Mr. Speaker, it is a great honour, as always, to rise in this House, representing the people of . I am very interested in speaking to Bill .
There are many elements in the bill, some to do with plant breeders' rights and some to do with payments for farmers. There are a number of elements I think need to be looked at. It is good for us to have a discussion in the House of Commons about agricultural policy. How do we support our producers, and how do we reassure consumers in the 21st century of the quality of foods that are being created in Canada?
I will start off by talking about my region of . It is known for being mining country. Some of the greatest gold mines in the history of North America are founded in my region. That is why my family came to Timmins. They were immigrant gold miners. We had diamond mines in James Bay. The deepest base metal mine in the world is in Timmins backyard at Kidd Mine. It continues 50 years into production still, below 10,000 feet, which is an extraordinary feat of engineering. It shows that we have seen enormous changes in mining in the region.
We were always told that mining was a sunset industry. In the nineties, the common wisdom was that we cannot compete with lax regulations and we cannot compete with the third world. However, in Canada we have the highest trained professional workforce in the world. Canadians miners are at the forefront of all manner of mining exploration and development, certainly in terms of financial input. The other element is the regulatory regime that we have in Canada to ensure environmental standards and safety has created an environment where it is worth investing in Canada.
There are a number of issues to be dealt with in terms of mining, but the days when men were killed in the mines of Cobalt and Timmins, dying on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, have changed dramatically. It still has not changed enough, but we are seeing the use of technology and innovation that have allowed us not just to continue to hold our own, but to become, once again, the world leader in terms of development. We are balancing the incredible resource wealth that we have with the need to always be innovative and find new ways to get deeper at the ore.
We have some similar issues in terms of agriculture. Agriculture in Timiskaming--Cochrane region is fundamentally different, because we have not had the boom-bust cycle that we have seen in mining. That is a very good thing in terms of building a long-term economy.
The northern end of the region is known as the great clay belt. There is enormous potential for farmland in the great clay belt. The problem is, when it was opened up in the early part of the 20th century, many families attempted to make a living there and found it was just too cold, the seasons were too short, and the crop yields were not sufficient to allow these farms to succeed in the way they should have succeeded. As a result, many of the farmlands in the upper part of the Timmins—James Bay region began to atrophy and go back to dogwood and poplars. One by one the farmers started to leave. We maintained somewhat of a beef economy, but the overall balance in agriculture did not exist.
That was not so much the case in the southern part of my region, the little clay belt, which is Timiskaming. Témiscaming region in Quebec and Ontario shares an enormously wealthy farm belt that has given incredible balance in terms of the economic development in our region.
For many years the basis of this economy was dairy. The supply management system on the Quebec and Ontario sides has certainly anchor communities like Earlton, Englehart, and New Liskeard area. With a dairy economy, we know year to year what we will get. We have seen ups and downs in the beef industry. I was first elected in 2004 during that really difficult period that our beef industry was undergoing. It was a shock to the system of individual beef farmers when they could not get their cattle to market, could not get it to the United States because of the BSE crisis. It certainly created major problems for the development of the region.
In terms of cash crops, Timiskaming has always had a mixed-grain economy, but over the last 15 years we have seen a transformation in the regional food economy because we are getting better yields, such as with soybeans. We are seeing corn production in areas where corn was never seen before. This has started to create a potential for development in the north that people had previously written off.
The acreages down in southern Ontario are becoming more expensive and more difficult to farm, especially as rural butts up against suburban. There is pressure on the rural with land prices in the south being so extraordinary. It is very difficult to maintain the traditional notion of the family farm when there are opportunities to sell that land and move north, which is what we have been seeing.
However, it is now not just in the Timiskaming region, but once again, because of better crop yields, we are starting to see agriculture moving back into the areas up around Val Gagné, Black River-Matheson, up toward Cochrane and over through Timmins, which had been atrophying for years. We are now seeing a large potential new growth of mixed crops, barley, grain, soybeans, canola, and corn. This is an important anchor for development in our region.
