moved that Bill , be read the second time and referred to a committee.
He said: Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to the many merits of the safe food for Canadians act, Bill . I have outlined the comprehensiveness of the act, in referring to its title.
I urge all hon. members to help our government pass this bill as expeditiously as possible.
Consumers remain this government's top priority when it comes to food safety. We know that consumer confidence is critical for Canada's food industry and our agricultural sector overall. That is exactly why this government will never compromise when it comes to the safety of Canadians' food.
Canada's food safety system is world class. A recent report of OECD countries called Canada's food safety system “superior”. Every day over a hundred million meals are served in Canada. Over the past six years, our government's efforts have driven the number of incidents of E. coli illness down by over 50%. We will continue to work to reduce that number even further. Passing the safe food for Canadians act is another critical step along that path.
The safe food for Canadians act will strengthen and modernize our food safety system to make sure it continues to provide safe food for Canadian consumers. In fact, this bill contains new provisions that will strengthen the authorities of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. This legislation gives the CFIA more powers for food safety oversight than ever before.
To be crystal clear, the proposed bill is not about self-regulation. In fact, nothing in Canada's regulatory process for food safety is self-regulating. The bill is about continuous improvement in food safety oversight. Canadian consumers deserve a food system that anticipates the direction in which the food industry is headed. Bill does just that. It modernizes existing legislation to ensure that the CFIA has the tools necessary to manage today's food safety risks.
The proposed act focuses on three important areas: improved food safety oversight to better protect consumers, streamlined and strengthened legislative authorities, and enhanced international market opportunities for the Canadian industry.
For an example of improved food safety oversight, we need only look at the new provisions against food tampering, deceptive practices and hoaxes that this bill provides. Currently, tampering or attempting to tamper with food can only be addressed by engaging the police. Under Bill the CFIA, which is often the first to be notified of when such issues are detected, can act right away. This new act will provide new authorities to immediately address food safety systems and will build additional safety into the system. While oversight and prevention are always best, related penalties and fines will also be increased to deter wilful or reckless threats to health and safety. This new act includes a provision for fines of up to $5 million, far beyond the existing $250,000 cap. These fines will make people think more than twice before intentionally threatening the safety of Canada's food supply.
This proposed legislation will provide the CFIA with strengthened authorities related to traceability and the recalling of food, and new tools to take action on any unsafe foods.
The timing of this bill, tabled last spring, could not be more appropriate given the concerns raised by the recall of beef products from XL Foods Inc. During a food recall, one of the most time-consuming activities is getting access to a company's records to try to sort out who their suppliers are and who in turn they supply.
The CFIA also needs to know what food was processed at precisely what time and precisely where in the facility that processing went on. Every business keeps records in its own unique way. This information is usually kept in a format that expedites shipping and receiving or accounts payable and receivable. This is the way business operates.
However, what we need to speed up food safety investigations is full traceability. Having enhanced authority to require industry to have traceability systems in a standardized format will be a powerful tool in the hands of food safety investigators at the CFIA and, of course, the Public Health Agency of Canada.
Furthermore, this legislation provides for an authority that will require industry to keep and provide records in a manner that is more easily understood by these regulatory bodies. It would also provide for an authority to compel industry to turn over records in a more timely manner. This last part is key.
The Liberal Party has claimed that this provision already exists. That is false. While currently CFIA inspectors can require a company to produce documents, inspectors have no provision to demand those documents in a more timely manner. While the Liberals refuse to accept this, those who understand the issue know that this discrepancy exists.
Dr. Sylvain Charlebois, associate dean of the University of Guelph's College of Management and Economics, recognizes that this power is currently missing from CFIA's arsenal. He said:
The CFIA...does not have the authority to compel the speedy delivery of information from industry during an outbreak.
This is testimony coming right from the member for own riding. Our government knows this is something that must be remedied and the safe food for Canadians act would do just that.
The bill also provides improved import controls at our borders. The new act would strengthen import controls by including powers to license all importers and prohibit the importation of unsafe food commodities. Holding importers ultimately accountable for the safety of imported food sustains a level playing field between importers and domestic producers.
