Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague is hitting the nail on the head when it comes to the specifics of the bill. While we do see that there are some positives in this bill, and while there are a few aspects that we think are good, there are many that raise some warning flags for us.
I will talk about my farmers in Sudbury, the folks who are providing the food and the produce to Eat Local Sudbury. These are the folks who we need to ensure can continue to grow and continue to prosper. If what we are seeing in this is the slow elimination of the resources that farmers could utilize and the support of the larger farming corporations, then that is heading in the wrong direction.
I will rely on great MPs like my colleague from Welland, who is working on this file, to make sure we get this right.
Mr. Speaker, my little stumble did create a new word that I think we will all be able to use moving forward.
We do not like omnibus bills. We in the opposition would be in agreement that it is important to be able to bring bills forward, have debate, and be able to hear from stakeholders when we get these bills to committee.
We are supporting this to get to committee. However, that is where the support may end, because we need to ensure we are doing what we believe is right for our farmers. I will tip my hat to my hon. colleague from Welland for the work he has been doing with farmers through the Prairies and up in Sudbury. He had the opportunity of meeting with the folks in Sudbury at Eat Local. We need to find ways to ensure that we are helping him with new technology and research. This bill has some of those, but we need to ensure that, once it gets to committee, we are able to see the advancements move forward.
Mr. Speaker, it truly is my pleasure to rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-18, an act to amend certain acts relating to agriculture and agri-food.
I am sure many in the House are scratching their head and wondering why the MP for Sudbury, whose community is known for mining and being a hard rock city, would speak to this legislation. We have a lot of farmers in my community and agriculture is important. This is an important bill for us to debate in the House and I am honoured to speak to it. I also want to thank my hon. colleague the MP for Welland for his hard work on this file. He is our excellent critic for agriculture.
It is important for me to say that we support this legislation. We want to ensure that it gets to committee but we do have concerns. This is once again another Conservative omnibus bill. I guess I could merge those two words together; “consermibus” is what I was trying to say a minute ago.
This legislation would make changes to nine different pieces of legislation. As with previous omnibus bills, there are measures that we support in Bill C-18 and there are those that we see as posing significant concerns for the agriculture sector.
Many of the proposed changes requested by various stakeholders deserve thorough debate and consideration. As I mentioned, we support the bill going to committee but we may not support it at further stages. We hope we can make some amendments. We hope to be able to bring forward some of the changes requested by stakeholders as well as some of their concerns.
It is important to recognize that when it comes to plant breeders' rights, New Democrats believe that we need to look at a balanced approach. A balanced approach to this is essential. We want to protect Canada's farmers and the public researchers who are involved in this. We understand the role of intellectual property rights. We understand it is important to encourage innovation. We want to ensure that all Canadians can access and benefit from our agriculture legacy. We need to ensure that the bill is studied in more detail so we can find out how producers would be impacted by some of the proposed changes.
There are concerns about safety controls over seeds, plants, and animals. The CFIA would likely require additional resources. The cuts made by the Conservative government in the past to CFIA are concerning. We want to ensure that this is addressed and that there would no longer be any gaps in enforcement, especially when it comes to some of the safety measures that are involved in this.
We would all agree that farmers are the backbone of Canada's food system. It does not matter ultimately the colour of one's tie, such as the one I am wearing today, as to how we perceive our farmers. Members of all parties want our farmers to earn a decent living and produce quality food for Canadian families.
We have a great organization in my riding of Sudbury called Eat Local. Approximately 30 to 40 local producers provide food to Eat Local in Sudbury. Let me just talk about a few of them.
Les jardins Blondin specializes in ecologically grown greens, radishes, and assorted produce. Rowantree Farms, Heart and Soil Gardens, Piebird and Soggy Creek Seed, Ouelette et Fils, and Mountain Lake Bison Range are other producers that provide food to Eat Local. Many of these great organizations in my riding are doing great work when it comes to ensuring that we have local produce. It is important for us to ensure that farmers and companies like those that I mentioned in my riding and those right across the country continue to prosper.
Many of those I have met at Eat Local are modern farmers as well. As parliamentarians we need to ensure that we link them to cutting-edge research and technology. Canadians deserve practical policies that can grow our rural economies and foster sustainable agricultural communities.
As I mentioned earlier, when it comes to plant breeders' rights, the official opposition believes that balance is essential.
However, we do have some concerns when it comes to public research. We want to ensure that the incredible contributions that are being made by our agriculture sector remain competitive and benefit all Canadians. Therefore, it is essential that the federal government support publicly funded research, especially for farmers.