In terms of what is happening agriculturally, we have had two important transformations. In the upper Black River-Matheson area, a number of Amish and Old Order Mennonite communities are starting to establish themselves. We are seeing barns being built where there were no barns before. We are seeing tile drainage on land that did not have tile drainage. Once tile drainage is put onto a northern farm, the crop yields are going to increase exponentially.
The other really important element is that we have seen in so many of our rural regions the loss of the value added, such as the local operations that did the canning and such.
For years, we had the Thornloe Cheese plant, run by Parmalat. People used to stop off the highway. I remember that it was around 2005 or 2006 when I got a call from the Parmalat owners who said that they were pulling out. They were done with our little community. I thought, fair enough, they had to make a business decision. I called John Vanthof, who is now a provincial member of Parliament, but he was the head of the Board of Dairy Farmers then. I asked John if we could win this fight, and he said that, yes, we could win. We called the Parmalat owners back and said that they could leave, but we wanted the dairy cheese quota to stay here. Of course, they laughed and thought it was an absurd concept. However, we said that we wanted the dairy quota to stay. If it could be run by a local conglomerate, then we wanted to buy into that cheese quota so that we could run the plant. After much negotiation, Thornloe was reopened as a local regional cheese producer.
What happened out of that is indicative of a need to balance between very large corporate interests and the need for local interests. Thornloe began to innovate and create all manner of new and local cheeses, and get a new market share. The products are now being sold in halal and kosher markets in Toronto. This has been a real success story for us. I think these are the things that we need to learn when we look at agriculture.
There are a number of elements in Bill that speak to the issue of patent rights as we create new crop yields and the need for regulatory changes to cover breeding animals under the advance payments program. These are things, if we ensure that they are done right, that will provide security for innovation, new research, and for the producers who are buying seeds and animals, and wanting to try the new yields that are coming forward.
There are number of concerns out there that are important to raise in Parliament. This is about consumer confidence. Some of them have to do with the notion of plant breeders' rights. There is a sense out there in the general public that they do not trust what is happening in terms of GMOs. They do not trust what is happening in terms of the larger food economy.
Just this past month, I was in Timmins at a rally against Monsanto and GMOs. Now, Monsanto certainly does not have a good reputation with its history with Agent Orange and creating PCBs. However, I think what brought this issue initially to the public's attention in terms of the scientific manipulation of gene matter to create new varieties was the effort to create the terminator seed. The terminator seed was a solution it came up with as a way of not having to argue with farmers about having to buy seed the next year. One would just simply put a so-called suicide gene into the seed, which would give one yield and then die.
That might have seemed like a smart idea at corporate headquarters, but it has hit ordinary citizens not just in Canada and North America, but across the world as something that is fundamentally flawed, that one could mess with genetics to create a so-called suicide gene. There was a huge pushback against this effort. It scared the public away. People said, “Wait a minute. What is happening with our food?”
We are seeing, especially across North America, a growing awareness about the food economy and the need to ensure some manner of security for food so that we are getting good quality food and there is a sense of the importance of the local economy. Over the years, we have seen a move to this larger and larger sense of agribusiness, but consumers want food that is safe, food that is good. They like the notion of locally grown food. Consumers want to be heard on these issues.
When we talk about new crop varieties, we need to reassure the public that we are looking at these issues seriously, that we are looking at them from the point of view of what creates innovation in order to create better yields, so that our communities can be fed, but also ensuring an overall balance. Nowhere is this more important than with what is happening with the bee population around the world.
We know that there has been a massive die-off of bees. We have seen a 35% decline in bees in Ontario alone. What does that mean for us? I do not think people have any idea what it would mean if there was a substantial die-off of bees, especially with the role bees play in pollination. They are the fundamental players in the entire food cycle. Protecting bees really has to be job one. It does not matter what we do with our food economy; it does not matter how much tile drainage we put in; it does not matter how many plans we put forward. If we do not have God's little creatures actually making this all possible, we are going to be in for a serious shock in our ability to feed ourselves and the world.