Canadians know that the CFIA is made up of professionals who take their jobs seriously. In fact, Ellen Goddard, an agricultural economist with the University of Alberta, recently said she thinks there is nothing more CFIA can do and that they are taking every precautionary step they can to ensure the system is as safe as it possibly can be.
With the passage of the bill, the CFIA will have even more authority to protect Canadian consumers because the bill has numerous provisions, which the Speaker outlined, that seek to strengthen our already robust food safety system.
Our government takes the safety of Canadian food very seriously. With all the added attention to food safety, the opposition has continuously tried to muddy the waters when it comes to our government's record of supporting food safety. Allow me to clarify our record right now.
Since taking office, our government has hired more than 700 net new inspectors. This includes 170 dedicated to meat. Our government has increased the CFIA's overall budget by 20% since 2006. Dr. Sylvain Charlebois again stated recently, “Canada spends about $10 per capita on food safety, which is more than most industrialized countries”.
With respect to the XL facility in Brooks, our government has increased the number of CFIA inspectors at this plant by 20%.
Budget 2012 included an additional $51 million to further strengthen our food safety system. This is built upon our government's food safety investments of $100 million over five years in budget 2011. As members can see, this government consistently provides the CFIA with the workforce and the resources it needs to protect Canadian food.
As minister, my first job is to ensure that CFIA has the workforce, the budget and the regulatory powers it needs. Second, I work with CFIA to make use of this capacity to ensure consumer confidence.
Let us contrast this with the record of the opposition. It is no secret that while our government provided tangible resources for Canadian food safety, the opposition voted against our investments at every opportunity. If the opposition had its way, the CFIA would not have a single penny to operate.
Further to its repeated record of opposing food safety improvements, certain members of the opposition have gone above and beyond to publicly fearmonger about the safety of Canadian food. As the House will recall, just last spring the member for accused our farmers of trying to put roadkill on the plates of Canadian families. He has since been forced to stand down from those remarks, and I am glad that he did.
Last week the member for rose in the House and spoke of a four-year-old girl from Alberta who had suffered kidney failure due to E. coli. We on the government side certainly empathize with this little girl and her family. No child should have to experience something like this. However, the member for Guelph rose in the House and asserted that this girl had contracted her E. coli from the XL plant in Brooks. This is not true. This case has not been linked to XL. In fact, the CFIA and the Public Health Agency of Canada have tested 30 different samples with regard to this case, and time and time again it has been found to be completely unrelated to the particular strain of E. coli found at XL Foods.
This is exactly the type of fearmongering that Canadians cannot afford to hear from the opposition parties but unfortunately is reflected in the opposition's overall stance on food safety.
I would remind the hon. member that food safety should never be a matter of politics. It is not a matter that can be strengthened by fearmongering or posturing. Food safety is strengthened by real actions, by voting in support of important investments, measures and legislation like Bill , the safe food for Canadians act.
Last week I and a number of my colleagues moved a motion that would have expedited this legislation to committee. The motion was an important step to make sure the safe food for Canadians act gets passed as quickly as possible. The opposition once again chose to play politics with Canadians' food safety and blocked those attempts to move the bill to committee.
Canadians and our government know the importance of this legislation and we know that the CFIA needs the additional powers the bill would provide. I have outlined numerous provisions that will strengthen our food safety system when the bill is made law. I stand here again to give my opposition colleagues another chance to do the right thing for Canadian consumers. I call on them to put politics aside and vote with the government to move the safe food for Canadians act through the House and to committee. We must act quickly to provide Canadians with a modernized food inspection service and the increased protection they require.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join the debate on food safety, which is a critical issue, especially at this moment in time when we are witnessing somewhere close to, I think it is, a million pounds being dumped in the Brooks city dump. It is being dumped there because there is no other place to put contaminated beef, or supposedly contaminated beef because we are not really certain.
Clearly, this is the largest beef recall in Canadian history. This is not an insignificant event. This is one of the most significant events in Canadian history. This is the largest beef recall.
