like they are disagreeing with the ruling of the Speaker to send this to committee. I have not understood this argument. I have not understood how or why they would bring this forward.
However, now it is starting to become clear. Procedurally, I did not understand that it was possible to vote against the Speaker's ruling, but I now understand that this is exactly what we have here.
We live in a day and age where communication is instant. I can read media reports well before the newspapers are printed the next day. I will read from a Globe and Mail article by Josh Wingrove. The first paragraph says:
The Conservative government is signaling it will vote down a motion to study whether one of its MPs misled the House of Commons, rejecting a finding by the Speaker that the issue deserves a closer look if only to “clear the air.”
That was my "ahah" moment. Maybe I am slower to get to it than others, but the Conservative government is going to vote against this. That is unbelievable to me.
We have a spokeswoman from the whip's office saying that all of the facts are known on the issue, so there is nothing for a committee to study, and there is little to be gained by sending the issue to committee. There is also a quote from the government House leader, who said:
The question you have to ask is if that is actually going to serve any utility? There’s really no dispute...Certainly, one cannot picture anything that will come of great utility from further discussion of the matter.
They are going to vote against this. I find that pretty unbelievable.
First of all, I heard my colleague from Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley say he believed that this is what the member meant and he believed that the member did not mean to mislead us. If he believes it, how about we have it aired out? How about we actually talk about it and figure out what is going on? Why did he make these statements? What was the intention here?
Let us go back to what the Speaker said:
...the fact remains that the House continues to be seized of completely contradictory statements. This is a difficult position in which to leave members who must be able to depend on the integrity of the information with which they are provided to perform their parliamentary duties.
Those are not very many words. They are two sentences, but those two sentences have a lot of weight. Members “must be able to depend on the integrity of the information with which they are provided to perform their parliamentary duties”. Parliamentary duties. Parlement. We are here. This is a place where we use words, where we talk, and where we have debate. It is a place of words.
I know that in the U.K., where our parliamentary tradition comes from, there is no paper. It is all in the spoken word. We are nothing but our words. We are nothing but our integrity and our words. Parlement.
We have a situation here where someone has diminished not only their own integrity but also the integrity of Parlement, of Parliament, and the ability for us to rely on our words, put weight on them, and believe in them.
I think that the Speaker made the right ruling and I do not know how the vote is going to turn out. Maybe there will be some rogue MPs on the Conservative side, but it looks like they are going to vote it down, and I find that truly outrageous.
There is another thing that I find truly outrageous. I am at what I perceive to be the end of the debate. I was here yesterday at the beginning of the debate. I heard the Speaker's ruling and then the response from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons. If the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons is speaking, I would take that to be the words of government. That is not an individual private member speaking on a private member's motion; that is the word of government.
I was sitting in this very chair and I could barely stand to listen to the argument put forward. I have a lot of respect for the parliamentary secretary, I think he is a good guy, but the arguments he was putting forward were really sending me pretty close to the edge. There was one point in the debate where, I do not know if you noticed, Mr. Speaker, I actually threw up my arms and screamed. I do not see it recorded in Hansard, but it happened, because I was overcome with how preposterous the argument was that the parliamentary secretary was putting forward.
Now I have the opportunity to dissect the argument he was putting forward and I have been looking forward to this. He started by saying the following:
A few things have been said this afternoon that I think have not been accurate, and I want to try to set the record straight.
That is a good goal, but did he actually set the record straight? I do not think so, because he went on to say:
The other thing I want to point out, and I do not think it really needs to be pointed out to members, particularly any member who has been here for any length of time...there are opportunities when all members, and I emphasize all members, tend to torque their language a bit, perhaps to embellish or to exaggerate. Is that something we should encourage? Certainly not. Does it happen regularly? Yes, it does.
He talked about torquing language, embellishing, exaggerating, and asked whether it is something we should encourage, “I have exaggerated, I will stand here in the House of Commons and admit that I have exaggerated”, but let us look at what the member for Mississauga—Streetsville said:
I have actually witnessed other people picking up the voter cards, going to the campaign office of whatever candidate they support and handing out these voter cards to other individuals, who then—
Maybe he can see through walls:
—walk into voting stations with friends who vouch for them with no ID.
He states again, referring to the minister:
I will relate to him something I have actually seen.
This is not exaggeration, this is not torquing, this is not embellishing. This is saying something that did not actually happen.