We have seen studies done by the American Journal of Science, the American Chemical Society's Environmental Science & Technology Journal, and the Harvard School of Public Health that identified neonics, the form of pesticide that is being used on about 142 million acres of corn, wheat, soybeans, and cotton seeds. This is a corporate construction that was seen as a way of improving crop yields by putting these pesticides on corn, wheat, and soy, which is certainly the backbone of the U.S. agricultural economy and much of Canada's agricultural economy.
It is not that this was done out of malice; side effects sometimes happen. If this leads to the death of the bee population, there have to be measures to deal with these pesticides, because it is not good for the long-term economy. There will certainly be corporate interests and lobbyists who will say that we should hold off and study this in another three or five years. Consumers and citizens want clear action. They want to know that parliamentarians hear these things. There is a sense out there that big agriculture has the ear of government, and the average person does not. There is a real uncertainty.
What we need to do as parliamentarians is say that we hear the public's concerns. We also understand the need to have regularity and certainty in the agricultural development of our economy. Agriculture is not a yesterday economy. Increasingly, with climate change and global uncertainty, the role of Canada as the world's breadbasket, as we used to call ourselves, the ability to create food to sustain our population is going to become increasingly important.
There are a number of elements in Bill which are timely, but there are also a number of elements in the bill, particularly on the issue of plant breeders' rights, how seeds are saved, and what it actually means in terms of establishing some manner of certainty for producers, patent holders, and also for the people who have the God-given right to plant and grow and should be able to maintain that right, that we can raise in Parliament that they need to be identified at committee as to how they will actually play out on the ground.
We are certainly willing to move this bill to committee. We think there is some merit.
The issue of farmers' privilege is certainly a big question. Farmers' privilege is interesting because it allows farmers to save seeds for the purpose of reproduction, but it is not clear whether or not they have to pay to store it, which would effectively negate that privilege. That would seem to be an odd element. Also, there is the question of where the resale is. Is it on the original purchase of the seeds, or on the resale value of what is actually produced as a crop? These are things we feel need to be looked at.
In terms of the advance payments program, there are a number of elements. Again, it is odd that we jump from plant breeders' rights to the advance payments program. The government has thrown in a whole manner of elements to deal with agriculture in one bill. It is sort of a mini omnibus bill. We are dealing with a whole bunch of different elements.
There are new allowances under Bill C-18 that would allow multi-year agreements to reduce the administrative burden for those applying to the advance payments program in consecutive years. That would certainly make the program more efficient. If we had similar provisions in other areas I know it would certainly help.
The bill allows for regulatory changes to cover the breeding animals under the advance payments program, which could result in more opportunities for farmers to access the program. It increases flexibility for producers on a number of fronts, including security arrangements and proof of sale for repayment. All of this would certainly make this program more accessible to producers.
It would also allow program administrators to advance on any commodity in any region, which would provide more opportunities for producers to access the advance payments program. It would also allow repayments without proof of sale, better reflecting the fact that there is a perishable life to non-storable crops. Producers would be able to avoid having to sell products at an inopportune time, for example, at very low prices, in order just to meet their repayment requirements.
There is flexibility built into the mechanisms that we think are very interesting and respond to what we are hearing from the Canadian Federation of Agriculture and a number of other farm organizations.
Bill also grants the government the ability to define new means of repayment. This could provide greater flexibility for producers, including in situations like farm liquidation.
These are all very good elements.
I want to go back to the international protocols that have been put in place through the World Trade Organization, through international agreements. What we need to do is ensure that these are not simply there to benefit very large corporate interests, like Monsanto, but also respect the variety of agricultural experience across the world, including the third world.
We know there has been a huge issue about genetic contamination, the possibility that GMO crops could reach into other crops and affect them. Since 2005, there has been a GM contamination register in the United Kingdom.
The other issue is in India there has been a huge local fight back among farmers about what their plant rights are, and the fact that they have grown the kinds of crops they have for decades and centuries, and corporate control over them has led to a huge pushback. Some of these issues were raised.