What we do know is that under the current government and indeed the same minister, we saw the listeriosis crisis of 2008, which was a hugely significant issue because 22 people died.
One would have thought, coming out of that, we would have done some things that would have averted what has now just transpired.
However, what we saw was a subcommittee, in 2009, that was established by this House through the agriculture committee, and then an independent inquiry commissioned by the government side, conducted by Sheila Weatherill, who basically paralleled the subcommittee, worked at the same time and came back with a series of recommendations, I believe 57 in total.
One was to clean up the ready-to-eat area and ensure we had the resources in the inspection facilities, because that is where 22 people contracted listeriosis and actually died from that contagion.
So, when the minister and the government talk about 700 net new inspectors, of course, we now know that 200 of those 700 are out looking for invasive species. It was highly recommended that we do that. We do not need to have invasive species in this country that would be detrimental to our agriculture and indeed to other animals, plants, insects, et cetera. So, that is desirable.
What we do know when we sort of pull back from that is that 170 went into meat inspection, but they did not go into an inspection plant like the one at Brooks. They went into what is called the ready-to-eat meat plant, where the listeriosis crisis came from. So, that was addressed. One can actually say and give the government credit that it addressed the ready-to-eat meat part, after 22 people died.
Now, because it has now taken care of that piece, one would have thought the government would then have turned its attention to what we call the hygiene plants, or the slaughterhouses, to use the vernacular term, and done something similar.
We are now aware of this plant that has been operating in the last year or so, perhaps two, at a capacity of 4,000 to 5,000 animals a day.
I had the great pleasure to be in Nova Scotia during the constituency week and met with the minister of agriculture for Nova Scotia, Minister MacDonell. He told me that they slaughter 5,000 cattle, in Nova Scotia, annually. This plant does in a day what Nova Scotia does in a year.
What kind of resources do we need there?
The minister has told us it put 20% more. Actually, if we unfurl that back, we would see that those were not actually new; they were new people. There is no question that they were new inspectors, new people. It could have been a new Bob or a new Frank or a new Josephine. I am not sure what their names would have been. That might have been the new part. What the government was actually doing was filling vacancies in the plant that had existed for quite some time. So, it was not a 20% increase from a number before. It was just simply filling the vacancies that already existed.
So, as I said earlier, there are 4,000 to 5,000 animals a day going through this plant. There were 6 vets and 40 inspectors, at that particular time. Divide that by two shifts, because they run two shifts a day, and that means 20 inspectors and 3 vets to do somewhere between 2,000 and 2,500 animals on a shift. It is pretty easy to do the math on that one, I think, as to how many animals they are responsible for. Not only has the vet seen them come in before they were slaughtered, but throughout the process, as well as having to do all the other things that happen in those plants.
Why do I raise that?
We now know there is a compliance verification system, which is the backbone of CFIA's new inspection regime. That is what had been decided after a pilot that was run in 2007, which actually started in 2005, all the way through to 2008.
One of the major components of the Weatherill report was that they have to know if CVS works, the compliance verification system. She said that they do not know, that they ran a pilot. She said they do not know if the system works the way they think it does and they have no idea if they have resourced it to make it function properly. So she said, first and foremost, to verify if the system they intend to have as the backbone of their meat inspection system actually does the functions they want and, second, if they have enough resources and people doing it in the plants they are responsible for.
We know the Conservatives decided to go ahead and do what they called an audit. At least, they said from time to time that it was an audit but the reality ended up being that PricewaterhouseCoopers, which came in to do the so-called audit under the Weatherill recommendation, did not do an audit.
Carole Swan is no longer the president of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, but she was at the time of the Weatherill report, and she was at the time when this supposed audit was done, as attested to by the government. She said they did not conduct a traditional audit:
They didn't conduct it as an audit. An audit is a very specific process. It was a detailed review.
For the government to still lay the claim out there that it has actually committed and done all of the recommendations Ms. Weatherill put in her report, is not absolutely accurate. That is why this side is saying yes to moving Bill to committee and the Conservatives should say yes to our amendment that says we want to have an audit of the system done now.