I will go back to the parliamentary secretary's speech. He went on to state:
I am suggesting that this happens perhaps all too routinely in this place, but should it then be considered contempt? My friend opposite continues to make the point that it was contempt. Again, that is simply not accurate. The Speaker has merely referred this to committee for an examination.
I am going to go back to what the Speaker said. He stated:
...the fact remains that the House continues to be seized of completely contradictory statements. This is a difficult position in which to leave members, who must be able to depend on the integrity of the information with which they are provided to perform their parliamentary duties.
Members should get ready because I am going to be going back to these two quotes a lot. The parliamentary secretary continued:
The problem we now have before us is that because the member for Mississauga—Streetsville came back to this place and corrected the record, he is now facing possible sanction
That is not the problem we have here. The problem is not that this guy might get his wrist slapped. The problem is that he stood up in the House, not once but twice, and said, “I have actually witnessed people doing these actions”. It is unbelievable.
The parliamentary secretary went on to state:
What the consequence or the net result of this may be is that the truth begins to be pushed underground.
What? How is the truth being pushed underground when the statements were not based on truth?
If somebody comes in and says “I did not actually see that”, how are we pushing truth underground by actually exposing it to light? How would we be pushing truth underground by actually referring this to committee and saying “Hey, member for Mississauga—Streetsville, what happened here? Why don't you tell us in your own words? Were you all excited about things? Did you want to contribute to the debate? Did you want to catch the eye of the Prime Minister?”
We actually have to have this discussion at committee. I do not think the truth is being pushed underground at all.
The parliamentary secretary then goes on, but there is so much material to work with that I am going to go to a point further on in his debate.
Since the Chair has not found the member to have lied, even though my colleagues opposite keep trying to tell that tale, they perhaps should stand up and set the record straight, because the Chair did not find the member for Mississauga—Streetsville to have deliberately misled this House
In other words, he did not find that he had lied, merely that the committee should take an examination and try to clarify the comments surrounding the member's statements of February 6.
I will go back to the piece of paper in my hand. The Speaker found that there were contradictory statements, and I do not think we can put enough emphasis on the fact that we have nothing but our integrity and the words that we say in this House. Our laws are created based on Parliament, on the fact that we get to stand here and speak and use our words and tell our stories from our ridings. One would hope that those stories were actually true.
The parliamentary secretary then went on to say:
While I know the opposition wants to convince Canadians that there is some nefarious reason behind the comments of my colleague from Mississauga—Streetsville, I would purport to you and everyone else in this place that he merely did what so many of us have done previously: in the heat of debate, he had simply gone overboard.
Mr. Speaker, you have heard me admit to exaggeration. I am sure that, under duress maybe, most of us in this House would admit to exaggeration, but we are not talking about being in the heat of debate and simply going overboard. This is not the heat of debate. I am looking at the quotes from the member for Mississauga—Streetsville. This is not a vigorous back-and-forth. This is not a moment in which all of a sudden someone says, “Oops, I didn't mean to say it that way.” This is two interventions, and I will repeat the words.
I have actually witnessed other people....
It was not even something like “This could happen, and, like, I have seen some folks picking up the cards, and maybe this happened.” He said, “I have actually witnessed other people picking up the voter cards”. He said, “I will relate to him something I have actually seen.” This is not the heat of debate. This is not a bit of an exaggeration. This is saying something that was not based on fact.
The member admitted it was untrue. I cannot get over the arguments put forward by government that this is just about a bit of torquing, a bit of exaggeration. The Conservative members are saying that if they exaggerate, they should not be punished for exaggeration.
First of all, it is not an exaggeration. Second, we are not actually talking about punishment. I do not believe that the Speaker, and I have his words here, said “And therefore, we send this man to committee to be punished”. No, not at all. He said we actually have to send this to committee. What we are doing is we are sending it to committee.
The Speaker does have a line in there about at least clearing the air. The member for Mississauga—Streetsville stands up, he says that he did not mean to say what he said, he wanted to set the record straight, and then nothing more. There is no more.
This is what we do. We get to the bottom of things. We air things out at committee. Sometimes we travel. Sometimes we hear from Canadians. Sometimes we hear from expert witnesses. In this case, we have to hear from the person himself who actually said these statements. We need to know why, what was going through his mind, and what was happening here.
The line that made me throw up my hands in exasperation was, “Would I like to see everything said in this place said in a reasoned, sensible manner, devoid of the partisanship that we see all too often?”.