Many of the Indian companies are locked into joint ventures and licensing agreements, and concentration over the seeds sector was the result. It has been said that Monsanto now controls 95% of the cotton seed market through its genetically modified organisms in India; that seed which had been the farmers' common resource suddenly has now become, as is being accused by a number of Indian farmers, the intellectual property of Monsanto; that the open pollenated cotton seeds have been displaced by hybrids, including genetically modified hybrids. Cotton used to be grown as a mixture with food crops and other crops, but pressure has been put on to do mono-cropping. That certainly may have restored some measure of yields in India, but on the issue of mixed crops and how farmers grow their crops, particularly cotton, local farmers feel larger corporate control has taken over their ability to control their own land.
These are questions about economics, but they are also about agriculture and the basic issue of civil society and where we go. We are certainly interested in seeing this issue being brought forward and more closely examined at committee.
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 . 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 , who is our agriculture critic, and he forwarded a lot of material about what Bill 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 . 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 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 , and his deputy critic, the member for , 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 posed a question to my colleague from and asked what the solution is. He has great expertise in this area. He said that we are not sure where we are with farmers' privilege. How do we balance that? How do we figure out farmers' rights versus farmers' 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 farmers' privilege. On the front of the postcard, it says:
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 .
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 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 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 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 farmers' 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 farmers' 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 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 .
Given that the expansion of breeders' rights under Bill 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.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for .
Unfortunately, I have only 10 minutes to talk about this omnibus bill. Obviously, I am not going to have enough time to say everything I want to say about it. However, I will still try to explain to those watching at home how Bill will affect them. Farmers and those who depend on this industry will want to listen closely so that they can hear the details of the bill.
The government will boast about this bill, saying that it is good for Canada's economy and the agricultural sector, but like every other omnibus bill, it has some good points and some bad points. The NDP feels it is important that this bill go to committee. Although everyone has concerns, as do I, we will still be voting to send this bill to committee so that some consideration is given to the worthwhile suggestions and good amendments that we will be proposing in order to fill in the gaps.
As I said to my colleague from earlier, Bill defines what is meant by “document”, but it does not give a definition of “farmer” even though it is a bill about farmers' privilege. We just cannot understand why the government introduced such a badly written bill.
Maybe the government ran out of time. We know it is a little panicky these days, so much so that it decided the House would have to sit until midnight to discuss more bills. That is fine by me. I spent three nights here debating bills until midnight, and I am happy to be debating this one this morning.
My colleague from is from a lovely, more urban part of the country that I have visited several times. I myself am from Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean, a rural part of Quebec. Saguenay, the largest city in the region, is the seventh-largest city in Quebec. It is a small urban centre. Many or our industries are based on resource regions, including forestry, tourism and agriculture.
I myself have a proud family history of farming. My paternal grandfather was a farmer, and we still have our family land, which is now shared by my many uncles, aunts and cousins. Even my brother, who got the farming bug when he was very young, spends a lot of time on the family land. It is not so much a place for growing grain. The grain grown there is used for the cows. The family farm is mainly about dairy production with a little beef cattle on the side.
I therefore have some expertise to offer to this debate. The Conservatives would have us believe that the NDP is out of touch with reality, but I would say that the Conservatives are the ones who are not listening to the public. People in farming in particular have some concerns about this. A number of them have sent letters or emails to our constituency offices. Today, we are pleased, as New Democrats, to help them make their voices heard here in Ottawa.
Bill is another Conservative omnibus bill. This time, the Conservatives are proposing amendments to nine different laws. We support some of those amendments, but have some serious concerns about others. It is important to note, however, that unlike the omnibus budget bill, which is a hodgepodge of legislative measures, the proposed amendments in Bill all have to do with agriculture and, in many cases, make the same changes to different laws. The Plant Breeders’ Rights Act is the first law to be amended. I will list the main amendments proposed in this bill then explain the pros and cons of each.
One of the key changes is to move toward ratifying the 1991 Act of the International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants.
Then there is the amendment to extend the scope of breeders' rights for the varieties that they develop, and to increase the opportunities for breeders to collect royalties for their new varieties throughout the value chain.