I say “now” because the government has agreed to an amendment to do an audit in five years. I would hope that is going to be an independent third-party audit conducted in a traditional audit fashion. If the Auditor General decides he would like to do that, it would be wonderful and we would love for him to do that, but we cannot instruct the Auditor General to do something. We can only ask him if he agrees and it would be wonderful, and perhaps he will. If not, there are other agencies out there that can conduct a third-party audit. We would expect that to be done and we would expect it to be a full and wholesome audit, not a review. Clearly, reviews do not quite measure up.
Therefore in five years we would get an audit. The problem is if we do not get one now, we will have no idea five years from now what we are measuring it against. It is like saying that five plus something will be just five plus something. If we have one and it is five years later, we have six, and in another five years we have eleven. However, if we have five plus “I don't know”, we have five plus “I don't know”, and at the tenth year when we do the next five-year audit, we can measure against the last five years and we would have a measurement point. When we do not have a measurement point to start from, then what are we measuring? Clearly it is imperative that the government does this with this legislation, not five years post. That is one of the weaknesses that is presently in this particular legislation.
I will take a moment to speak to the idea that somehow this legislation would have averted what has happened at the XL Foods plant. Unfortunately, it would not have. Yes, there is a piece in here that talks about the speedy delivery of documents that companies have, and that is true. It articulates that and that is a good thing. We can actually wave the document to the company CEO or managers and say, “You are supposed to give me this at this particular moment in time; now you will have to go ahead and do that”. So what happens when the company says, “Yeah, we'll get to it”? As my colleague from said, where is the enforcement piece? Where is the compliance through enforcement?
It reminds me of driving down highways in Ontario with signs that say if we speed it will be compliance through enforcement. In other words, someone on the highway, an OPP officer, will write a big ticket for speeders and if they go a certain number of kilometres over the speed limit, the car will be impounded for 24 hours and drivers' licences will be taken away for the day. That is compliance through enforcement. I do not see that in this legislation.
While they are divided into different pieces—fish, meat, et cetera—we know the previous legislation pieces also require fines for those who abrogate the rules and responsibilities they are subject to. However, most times they are not actually applied. Therefore if we do not have the application of those, then we just have a toothless tiger. We have a piece of paper. We have a bill that says people can be fined $5 million but we are never going to, just like we could have fined them a couple of hundred thousand dollars and we did not do that either. There is nothing wrong with the sense that the fine is $5 million. We would agree that $5 million is perhaps an appropriate amount to be fined. We disagree with the question of how they intend to do that. If people have abrogated their responsibility, if it is found to be true that they abrogated their responsibility, when will they get fined and how will they get fined? Will we take the enforcement mechanism and make people comply by enforcing the fines, or will we keep doing what we are doing now, which is basically saying, oh, it is okay.
Why not do a voluntary recall and avoid the fine? The voluntary recall is probably the greatest misnomer in recalling food products that I have ever seen. It takes on a wholly different attribute when we find out who the players are who discussed the voluntary recall. This is not about a company putting its hand up right at the very beginning and saying it will have a voluntary recall. There are negotiations that happen between CFIA and sometimes the minister and sometimes CEOs and managers as how to do that. Why the plant puts its hand up is that it can avoid the fine if it does a voluntary recall. It is not voluntary in the sense that most folks would recognize they were volunteering willingly to do something. It is not quite the voluntary recall that folks think it is.
Where are we headed with this legislation? We are going to head to committee. We are happy and pleased to move the bill as quickly as possible to committee. I am hopeful that members on the other side are amenable to concrete and good suggestions we will place before them to actually make the bill work.
If we are going to make food safety the number one priority, as I heard the minister say, let us make it such that in the House we can come together and say the bill will actually improve food safety for Canadians and will do all of the things we want it do: protect consumers, which is our number one concern to ensure that folks do not get ill through contaminated food, but also to protect industries so that they do not again suffer the way Canadian cattle producers are suffering today. Through no fault of their own, cattle producers are seeing the price for their cattle go down, seeing it being held in feedlots and other places. Different things are happening whether it be cow culls, or calf operators finding a lack of transportation, all manner of things, because there was a weak link in the system. It was not the cattle producers. They were not the weak link in the system.