I am going to talk a bit now about some of the specifics of the bill. Bill C-18 would protect the rights of researchers to use patent materials for non-commercial uses. However, given the government's defunding of public research and its focus on public-private funding partnerships and linking research to commercialization, it is our opinion on this side of the House that it is unclear if the provisions as written would effectively protect research. Public plant research has made numerous contributions to the Canadian agriculture community, and it is our opinion that it is essential that support for public research be maintained. Therefore, one of the things we want to ensure is that the government will continue to support public research and it would not be hindered in the bill at all.
Canada is moving toward ratification of the 1991 model law of the international union for the protection of new varieties of plants, UPOV '91, which expands the rights afforded to plant breeders for varieties they develop and increases the places along the value chain where plant breeders can collect royalties. Bill C-18 includes the following new exclusion rights for plant breeders: reproduction, conditioning, sale, export or import, and repeated use to produce commercially another plant variety if the repetition is necessary for that purpose. It also includes stocking for the purpose of any other protected acts. The term of the grant of plant breeders' rights would also be increased from 18 years to 20 years, or 25 years in the case of a tree, vine, or any other category listed by the regulations. This also includes a new clause that would grant farmer privilege. That would allow farmers to save seed and condition seed for purposes of production and reproduction on their own farm. We see that as important. This privilege would not be extended to the storing of seed, or to the sale of harvested material from protected seed.
Bill C-18 would grant CFIA the ability to make changes through regulation to which circumstances and classes of farmers and varieties would not be covered under the farmers' privilege. It would also protect the rights of researchers to use patented materials as the basis for developing a new variety or another research use, and it would enhance the public accessibility to the registry of plant varieties. This is a major change from the previous act.
One of the benefits we see in the bill is that granting farmers' privilege, to allow farmers to save and condition seed for use on their own farms, really would promote access. That is one of the important things for Canadian farmers, especially if we are looking at the results of private breeding research in Canada and other countries through effective intellectual property rights.
This is an important bill for all of us, all parties and all members, to stand up and speak to and debate. Even though I come from what many perceive as a mining community, we do also have some great local producers. I also tip my hat to Eat Local Sudbury, which is doing such a great job of promoting local produce and local foods and making sure that, if we needed to, we could survive on what we are growing in northern Ontario.
I look forward to questions and comments.
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Berthier—Maskinongé and the member for Welland for the great work they have been doing to keep all of us informed and to keep the farmers in our country on the right track.
Yes, I am very concerned any time power is concentrated in the minister. We have seen it over and over again with the Minister of Citizenship and the minister of human resources, and now we are giving direct power to the Minister of Agriculture.
We in Parliament think there should be proper parliamentary oversight of decisions like that.
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for qualifying the word “good”, because we still have not said that this is good legislation. Yes, there are some good pieces here, but there are some problematic pieces.
I am holding in my hand some notes that my colleague from Welland has put together for folks like me, because this is not our area of expertise. These notes are really quite incredible because they outline each act that would be amended. As we heard, there are nine different acts. This is omnibus legislation and so, we have to look at it that way. There are amendments to the Feeds Act, the Fertilizers Act, the Seeds Act, the Health of Animals Act and the Plant Protection Act. The notes set out what is good about it and what is problematic about it. There are amendments to the Agricultural Marketing Programs Act and the advance payment program. Again, the notes state what is positive about it and what is problematic about it. This is too much.
I go back to 2012 when we had two omnibus budget bills. The first one touched over 70 pieces of legislation, completely rewrote our environmental legislation and there were changes to the Assisted Human Reproduction Act, which is the law that governs whether we can sell or trade eggs or what we do with eggs, with sperm. This act was changed. I searched Hansard to see who debated it. I raised it once and one of my colleagues from Hamilton also raised it. It was just a mention. This is whether women can be surrogate mothers. The law was changed and it was buried in omnibus legislation.
God willing, there are no changes to our reproduction rights in this bill, but who knows? We will see.
Mr. Speaker, I have talked a lot in the House about the different areas of expertise we have as members of Parliament. We come here with different backgrounds. Some of us are experts in academic issues or technical issues. Some of us are just experts in what it is like to come from our regions. We are very much like Canada in that way, and like Canadians, we have different backgrounds.