I am going to skip to a little later to where the partisan piece came up in his speech again:
Opposition parties are trying to score some political points here, and I do not begrudge them that. It is what opposition parties do. They opposed Bill C-23, the fair elections act. We understand that. We understand that they are trying to do everything in their power to delay, obstruct, or perhaps even kill that piece of legislation. I get that. However, that is what I believe is truly behind the motion we are debating today.
Really? Then I think the Speaker would have probably seen through that. If the Speaker thought that this was just to delay, I hardly think he would have found this to be a prima facie case.
I want to go back to the scoring of political points, that we would like to see things devoid of the partisanship that we see all too often. The opposite is true here. If we look at the statements that the member for Mississauga—Streetsville made, that is the example of what the parliamentary secretary is talking about. Those statements are an example of someone trying to score political points. Those statements are an example of the partisanship that we see all too often.
The member was trying to score political points, saying things that were not true to support a position after the fact. If we want to talk partisanship, if we want to talk political points, I think we should go back to these statements: “I have actually witnessed other people picking up the voter cards..”.
Why would he say that? Was it being said to cause mischief, to validate the Conservatives' points after the fact, instead of having a hearing on whether we need changes to the Elections Act?
I will finish with the parliamentary secretary saying the following:
In conclusion, I agree, and I believe my colleague the member for Mississauga—Streetsville would also agree, that if one does not speak accurately in this place, records should be corrected. If one does not speak with accuracy on any point, whether it be legislation or during debate, it should not be tolerated. However, when is it right to punish someone for correcting the record? When does one become a victim for speaking what one needed to say, which was to correct the record?
Oh, so the member for Mississauga—Streetsville is a victim here. Right. The big, bad opposition is ganging up and punishing him. Give me a break. That is the wickedest twisting of words that I have seen in some time.
I believe that the Speaker was right in his ruling. I think we need to have an airing out of this. We need to understand what the member was doing. I do not think he was a victim. I do not think we are trying to punish. I think we are trying to get to the bottom of something in Parliament, where we use our words to talk about these issues, to debate these issues, and to represent Canadians.
Mr. Speaker, usually I would rise and say that I am pleased to join the debate, but I have a sense of trepidation about doing this. The member for Mississauga—Streetsville is someone I have come to know and quite like, so it becomes difficult when one has to stand and talk about his actions in the House.
My preference would have been for the government to simply allow this to go to committee, in which case the committee could have dealt with it a long time ago and dispensed with it. The committee could have ruled on it and brought back a recommendation. This way we would not be, as the government House leader has said, spending two days talking about this particular issue, which the member for Mississauga—Streetsville has ended up being the centre of.
Of course, this is public. It is televised. CPAC carries it. People can watch it on the Internet. Committees can be watched on the Internet, but they are less public than this forum.
Would it not have been collegial of the government, of which he is a member, to send it to committee to have it dispensed with? That is what the Speaker's ruling was intended to do. The Speaker believed that there was a case to have it resolved somewhere else and to have us look at it.
Here we are, looking at it here and throwing all the information out over and over again. It does not help the member for Mississauga—Streetsville to have it recast over and over again, but the government has given us no other opportunity. It has left us with this as the only outlet.
One of the government members said earlier that one may misspeak in the House. I started to think about when that happens. Has it happened to me as a member? It actually happened to me on Monday, during the debate on Bill C-18, the government's bill on agriculture.
It came to my attention in two ways. I did not actually know that I had misspoken. In relation to what is called UPOV '91, I actually talked about 1929, which is actually an international convention on plant protection. I interchanged 91 and 29.
The Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, when questioning me during the debate, said that I had gotten it wrong and was talking about something that had happened a long time ago. It dawned on me that I had misspoken and that I had used the wrong date. That is misspeaking. That is how one actually misspeaks.
The staff at Hansard then emailed me. I have the email here. It said that they would like to clarify the text. The email said:
Can you please confirm whether [the member for Welland] was referring to the 1929 International Convention for the Protection of Plants (Rome), or if he meant to say otherwise (UPOV 91)? Can you advise...?
Clearly we were debating UPOV '91, which is from 1991, not the International Convention for the Protection of Plants of 1929. That was dispensed with long before we were born. We may think that we are long in the tooth sometimes, but we are certainly not that long in the tooth.
That was an example of someone getting a date wrong and misspeaking. There needed to be a correction but not an apology. It was simply the wrong date that needed to be corrected to reflect what we were actually discussing and what the debate was really about, which was Bill C-18, of which UPOV '91 was a part.