One particular processor was the weak link in the system. If we had good food safety legislation in place that was tougher than this and had the appropriate measures in place, we could strengthen those links so that we have that strong link all the way from the producer through to the consumer's plate and can reassure our international trading partners that the beef they get from this country is the finest they can get anywhere in the world because that is the type of producers we have. We must make sure processors do not let those primary producers down.
That is what this legislation should start to do. The number one concern is to protect consumers and enhance the reputation of the entire industry from the primary producer to the plate at the end. That is what it should do. It does not do it yet, but that is why we are going to take it back to the committee. That is why we are going to offer some real positive and concrete suggestions around how to make it better.
At the end of the day this is not about being partisan and saying that only one group of individuals who support one particular party eat. We all eat. My grandson, who is 16 months old, eats meat and he likes it. I want him to be safe. We all want to be safe, and not only for ourselves personally. Most of us still like to eat meat, although there are some who have chosen, for whatever reason, not to, but that is a personal choice and there is nothing wrong with that personal choice.
However, for all us, it is about ensuring the safety of the food we get, wherever we happen to get it from, whether it is a farmers' market or a retail outlet. We absolutely want to ensure that when Canadians take that product home, they can be convinced in their heart of hearts that product safe, knowing how hard everyone along that food system has worked to ensure it is the safe product that we all deserve. This would go a long way to convincing our international partners that they should trade with us when it comes to those types of agricultural products.
As we can see, it is an absolute goal on our side, as the official opposition, to get the best safety legislation we can. I will touch on the timeline for a moment.
My House leader informed me that he offered the government the opportunity to debate this bill last Thursday afternoon and, if memory serves me correctly, it was the government side that declined. Everyone has reasons, and it is understandable why people would say yes or no to a particular request, but this back and forth as to who offered what and when it was offered needs to be put behind us.
We need to concentrate on how to make this the legislation into what it needs to be. This may be the one and only crack this Parliament takes at food legislation. As my friend from said earlier, the government has been trying to do this for quite some time. It actually goes back to 1990s. I think it was Bill C-80 at the time, if memory serves me correctly. When the opportunity was taken then, it was on the order paper but it died on the order paper when Parliament was dissolved. Bill C-27 came along after that but that died on the order paper as well.
Now we find ourselves with Bill . I am hopeful that this is the bill that will finally get enacted but enacted with the bits and pieces that we think can make it a better bill. It seems to me that this is the one opportunity the House can take, because I know there is a lot of partisanship back and forth, as with the omnibus bill, or OB2 as it is being called in the vernacular. I understand the difficulties with that and the back and forth on that.
Ultimately, we all agree that food safety is a number one priority for all of us across the country. We ought to be able to find a way to take the best ideas and incorporate them, regardless of who has that best idea, whether it is a member of my caucus, a member of the Liberal caucus or a member of the Conservative caucus, whether they be on the agriculture committee, the health committee or another committee. We should consider all ideas.
I am pleased that the legislation is finally here but I am disturbed that it went the other way. As New Democrats, we believe that the people's legislation should start in the people's House, not in the Senate. The Senate is clearly an unelected body. Under our present system, the Senate does what it needs to do to pass legislation and get it to royal assent. No one disputes that.
However, in my humble opinion, the people's business starts in the people's House. It is unfortunate that it did not start in here but it is here now. We are bound and determined to make this legislation better and to move it expeditiously because Canadians deserve no less than that. It will be our absolute attempt to ensure that actually happens.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today and speak to the modernization of our food safety system. It has been a long time coming. If anything has been made clear by the recent outbreak of E. coli at XL Foods in Brooks, Alberta, it is that we need to take a closer look at food safety in Canada. We need to take a closer look because a system that the government recently claimed is one of the foremost in the world has inexplicably failed and left 15 people sick across Canada.