My background is not agriculture, and so the bill has been a real learning experience for me. I want to share with the House where my learning experience on the bill actually started, because I will be honest, the bill was not on my radar when it was first tabled. Look at the fact that I am a member of Parliament for Halifax, an urban centre. There are a few fishing villages in my riding, but I really do not represent any agricultural areas.
I talk often in the House about how important it is for us to talk to constituents to tap into their expertise but also to hear about their hopes or dreams or to hear about their fears about different pieces of legislation. That is exactly what happened to me when the bill came up. I looked in my calendar one day and saw that members of the Food Action Committee, which is a committee of the Ecology Action Centre, had scheduled a meeting with me to talk about Bill C-18. I am not one to even remember bill numbers very quickly, so I had to look it up. I realized that it made sense that the Food Action Committee wanted to talk to me about the bill, which is called an act to amend certain acts relating to agriculture and agri-food, but I wondered why they wanted to talk to me about it.
I immediately contacted my friend and colleague, the member for Welland, who is our agriculture critic, and he forwarded a lot of material about what Bill C-18 sought to do or purported to do. He walked me through some of the key issues for him as our critic and also very likely for the Food Action Committee.
I went ahead with the meeting and met with Jonathan Kornelsen and Mary Ellen Sullivan, and it was a typical MP meeting, where folks say that these are the issues with the bill and ask what the NDP's position is on it. They presented me with a petition entitled “The Right to Save Seeds”. It had 145 signatures on behalf of the Food Action Committee. They explained that their friend had three pages of petitions and could not keep up. He was at a grocery store in downtown Halifax and quickly ran out of pages because people were so passionate about this.
The petition addresses the agricultural growth act portion of Bill C-18. It has raised serious concerns among farmers and consumers. They put together the text of the petition with the help of the National Farmers Union website.
Before I get to the content of the meeting or of the bill, I want to read something from a blog Mary Ellen Sullivan contributes to called “Adventures in Local Food”. I want to read it because if there is any message I have tried to communicate during my time as a member of Parliament, it is that politicians are just members of our communities. We are not experts. We rely on the expertise of our communities. We want to talk to people and have our constituents shape our views on policy and legislation, even if we are going to disagree in the end. It is so important to be in touch, and I am always thankful when people do that.
On the blog, “Adventures in Local Food”, Ms. Sullivan wrote about our meeting. She wrote:
Our meeting was a relaxed exchange of information, questions and discussion, with [our MP] advising us of the position of the NDP and the workings of the political process. Because we received more than 25 signatures she can present our petition in Parliament!
It was a great learning and rewarding experience for Jonathan and me. [She] instilled confidence in us that grassroots actions such as petitions, demonstrations, and meeting with your MP do have an impact. Politicians do take note of these actions.
I found that the NFU website provided excellent educational and action resources including background information on C-18 and other issues--just use the search box for issues you’re interested in. It gives advocacy suggestions including how to meet with your MP, and information sheets that can be given to them. NFU works in collaboration with such organizations as the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN) on issues affecting farmers and consumers.
Meeting with [our MP] was a great education for us and gave us confidence to continue to take food action! I was delighted to have Jonathan join me--a fledgling FAC member with two meetings under his belt, a background in biology, experience working on a farm in BC, and lots of knowledge and passion. Glad he decided to see what’s going on in NS. We hope you’d be inspired to meet with your MP too. Learn about the issue and relax--our MP’s are working for us.
That is pretty inspiring. I am really glad that Mary Ellen Sullivan took the time to lay out that it is not difficult, that people can meet with their MPs, and that we are working for them. Let us sit down and relax. She actually says “relax”. I thought that was a great message.
Let us move on to the content. As members heard from Ms. Sullivan, we talked about the issues in this bill, including an issue that was very important to them. This was probably the main issue they wanted to communicate to me, and it was about the ability to save seeds. Members heard my colleague from Timmins—James Bay go into this quite a bit.
When people come and meet with us, they want to explain their perspective on different issues. They also want to hear what our perspective is, and they want to know what our party will do. Is it going to support this bill? Is it going to vote against it? What are people saying about it? They asked me my position. I explained to them, as I will explain to the House now, that this bill is problematic. It is another omnibus piece of legislation that would make changes to nine different pieces of legislation. Looking at them and breaking down what these changes are, and they are extensive, there are some we do support. There are other parts that, on their face, we oppose and find problematic.
What do we do when we are faced with this kind of situation? What do we do when we like some parts but think that other parts would do damage?