Therefore, when the government rises to defend its colleague, which is admirable and I understand why it does that, to suggest that he misspoke, it makes it extremely difficult to comprehend. It stretches credibility, to be truthful.
Here is what the member actually said. I will quote it, because I have highlighted a couple of pieces that I want to put emphasis on to show how it could not have been someone misspeaking.
On February 6, 2014, the member for Mississauga—Streetsville stated, “Mr. Speaker, I want to talk a bit about this vouching system again. I know the minister represents an urban city. I am from a semi-urban area of Mississauga”, and this is what I want to emphasize, “where there are many high-rise apartment buildings”.
He was adamant about it. He knew that he was from a place where there are lots of apartment buildings.
He further stated:
On mail delivery day when the voter cards are delivered to community mailboxes in apartment buildings, many of them are discarded in the garbage can or the blue box.
He knew it was one or the other. He went on to state:
I have actually witnessed other people picking up the voter cards, going to the campaign office of whatever candidate they support and handing out these voter cards to other individuals, who then walk into voting stations with friends who vouch for them with no ID.
I want to highlight that he said that he witnessed it personally and knew that the cards went in either the garbage can or the grey box, because here in Ontario it is the grey box for paper. He said that he saw it at that level of detail and knew the people who took the cards out of the boxes. They were not strangers but campaign workers. I admit that he does not say if they were Conservative campaign workers, Liberal campaign workers, or other campaign workers. He just said “campaign workers”. We did not get any definitive information on that. The committee might be able to ask him who the campaign workers were and what he actually saw.
He then knew that these people went to the polling stations eventually. People vouched for those folks and they voted. He knew all of those things. That is hugely different from what I described earlier about my misspeaking in the debate on Bill C-18 when I got the date wrong. It is important to get the date right, but it was not misleading the House that the agreement actually happened in 1929 when it truly happened in 1991. The two situations are not even the same.
To bring the point home even more clearly, the member for Mississauga—Streetsville said it again. He said it slightly differently but basically with the same intent. He stated:
Earlier this afternoon I asked the Minister of State for Western Economic Diversification a question. I think my friend from York South—Weston will appreciate this because, just like the riding I represent, there are a lot of apartment buildings in his riding.
I emphasize his next words:
I will relate to him something I have actually seen. On the mail delivery day when voter cards are put in mailboxes, residents come home, pick them out of their boxes, and throw them in the garbage can. I have seen campaign workers follow, pick up a dozen of them afterward, and walk out. Why are they doing that? They are doing it so they can hand those cards to other people, who will then be vouched for at a voting booth and vote illegally. That is going to stop.
That will be stopped based on Bill C-23. It would put an end to vouching and it would not happen again. People could pick up as many of those cards as they wanted, because it would not matter. They would not be able to vouch for people. We would get rid of the cards and it would not matter any more.
The story was not misspoken, in my view. It was made up, because the member subsequently decided that he should come back to the House and say that he never witnessed it and did not see it. He did not come back to the House to say that he misspoke and that it was not in the apartment building but somewhere else. That would be misspeaking. If he had said, “I didn't know they were campaign workers, but I saw it”, that would be misspeaking. If he had said, “I'm not sure if they were in the garbage can or the grey box, but they discarded them”, that would be misspeaking. He literally laid it out and itemized it. He highlighted that it was in apartment buildings at the mailboxes on mail day, and people discarded them.
The member said he witnessed it, actually saw it with his own eyes, and that means he was actually there. He had to physically be in that place on mail day to see those residents, which meant he had to spend some time there.
After the member said it the first time, one would have thought that if he had truly misspoken, he would have said to himself that it was not really, wholly accurate, so why would he do it again? Well, if he reinforced the story again by saying almost the same thing verbatim, there are only two things that could be.
One is to suggest that one has some sense of speaking notes, and this is not to suggest that one party over another does not do this. Lots of us have notes.
If the member was allowed to go to committee, one could ask if the speaking notes were given to him by someone in the PMO, who told him to relate the story as if it was his when it really was not. Perhaps the member then realized that he had told a story that was not really his, but it was in his speaking notes, and he later knew that he had to retract it because it was not his story. The member might have felt contrite thinking it was something he should not have done, and he decided to retract the story.
I think that is a valid question to ask the member. However, we are not going to get that opportunity because we are here debating it, and the government thinks this is enough.
This brings me to the position of the government House leader. He talked about how telling this story was not misleading in the sense that someone was not being deliberately misled, but it somehow came to that at the conclusion of the story.
It really boils down to what the government House leader said in the House. He said:
It is quite common for us to misspeak in the nature of conversation...