Essentially, Bill includes the following new exclusive rights for breeders: the right to reproduce material, the right to condition, sell, export or import material, the right to use any other plant variety whose production requires the repeated use of the plant variety, and the right to stock propagating material for the purpose of exercising other plant breeders’ rights.
The bill also extends the term of the grant of plant breeders’ rights from 18 years to 20 years, except in the case of a tree, a vine or any category specified in the regulations, in which case the term is extended to 25 years.
There are also new provisions that grant farmers' privilege, enabling them to keep, condition and reuse the plant seed on their own land. It should be noted that this privilege is not extended to the storing of seed or to the sale of harvested material from protected seed.
Bill also grants the Canadian Food Inspection Agency the ability to make changes, through regulation, under which the classes of farmers and plant varieties would no longer be covered by farmers' privilege. I was talking about farmers' privilege a little earlier and it is at the heart of this bill.
There is also the amendment that seeks to protect the rights of researchers to use patented materials as the basis for developing new varieties or for other types of research.
Then there is an amendment to give the public greater access to the registry of plant varieties, which is a major change from the previous act.
There is also an amendment that seeks to maintain the ability of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to grant compulsory licences to ensure that, in certain situations, plant varieties are available at reasonable prices, widely distributed, and of good quality.
However, Bill also includes an amendment that allows plant breeders to request that their plant breeders' rights be exempt from a compulsory licence.
The final amendment that this bill makes to the Plant Breeders’ Rights Act is that it gives the government the authority to make changes governing exemptions from compulsory licensing through regulations, without legislative change.
One of the benefits of this bill is that variety developers would be able to see a return on investment for their plant breeding research efforts, providing incentives for an important sector of Canadian agribusiness.
The bill would also grant farmers' privilege to allow farmers to save the conditioned seed for use on their own farms. It would promote access for Canadian farmers to the results of private breeding research from Canada and other countries through more effective intellectual property rights.
It would protect researchers from infringement of plant breeders' rights.
It would enhance public accessibility and transparency when it comes to plant breeding.
Finally, the bill would maintain the existing compulsory licence system, providing some assurance that varieties can be made available at reasonable prices, widely distributed, and kept at a high quality.
However, we also have some concerns. Farmers' privilege does not include the stocking of propagating material for any use. As a result, even if farmers are able to save seed for the purpose of reproduction, they may have to pay to store it, which would effectively negate that privilege. I hope that the Conservatives will agree to compromise a little in committee.
Privilege also does not extend to the sale of harvested material. This means that farmers will probably have to pay for the sale of crops from farm-saved seed. That is a problem. It also means that plant breeders could generate revenue on a farmer's entire production, rather than just on the seed purchased to grow the crop. There will be an amendment in that regard. This could have a significant impact on farmers' profit margins.
In closing, Bill is an omnibus bill, and I disapprove of this type of tactic.
With respect to plant breeders' rights, the NDP believes that a balanced approach is essential. We will protect farmers, researchers and all Canadians. Although we understand the role that intellectual property rights play in fostering innovation, we want to ensure that Canadians can access and benefit from our agricultural heritage.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to this bill.
There have been several time allocation motions lately, and they have affected our speaking time. It is always nice to be able to talk about an issue regardless of what that issue is because that gives our constituents a chance to hear us talking about it. If we cannot talk about an issue, they will not hear about it because nobody is going to be running ads about agriculture in Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles. I would be really surprised if that happened.
My riding is primarily urban. We have lots of bungalows and apartment buildings. Like everywhere else in the country, much of the new construction is condos, and we have about 250 or 300 of those. Most of the people who live in these condos are older, middle- or upper middle-class people who sell their houses and decide to stay in Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles.
One of the first speeches I gave in the House in 2011 was about the abolition of the Canadian Wheat Board. That is why I am so glad to be here today to talk about agriculture once again. The NDP strongly opposed the abolition of the wheat board, which included mandatory consultations with farmers. The Conservative Party told us that consultation had been done because it had won the election with about 40% of the vote. That was my first experience in terms of votes, and it seems to be coming full circle in one of the last discussions we will have about agriculture before the next election.