I think that our critic, the member for Welland, and his deputy critic, the member for Berthier—Maskinongé, have put a lot of thought into this. They have consulted with stakeholders, and they have done an excellent job of dissecting all the points in this bill to bring them to a balanced conclusion.
My colleague from Malpeque posed a question to my colleague from Timmins—James Bay and asked what the solution is. He has great expertise in this area. He said that we are not sure where we are with farmer's privilege. How do we balance that? How do we figure out farmers' rights versus farmer's privilege? That is a great question to ask. We do not always have all of those answers when we are here at second reading just fleshing out the ideas of a bill. It is so important that we bring this to committee and study it, listen to experts, and maybe try to come up with those solutions. I do not have some of the solutions before me right now, but I am eager to hear from my colleagues what some of those solutions might be.
I told Ms. Sullivan and Mr. Kornelsen that I was prepared to support the bill at second reading and that at committee we plan to work on making the problematic aspects of this bill better. We plan to try to fix the problems. I have to admit that I am not overly optimistic that the Conservatives will listen to our proposal, but I refuse to be cynical about this and just give in. I do think we have to try.
What are the problematic aspects of this bill? I have received a number of postcards from constituents speaking out against the bill. In particular, I have received a lot of postcards from a postcard campaign on the issue of farmer's privilege. On the front of the postcard, it says:
Save our Seed
Stop Bill C-18! Farmers’ age-old practices of saving, reusing, exchanging, and selling seed are in jeopardy.
The postcard has some really compelling language in it. It says:
[The bill], now before the House of Commons, would allow the biggest seed companies in the world to exercise almost total control over seed in Canada. These companies would also be able to charge royalties on a farmer’s entire crop. The Bill includes power to make regulations that would quickly undo or severely limit the so-called “Farmers Privilege” to save seed. This means Canadian farmers would pay giant corporations hundreds of millions each year for the right to grow a crop.
Canadians do not want multinational seed and chemical companies like Bayer, Monsanto, DuPont, Dow and Syngenta to control our seed, and ultimately, our food system.
I am asking you, as my democratically elected representative, to safeguard Canadian farmers’ right to save, reuse, exchange and sell seed by taking all actions necessary to stop Bill C-18.
That is pretty passionate. They are not asking for a rewrite here; they are saying to stop.
I want to thank some of my constituents who have reached out to me on this, including Tessa Gold Smith, Jim Guild, Herb and Ruth Gamborg, Steve Burns, Aaron Eisses, Mark McKenna, Josh Smith, Elisabeth Gold and Peter Gravel. All these folks have signed onto this, saying that we should stop Bill C-18.
I sympathize with their demand to stop this bill, even though I will support it at second reading. This is one of these balancing acts that we have to play from time to time. When I sat down with Jonathan and Mary Ellen and said that there were some aspects of this bill that we would support, they asked me which parts.
I believe there are some pieces of this bill, like putting stronger controls for products that are being imported or exported. There are new strengthening of record keeping requirements, whether for plants, for feed or for fertilizer. There are some safety measures in there to prevent risks to human, animal and environmental health. One big part that everybody could support is prohibiting the sale of products that would be a subject of a recall order from the CFIA. That is a great step toward strengthening our food safety system. It makes me wonder why that has not been there all along.
It is a balancing act to figure it out, so we will try to get it to committee.
I agree with constituents of mine who have written to me in this postcard campaign about the farmers' privilege piece. I have two more letters that I received from some constituents about this issue.
One is from Margaret Murray who says:
No doubt you have done some investigation on Bill C-18. I'm wondering what the NDP issue is on this important issue. Multi-nationals like Monsanto MUST be curtailed in their attempts to 'own' what ought to be in the public domain. Taking a renewable common resource an turning it into a non-renewable patented commodity is simply wrong!
I have also heard from Cynthia O'Connell who asked me to oppose Bill C-18 as it would harm organic farmers on whom she depended for organic food.
Even though the bill is ostensibly about agriculture, it really would impact consumers, including consumers in urban centres like Halifax, which I represent. It is capturing the hearts and minds of people. They are writing to me.
As I said, there is a balance that has to be met here. There would be some benefits of the changes found in the bill, like enhancing public accessibility and transparency when it comes to plant breeding and, for example, protecting researchers from infringement of plant breeders' rights. However, the issue of farmers' privilege is significant, and that is the number one issue about which people have written to me.
Let us get to farmers' privilege and what the NDP would see as very problematic.