—and I think I have articulated that—
...and I can understand the error made by the hon. member on the question of voting cards, because I think there are probably very few members in this House who have not, at second- or third-hand, heard anecdotes exactly to that effect.
Here we have the government House leader saying that everybody has heard those anecdotal stories about these cards that someone picks up and takes. Everybody has heard it.
He goes on to say:
—meaning the minister, the government House leader—
...have heard anecdotes from others, not having witnessed it myself. It is different from having heard an anecdote, but having heard it quite regularly, it becomes part of the normal discourse that “this is what happens out there”.
So the fact that we have heard an anecdotal story over and over again now makes it true. It must be true, because we have heard it more than once. If only that were true, because then if my friends across the way said, “We know you are six feet tall. We know you are six feet tall”, then I could actually believe I am six feet tall.
Well, it is not true. The fact that it is an anecdote will not make it true no matter how many times it is said. To base legislation on anecdotes is the worst type of legislation one could craft, by pretending the anecdotes are true and that we must change the legislation because we know this is what happens because we were told a story. Someone told a story that this is what happens, so therefore we must ban that practice altogether because, Heaven knows, we were told a story.
It is quite beyond belief, to be truthful, that somehow the government would come forward with legislation based on anecdotal evidence and that somehow that evidence must be clear, concise, and true. This is a government that will quite often say to us, especially in the agricultural sector, that something is based on sound science. Now it will be based on sound anecdotes. Now, as long as it is a sound anecdote and as long as it is said often enough, it will be taken as a true story.
Aesop's fables, even if told over and over again, will always be fables. They will not be true. They will be fables. Myths, whether urban myths or old-time myths, are simply myths. No matter how many times we repeat the myth, whether it be an urban myth, whether it be another myth, it will be a myth; it will never be true.
As for the member apologizing, I must admit that I do congratulate him for apologizing, but that apology will not take away from the fact that he came in the House and literally laid out a case in detail of what he said he saw and personally witnessed, not once but twice. He stood by it. He did not retract it that day, did not say, “Oh, my goodness. I think I have actually told an anecdotal story here. I should go back to the House and say that it is not a true story. I actually did not see it. It is what I heard.”
He did much later. It is commendable that he did retract, but it does not negate what he did the first time.
Many of us are quite often sorry for actions we have taken, but if we take actions, there are consequences for our actions.
The government always says to us, when it comes to criminal legislation, that it is about people taking responsibility for their actions, and if their actions are such that people deserve some form of punishment, then that is what is deserved by those people. There are times when I have to nod in agreement, although not always, of course. Sometimes there are mitigating factors.
In this particular case, the member should appear before committee. It is what the Speaker expects us to do. It is what the Speaker suggested that we probably should do, in my humble opinion. I will not put words in the Speaker's mouth and would never do that, but in my humble opinion, that is what I think he was trying to say to us, because it is only about what we say to each other and what we say to Canadians.
It pains me to say this, but when professions are put on a scale, unfortunately we are not near the top with the Canadian public. Quite often, unfortunately, the reason we are not at the top is because of what we see here.
Some of it is question period. Quite often it is just question period. However, now it is about misleading the House, which we are now debating. How exactly does that affect those who are watching and those who are looking at it? They shrug their shoulders and say, “Well, what do you expect from them? That's what they do. They don't really tell you the truth anyway.”
Words are what we use. Those are the tools of our trade. The words that we give to one another and share with one another are the tools of our trade. There is only way this place can function, which is for the partisanship and the back-and-forth to be acceptable. That is why the Speaker is sitting in the chair, refereeing: to ensure we stay within those boundaries so that repartee back and forth is acceptable.
What is not acceptable is coming into the House and misleading it. That is why there are rules. They are there for good reason. They are there to ensure that we do not actually do that and have legislation come before us that is backed up by myths, mistruths, anecdotes, or stories of some description that do not exist in real life, stories that we just simply make up, and then say, “We must do this because this is the story”.
The government prides itself on saying it bases a lot of its policies upon sound science, which is evidence-based and all about truthfulness to the best of one's ability and measuring, quantifying, and qualifying. Unfortunately, when it came to qualifying the member for Mississauga—Streetsville's words, they came up short, and the Speaker was very clear about how short they came up.
Now it is incumbent upon us, as difficult and as unpleasant as it may be for our colleague and for us, to send it to committee, where our colleague will then have to face whatever repercussions and decisions are made based upon his, not our, conduct that started this process. Those repercussions and decisions will come back for ratification.