After nearly a month of constant coverage in the media, Canadians are all too familiar with the constantly evolving situation at the XL Foods establishment 38 in Brooks, Alberta, which led to the largest beef recall in Canadian history. It is important that Canadians watching this are not that fooled by the feigned urgency of the or his government when it comes to this legislation. The government is simply trying to change the channel on a rather dire issue.
When Conservative senators first introduced the legislation in the upper house in June, there was no urgency to seeing it debated expeditiously. In fact, it did not become a priority until the Conservatives were embroiled in defending their cuts to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency in the last month.
Bill gave the minister an opportunity to claim that inaction on our part would hinder giving powers to inspectors that would prevent food safety breakdowns like XL's in the future. Unfortunately, this is a terrible ruse, an all too familiar tactic by the government.
Let us assume for a second that Canadians were not aware that under the current provisions of the Meat Inspection Act, the inspectors at XL Foods in Brooks were unable to request the documents they needed, which of course is not true. Why would the government let a bill granting these authorities languish for a summer in the Senate if that were the case? This is all to characteristic of the government. There is no willingness to make good public policy for the sake of Canadians. Instead, it waves it around the House like a hammer, scoring cheap political points.
The bill is important, but Canadians need to understand that it is no panacea. Once the bill is passed, Canadian food inspectors will not magically be able to prevent further outbreaks of food-borne illness and will not have that many more tools than they already have at their disposal. In effect, the bill will streamline some of the elements of inspection at the CFIA. Many of the changes are superficial, and all are primarily designed to modernize our food safety and inspection system. While it is nice to build a more efficient and modern vehicle, we need to ensure that we have enough resources to drive it.
This spring the government announced some drastic cuts to the CFIA, including a reduction of $56.1 million in the budget. Only recently did we discover that the government had no clear picture of the resources available to the CFIA before making those cuts, because it had not performed the comprehensive audit of resources that had been requested by the independent investigator into the listeriosis crisis.
We support modernizing our food safety system. After all, it was a Liberal government that introduced Bill in November 2004, a legislative measure designed as a second step in our modernization process, intended to consolidate and enhance the existing inspection and enforcement powers of the CFIA for food, agriculture and aquatic commodities, agricultural inputs, animals and plants.
Interestingly, the member for , now a minister but then the official opposition agriculture critic, complained that the bill might restrict industry too much and noted that her party “supports a less intrusive approach to regulatory policy in Canada”. The bill died the following year upon the dissolution of Parliament. Since then there has been a major food safety crisis, one that killed 23 Canadians and made many more extremely ill.
The first lesson we learned from the 2008 listeriosis outbreak was that once the contaminant is in the market, it is already too late. Food-borne illness targets the most vulnerable of our population: children, seniors, pregnant women and their unborn. The only way to fully protect them is to catch contaminated food before it hits the shelves.
An independent investigator, Sheila Weatherill, was appointed in the wake of that tragedy to determine what went wrong and delivered a series of recommendations on how to ensure that the situation would never happen again.
In responding to her report, the government has made great fanfare about completing all of her 57 recommendations, Bill included as the final one. Yet the proof of this completion remains to be seen.
Before this House passes another bill on food safety, the government will have to reassure this party and Canadians that if it is to make real and meaningful changes, it will provide independent assurances that the CFIA will finally get the resources it needs and, in that regard, doing a comprehensive resource audit is required to see what it needs.
On its face, Bill is relatively straightforward. It would consolidate the Meat Inspection Act, the Fish Inspection Act, the Canada Agricultural Products Act and the food provisions of the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act into a single act.
Furthermore, it would establish a parallel inspection and enforcement structure for all food commodities, meaning there would no longer be dedicated meat or fish inspectors but inspectors trained for all commodities. This is slightly concerning to me. I have the greatest esteem for our inspectors who work so diligently to ensure we have safe food once it reaches our tables, but I know that even right now they are not given all the tools they need to perform their roles to the fullest. We are asking inspectors to become jacks of all trades, spreading expertise even more thinly than it is right now.