Farmers' privilege does not include the stocking of propagating material for any use. What does that mean? Even if farmers are able to save seed for the purpose of reproduction, it looks like they may have to pay to store it, which would effectively negate that privilege. Earlier, when I said that we did not necessarily have all the answers when we came here at second reading to debate the bill, I am very clear when I say it looks as if farmers would have to pay to store it. I would want to explore this issue and find out from the minister if that was actually the intention. If it is not the intention, then maybe that could be fixed with a simple wording change.
The farmers' privilege also would not extend to the sale of harvested material. This means that farmers would likely still be required to pay for the sale of the crops grown from farm-saved seed. It also means that plant breeders could potentially generate revenue on a farmer's entire production rather than just on the seed purchased to grow the crop. This could have significant impacts on the profit margins of farmers.
Some farmers say that paying a royalty base on what they produce instead of on the seed that they buy actually reduces their risk. If they harvest a poor crop, they pay less with an end-point royalty compared to paying upfront when they buy seed. Even in what I am presenting to the House right now, I am a bit unsure, so this is something we would need to explore further as well.
Bill C-18 includes amendments that would allow the CFIA to make changes to farmers' privileges through regulation, not through legislation, and that is an important distinction. This means that the government could significantly hinder these rights at any time without parliamentary oversight.
Not a lot of people understand the difference between regulation and legislation. Legislation would have to come before the House where we would debate it and vote on it. There is a process involved. Regulation is just an order-in-council. What does that mean? Effectively it means that the Prime Minister's Office has written something down and given notice, but it is not democratic. It is an interpretation of the legislation, and who knows where that comes from. In theory it is the Governor-in-Council, but in reality I doubt that is the case. There is no parliamentary oversight, and these rights could be changed at any time, at least that is my reading of the bill.
Allowing for farm saved seeds is an optional exemption under UPOV 091, the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants that we signed in 1991. That means Canada could disallow farm saved seed and still fulfill its international obligations under the agreement.
Bill C-18 goes so far as to define what is meant by a document, so that is good because there is some detail there. However, it does not give a definition of farmer, which is problematic. This would have some important implications for the enforcement of farmer's privilege. It goes to the root of the issue here, especially given that Bill C-18 would allow the government to make significant changes to the farmer's privilege provisions through regulation. There we are again. Changes could actually be made, without any parliamentary oversight, through regulation, and there is no definition of what a farmer is.
Given the government's recent changes in Bill C-4 that limit farm loss deductions to people whose primary income is from farming, this is an area where more clarity is needed. Do I count as a farmer if I am participating in a community garden in downtown Halifax? I am not sure.
To prevent the privatization of existing varieties, we have to ensure a variety registration system that would ensure that new crop varieties would be as good or better than existing ones. We also have to ensure that farmers will continue to have access to existing cereal varieties that are developed by public plant breeders.
I will finish up with a couple of other concerns about the potential legal burden for producers.
The Canadian Federation of Agriculture has called for protections for producers from claims of patent infringement with respect to natural or accidental spreading of patented plant genetic material, but they are not included in Bill C-18.
Given that the expansion of breeders' rights under Bill C-18 would be so significant, it is likely that farmers would face increased and expensive litigation. There is no provision in the bill to ensure that legal fees do not impede farmers' defence in these cases.
That is the overview of what my constituents in downtown Halifax have written to me about. There are other issues in the bill which I am sure members will hear about from other members of Parliament, but that is the big one for the folks who I represent.
While I will be supporting this legislation at second reading, as I have pointed out, we have to watch this closely. We really have to push to change this, to make amendments to the bill to protect farmers. I look forward to being able to do that at committee.
I will give the member for Welland the floor back.
Mr. Speaker, the minister is right. I made somewhat of a convoluted statement. However, I was not suggesting that the court systems was wrong or that there was a miscarriage of justice in that they did not follow through with the proper procedure if people were charged with crimes of treason and did not get due process. They do.
Some of my constituents are suspicious when they hear that perhaps a minister of the Crown will have the authority to do something. They feel this is not necessarily due process, that somehow this is a slippery slope.
With all fairness to the minister, I was not accusing the government. Those passionate Canadians are dual citizens. When we say to them that the rules will be changed and the minister could have a certain authority, they want to know what that means. There is always that sense around things about how one sees it versus the reality.
Yes, if people are charged with treason, they go to court., they are found guilty and they should go to jail. Quite frankly, the key should be thrown away.
In my book, you're quite right to send them to jail if they are guilty. Take the keys and I will hide them in the bottom of the Welland canal for you. How is that?
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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