We did not start this process. It is his words in this place that started us on this path, and the path can only come to its final destination, not its hoped-for destination, when indeed we go to committee, where he will have his opportunity to answer questions. From the committee will come some form of resolution. Only then, I think, can this be put to a final conclusion.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-18, the agricultural growth act, which was introduced on December 9.
To begin, I will explain basically all of the areas it touches, so that people understand how big this bill is.
It would amend nine separate pieces of agriculture-related legislation, affecting plant breeders' rights, as well as affecting seed, fertilizer, animal health, plant protection, monetary penalties, agriculture marketing programs, and farm debt mediation. It appears that the bill attempts to streamline regulatory processes affecting farmers and the agricultural industry more broadly. I will speak specifically to some of those areas.
I would point out that, when I look at where Canada is going in terms of support for its farmers versus where our major competitors are at—the European community and the United States—I see that we as a country are not in any way supporting our farm community to the extent other countries are supporting theirs.
A moment ago I mentioned the United States farm bill. It incorporates country of origin labelling, which has been a disaster for our producers in Canada. The Government of Canada claims it will retaliate. However, as the Speaker well knows, because he is a farmer himself, the damage has been done with country of origin labelling. It has cost our beef industry around $5 billion in losses and is still hurting it. We see that it has targeted price programs in which basically some American farmers just go to the mailbox and pick up money. Our producers are supposed to compete against that happening just south of the border.
I do not need to go into any great detail in terms of the common agriculture policy in the European industry. I know why the governments of the European community have done this.They have said that their people had gone hungry during World War II and will never go hungry again. Therefore, they will ensure that the farm community is supported and paid for what it produces. That is what our farmers are up against in terms of competing against these other countries. Our government is just not there with the kind of support for our producers that there should be.
I look at this bill and I see a heck of a lot more in terms of protecting corporate rights than farmers' rights. That is the basic thrust of the bill. It is more protective of the rights of corporations, global corporations mainly, than it is of the rights of Canadian farmers.
Bill C-18 would amend, among other things, the Plant Breeders' Rights Act. It would amend certain 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. It also would provide for exceptions to the application of those rights.
It would amend the Feeds Act, the Fertilizers Act, the Seeds Act, the Health of Animals Act, and the Plant Protection Act. Rather than my going through it, the summary of the bill outlines quite a number of areas where amendments would be made, for certain reasons, to all of those various acts.
It would also amend the Agriculture and Agri-Food Administrative Monetary Penalties Act to, among other things, increase the maximum limit of penalties that may be imposed for certain violations.
Bill C-18 would amend the Agriculture Marketing Programs Act. The minister claims the bill would modernize the requirements of the advance payments program in an effort to improve its accessibility and enhance its administration and delivery.
I want to make a point on that. The minister is talking of using the advance payments act to assist farmers in western Canada who no longer can deliver their grain. The reason we have a disaster in western Canada at the moment is really due to the actions of the minister. He is talking about using the advance payments to assist in that regard.
Mr. Speaker, because you have shipped grain too, you very well know that the advance payments act was not originally intended to be a loan program, and to a certain extent that is what it has become. The first $100,000 is interest-free and an individual can get up to $400,000. This legislation may increase those numbers.
Originally, the whole purpose of the advance payments act was to assist producers when harvesting their crops in the fall so they would not dump product on the market to pay for their combine or their harvesting costs or labour and so on. The whole purpose was to give farmers advance payments so they could feed the market, over time, rather than dumping product on the market and lowering its price as a result of oversupply. It was a wonderful program in the beginning and served its purpose well. It was a marketing tool by which to hold prices up.
Under the present Conservative government, and under the previous government, to be honest, the advance payments program to a certain extent lost its most important purpose of being a marketing tool, and is now being used for the spring and fall advance as a loan program to tide producers over. All sight of its original intent has been lost.
Bill C-18 would amend the Farm Debt Mediation Act to clarify the farm debt mediation process and to facilitate the participation of the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food in the mediation process when the minister is a guarantor of a farmer's debt.
There is no question that the farm mediation process has to be improved. The intent was to bring creditors together to try to find a solution through mediation. A farmer would have some assistance through the government itself in personnel, and money as well in terms of putting together a business plan for that operation. Some of that has slid by the wayside and that mediation process does need to be cleaned up.