I ask the government, what mechanisms would be instituted to ensure that all inspectors receive adequate training across all commodities, when it has still not, four years later, trained all inspectors on the comprehensive verification system?
This issue was highlighted very recently in the wake of the E. coli outbreak at Brooks. Mr. Bob Kingston, the president of the Agriculture Union at the Public Service Alliance of Canada, made the following comments at the Senate Standing Committee on Agriculture about this bill:
You will be interested to know that in the XL plant, only a small portion of the inspectors are actually trained in CVS. That is right; for more than four years after CVS was introduced, most inspectors there have not been trained in how to use it. Why, you might ask? The answer is actually simple. The CFIA cannot afford to deliver training any faster and does not have enough inspectors to relieve those away while being trained. As well, resources are often diverted to address crises, which further derails training.
This revelation strikes right at the heart of the oft repeated myth that the current Conservative government has hired more inspectors than ever. Moreover, it is another clear indication that while the government is willing to build a car, it will not pay to hire a proper driver or, in this case, train one.
It is concerning to us on this side that we might only be increasing the uphill battles that inspectors are facing while training to keep our food safe.
Mr. Kingston continued in his testimony to say:
This situation is not limited to XL. As a matter of fact, we were just at a conference this weekend and we found the exact same scenario throughout Quebec. This is yet another example of industry self-policing gone wrong because the CFIA is not adequately resourced to verify compliance.
What then happened in Brooks, Alberta? This kind of food safety decay does not happen overnight. A plant does not get shut down for three weeks for a faulty nozzle; a plant gets shut down for three weeks because there are compliance problems from top to bottom.
The minister stated that the Brooks facility boasts 40 inspectors and 6 veterinarians. How many of those inspectors are fully trained on the compliance verification system? Where in the legislation has the government addressed the number of inspectors required for each plant?
Pretending this legislation has the answers that Canadians need is disingenuous and not at all reassuring, because it creates no clarity and gives no answers to the issues I have just raised.
The bill would also establish a number of prohibitions, primarily relating to importing, exporting and interprovincial trade, as well as the manufacture, preparation, and sale of food commodities. It would also bring in tougher penalties for tampering, hoaxes or other deceptive practices. Here, we agree that the CFIA should be given the necessary tools to enforce import standards and to penalize deceptive practices. However, simply giving the CFIA a bigger stick is not reassuring to inspectors.
Since the outbreak of E. coli at XL, the government has tried to claim that the CFIA does not have enough enforcement powers at its disposal. The minister claimed that it took two weeks to issue a recall of contaminated meat because CFIA inspectors on the ground were not given timely access to documents that would have shown that XL was not monitoring trends leading up to the outbreak.
That is a convenient narrative. However, the existing Meat Inspection Act already gives powers, compelling:
[that] any person produce for inspection, or for the purpose of obtaining copies or extracts, any book, shipping bill, bill of lading or other document or record that the inspector believes on reasonable grounds contains any information relevant to the administration or enforcement of this Act or the regulations.
Additionally, the current regulations state:
The owner or person in charge of a place or vehicle referred to in subsection (1) and every person found in that place or vehicle shall give the inspector all reasonable assistance to enable the inspector to carry out his duties and functions under this Act and shall furnish the inspector with any information the inspector may reasonably require with respect to the administration or enforcement of this Act and the regulations.
As recently at this February, the CFIA made its regulations for processors clear on its website in “A Processor's Guide to Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) Inspections”, which reinforces the legal requirement to provide information to and assist an inspector when requested.
In reading the government's release on Bill from earlier this year, it is clear that the power to request documents is not new. Question 8 of the FAQ sheet asks if inspectors are getting any new powers. The question is answered as follows:
Under the Safe Food for Canadians Act all inspector powers of the Fish Inspection Act, Meat Inspection Act, and the Canadian Agricultural Products Act have been consolidated into one suite of authorities with a modernized language. The Safe Food for Canadians Act does not distinguish between different food products, as each individual statute did.