As the House can see from the many amendments, Bill C-18 is predominantly an omnibus bill that is causing some concerns among farmers. The committee must carefully investigate this. I am not on the committee, but my colleague from Sydney—Victoria is a member. That committee must carefully investigate each of the acts that would be affected so as to ensure that there is proper consultation. It is important to give people a look at exactly what changes would be made so that some analysis of the impact of those changes could be undertaken.
The more broadly-based the proposed changes are, and in this legislation they cross a number of areas dealing with regulatory issues and industry standards, the more difficult is our basic understanding.
We have seen that the Conservative government has a tendency to push through legislation, limiting debate in the process, and farmers may be faced with dramatic changes that they were not even fully aware were in the act in the beginning.
I am going to speak for a moment about the changes that the government made to the Canadian Wheat Board Act. The minister did, so I probably should as well, because I certainly do not agree with the minister's interpretation of the results of his killing the Canadian Wheat Board.
It was one thing for the government, if it so decided, to not allow the producers to have a vote on the Canadian Wheat Board. It was another, if it so decided, to do away with single-desk selling.
Instead of taking a four-year planning period in which it would have looked at all of the other things including the logistics the Canadian Wheat Board was in charge of and the authority it had, as a result we now have an absolute crisis in western Canada. As many as 50 ships are lined up in Vancouver and Prince Rupert, and producers are paying as much as $15,000 to $20,000 per day per ship. That money comes out of the producers' pockets in demurrage payments. Prices have been discounted in western Canada by as much as 40%, compared to U.S. prices.
Without question, the minister himself has to accept responsibility for the disaster that is in western Canada at the moment.
I should mention, in terms of the changes to the Canadian Wheat Board that have allowed this transportation and delivery of grain crisis to exist and that have perpetuated it, producers in mainland B.C. cannot get grain rail-shipped into their operations either. They cannot get it into their mills or into their feed, whether it is for poultry or for cattle. That livestock has to be fed daily. As a result, those producers are forced to turn to trucking. Whether or not they are in supply management, their costs are higher. Now, they are non-competitive and some of them are losing money.
It all comes back to the way that the government made its decision regarding the Canadian Wheat Board, instead of looking at all of the aspects of it and rather than single-desk selling. In changing legislation, we have to be careful that we do not cause other unforeseen difficulties, which is what happened in this particular case.
One of the big areas of the bill about which there is a lot of concern is the amendment to the Plant Breeders' Rights Act that would align plant breeders' rights with the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants, which is really UPOV ’91. The minister talked about that. This move would update Canada's legislation from the UPOV ’78 framework. These amendments would include farmers' privilege, which allows farmers to use seeds from the crops they grow.
There is a lot of debate, as the minister said and responded to in his questions and as the member for Welland talked about. There is a lot of debate on what “farmers' privilege” really means. There are some concerned organizations out there. One of them, certainly, is the National Farmers Union.
The minister, in response to questions, said that it is outlined on page 7 that the farmers' privilege is really going to protect farmers. Keep in mind how the minister answered. He said that the farmers' privilege can “…be enhanced as we move forward….” If it can be enhanced as we move forward, in other words, by a change in regulations, then it can also be that some of that farmers' privilege can be taken away from that privilege we believe may be there and may exist in the legislation.
We know for a fact that this particular government has always, in its decisions, come down on the side not of the producer but of the corporate sector, and that is what worries me.
I want to quote what the NFU said in terms of the their concern. It stated:
The farmers' privilege provision in C-18 does not include stocking seed. Bill C-18 does not protect farmers from being accused of infringing on PBR-holders’ rights for any of these traditional practices: storing seed harvested in the fall for planting in the spring; storing unsold grain in bins in the farmyard—since the grain could potentially be used to grow more wheat; cleaning three years’ supply of seed to protect against crop failure, disease or frost.
It went on to state:
Worse, Section 50(4) of Bill C-18 enables the Governor in Council (ie Cabinet) to make regulations to put even more limits on the farmers’ privilege provisions. These regulations can exclude classes of farmers; exclude plant varieties; exclude uses of harvested material; restrict farmers’ use [of] harvested material; put conditions on farmers’ use [of] harvested material; stipulate what is to be considered “conditioning” of seed.
It further stated:
We do not know the text of Canada’s future [plant breeders' rights] regulations, but we can expect them to follow the official UPOV ’91 Guidance Document....
There are legitimate concerns. In the answer from the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food when he was questioned about farmers' privilege, he said that they can be enhanced as we move forward. That, in fact, increases my concern as it relates to this particular bill.
As I said in the beginning, I am very concerned that this bill, compared to the way the U.S. and the EU are moving, puts our primary producers at a disadvantage because we are giving more authority to the corporate sector and taking it away from primary producers.
The bill also proposes that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency will have the authority to consider foreign reviews, data, and analysis during the approval or registration of new agriculture products in Canada, which can allow for a more effective approvals process. The act includes a new licensing and registration regime for animal feed and fertilizer operators and establishments, increasing monetary penalties for violations, stronger controls for agriculture products at the border, and requirements for more stringent record keeping to enhance safety. Most of those are good points, and I am sure the bill has a mixture of good points and some not so good, if I could put it that way.
Let me close by summing up. Bill C-18 is an omnibus bill. The record of the government with the farm community is not a good one: the killing of the Canadian Wheat Board, which has resulted in the absolute disaster in western Canada in terms of transportation and pricing; the cutting by 50% of AgriStability, which farmers will be in dire need of if they cannot ship their grain; the cutting of AgriInvest by the government; and finally, we should be going to public plant breeding instead of private plant breeding.
There, researchers at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, with years of experience, are moving to other countries and taking that knowledge with them to compete against Canadians.
The bill needs to be examined closely.
Mr. Speaker, I think there was a lot of meat on the bones in what the member for Welland had to say. All we heard from the minister was the bones, so the member explained a number of areas of concern in the bill and how huge the bill really is.
The Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food is coming forward with this bill, which is an omnibus bill. We are world traders, but how do we stack up as a country in terms of protecting the interests of our farmers in Canada versus the United States? We know the United States has just put in place a U.S. farm bill for more than $1 trillion over 10 years for its farmers. It is back-stopping its farm community with actual dollars. Its bill has country of origin labelling and has made it permanent, which has already cost Canadian farmers over $5 billion and it still exists and the Canadian government claims it is fighting that issue.
Does the bill do anything to make our farmers more competitive with the rest of the world, or are they just seeing this free market theory and leaving our producers out there in the dust?
Mr. Speaker, I do not think they will. To give them credit where credit is due, they are allowing us to talk to the bill, and I think that is a good sign, and we need to continue to do that.
My colleagues have quoted from a number of sources who say that we need to talk some more. I understand the other side saying that we have had consultations. How much do we talk about this issue? I found in my previous life as a bargaining agent that we have to talk it out to get an agreement, because if we force an agreement, we end up with more trouble at the end of the road.
There have been some suggestions, although not by me, because I am not a lawyer, that it will probably go to litigation. I believe that my friend from Victoria mentioned that, and I know him to be a noteworthy person of integrity who studies the law. In fact, he came from my neck of the woods, in St. Catharines, before he transplanted to Victoria. He has asked if they want to head to litigation.
We know how long litigation takes. I have forgotten how long it took the Mackenzie Valley pipeline initially, because it seems to me, and I hate to date myself, that I was a pretty young guy when that process started. It took a heck of a long time to get through all the court processes and to get to the point where it is now. I am not so sure we want to see that again, but maybe that is where this could head.
No suit has been brought forward. The legislation has not been passed, and there is no royal assent. We have no idea where it would go. Clearly, to look at the history of litigation in the Northwest Territories, the likelihood is that it will be litigated. That would be a shame.
The Northwest Territories has said that it wants to head down the path of devolution. On this side, we want to head down that path with them. We simply ask the government to take into consideration the two pieces that we think should come out.
I recognize that it is a big ask, especially at this stage of the bill, but it may well be something that will be of benefit to the Northwest Territories, to the peoples who live there, and ultimately to the government, because if it ends up being litigated, it will be the government that will defend its legislation in the courts. That means that the folks in Welland will pay for the litigation on the government side, because we will have to pay the government's lawyers. That will be a cost to others across the country, and that would seem unfair.
We should respect the folks in the Northwest Territories. We respect the parts about devolving. That piece the government got right. The other piece, not so much. Some folks are a bit ambivalent about it, and others say we need to slow it down.
I would say to the other side, perhaps we could step away from that piece. Take it back to the discussion phase and hammer out an agreement, because I think we could get one. It seems to me that someone needs to bargain this one out so we get to a resolution. The last thing we want is to put the hammer down on someone who will fight back at some time in the future. It would do no good. The good piece we will lose, because the devolving piece will get lost in the acrimony, and the Conservatives deserve to take credit for the devolving piece.
The electoral district of Welland (Ontario) has a population of 112,875 with 86,257 registered voters and 247 polling divisions.
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