So far, the only new thing about this is that the powers are now uniform instead of separated. It goes on to answer:
The main new authority that did not exist in any of the former food safety statutes is the power to request a warrant by telephone. In addition, the proposed legislation provides more explicit authority for an inspector to pass through or over private property to get to a place for inspection purposes or to take photographs.
This new act gives the power to phone in a warrant and to make private property more accessible. Perhaps my colleagues across the way could tell me how that would have helped the 40 inspectors on the ground at XL Foods. Were they somehow unable to monitor the lines? Was it a closed-door facility they were unable to gain access to? It does not seem that way, as the ministers claimed they had a very close working relationship with the XL Foods staff. However, the answer continues:
Many authorities have been updated from their previous version to reflect new drafting conventions and to make them clearer for all stakeholders. Some of these authorities include the power to request that an individual start or stop an activity to prevent non-compliance with the act, the power to ask for documents to be produced, and the prevention of obstruction and interference with an inspector carrying out his duties.
Finally, we have the piece that they claim was missing, except, as the department clearly states, it was already there. This super power that finally will be granted to inspectors was there all the time, but the drafting language just needed to be made clearer. This is information coming right from the 's own department. I am glad that the language will be made clearer, but it reinforces further that this legislation is not the magic bullet our food inspectors need.
Our inspectors need, and consumer safety demands, that the government includes in this bill a comprehensive third-party resource audit, including human resources like the one our hon. colleagues in the other place attempted to include and which our leader, the hon. member for , requested from the Auditor General.
In fact, the audit was first called for by the independent investigator into the listeriosis outbreak, Sheila Weatherill, who said:
Due to the lack of detailed information and differing views heard, the Investigation was not able to determine the current level of resources as well as the resources needed to conduct the CVS activities effectively. For the same reason, we were also unable to come to a conclusion concerning the adequacy of the program design, implementation plan, training and supervision of inspectors, as well as oversight and performance monitoring.
Accordingly, she recommended:
To accurately determine the demand on its inspection resources and the number of required inspectors, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency should retain third-party experts to conduct a resources audit. The experts should also recommend required changes and implementation strategies. The audit should include analysis as to how many plants an inspector should be responsible for and the appropriateness of rotation of inspectors.
To this day that has yet to be done. A mere survey was undertaken and the former president of the CFIA, Carole Swan, stated that the review was not the same as a comprehensive audit. The government could not answer who its inspectors were, what their roles were or where they were located. It obviously cannot answer the question of whether there are enough or if we might need more. The members opposite will attempt to observe that the Auditor General already has the power to inspect the CFIA. However, having studied the last omnibus bill closely, all of the members opposite will also have noted that at page 187 the bill removed from the authority of the Auditor General of Canada the power to request that the CFIA provide information about the agency's performance. Certainly, it is within the mandate of the Auditor General to examine whatever departments he or she sees fit, but there are restrictions on how many audits he or she can perform yearly.
Furthermore, if the Conservatives object so strenuously to the Auditor General performing the review, they should open up a transparent third-party, arm's-length process so that we might finally know which resources are required, where they are required and if we have enough, among other things. Sadly, for the government it is all about communications victories, not real assistance for Canadians. In the minister's speech today, he talked more about us in the opposition than his own bill. While this bill contains a number of important measures that we could support, it does not go far enough to ensure there are appropriate resources allocated, and we have given the Conservatives every opportunity to date to add viable and important measures like an audit, yet every time they have refused.
We agree with Bob Kingston when he says:
Generally speaking, the bill is a good start but we need to ensure that the proposed appeal mechanism does not give industry too much power to undermine the work of CFIA inspectors.... The government has made an important policy statement today with the tabling of the Safe Food for Canadians Act. Now it’s up to the government to provide the CFIA with the resources to enforce the new rules and CFIA management to adopt a prevention mindset.
We will be moving this bill to committee next. I sincerely hope that the government will be more amenable to making the necessary changes to ensure that our inspectors have adequate resources. I hope that the members opposite can make this about more than scoring cheap points, and I look forward to the opportunity to take a closer look at the bill in the coming days.