I would like to talk about various issues. Talking about agriculture means talking about production, processing, markets, farmers' economic and financial situation, and research and development. We have to look at all of those elements. These are not things to be taken lightly.
In Quebec, 14% of our receipts are from agricultural land. There are 14,000 agricultural businesses across the province, and the crop production area is about 925,000 acres. Products are sold primarily on the food and animal feed markets. Quebec is Canada's second-largest producer of corn and soy, with 28% and 17%, respectively. These figures are from Statistics Canada.
To be more specific, corn is the number one crop, at 41%. Next comes soy at 29%, oats at 11%, barley at 9% and wheat at 6%. There are some other crops here and there that represent 2%. Production is increasingly specialized. There are 4,196 specialized farms in Quebec, which is a 23% increase over 1995. That means that there are 3,403 more specialized farms than there were in 1995. Specialized farms account for more than 50% of the cultivated acreage. The average farm size is increasing. Quebec very seldom turns to foreign markets because it is somewhat self-sufficient.
Production is the most significant market. In fact, animal feed makes up 90% of the market. The most popular crops are corn, barley and wheat. The main crop for human consumption is wheat, and the domestic market sits at one million tonnes. Next comes soybean production. As in the western provinces, a portion of production—320,000 tonnes—also goes to industrial processing, mainly for ethanol. Soy and canola are sometimes used as well.
Nearly 695 establishments process grain for human consumption, including 41 flour mills and malting plants, 617 companies that produce baked goods and tortillas, and seven companies that make breakfast cereals.
It is important to point that out because there is a connection between food production and the well-being of the public.
I focused mainly on one aspect of the bill: the amendment to the Agricultural Marketing Programs Act and the advance payments program.
The advance payments program is a loan guarantee program that gives producers easier access to credit through cash advances. For a business owner, often the hardest part is having cashflow.
The advance payments program provides producers with a cash advance on the value of their agricultural products during a specified period. This helps them meet their financial obligations and benefit from the best market conditions and improves their cashflow throughout the year. This part of the bill is rather interesting.
The key changes in Bill are that it expands access to the program and, with the new provisions on multi-year agreements, will reduce the administrative burden for those—including the growing number of women working in agriculture—who apply to the advance payments program in consecutive years. This will make the program more accessible to producers and make program delivery more efficient.
Eligibility for the program will no longer be limited to those principally occupied in farming, so that farmers with significant off-farm income will also be able to access the program. For those working in agriculture, the season is very short and income is not very high. Therefore, it is often important for people working on a farm to have two jobs. This will allow farmers to work off farm as well, which is advantageous for producers.
Raising breeding animals will also be eligible for the advance payments program, and thus more farmers will be eligible. This is new, and it is fairly important, especially for young people graduating from an agricultural college. There are some very good schools in Quebec. Young people do not have access to credit or financing. What was excluded will now be included in the bill. I think that is an excellent idea.
Bill also increases flexibility for producers on a number of fronts, including security arrangements. It also provides more flexible means of repayment. That is also positive.
Program administrators will be able to provide advances for any type of commodity and in any region, which will provide more opportunities for producers to access the program.
Despite all of the good things I have mentioned, I also have some concerns. The Canadian Federation of Agriculture, among others, has been calling for an increase to the maximum amounts of advances, in order to address rising farm expenses, but unfortunately that was not covered in Bill .
The changes also include a new licensing and registration regime for animal feed and fertilizer establishments; put in place stronger controls for products being imported or exported; strengthen record-keeping requirements for feed, fertilizer and seed establishments and animal producers. The bill would also strengthen the record-keeping requirements for plants and potential risks from pests.
I am going to wrap this up. There is something important that has not yet been mentioned. There are three basic aspects that need to be considered when we are talking about development, namely the social, economic and environmental aspects. As we know, there has been a public outcry with respect to farmers saving seed. People claimed that bees have disappeared and that only certain companies could sell this specialized seed. This worries the population. For the time being, these concerns are not shared by the market in Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles because it is not an agricultural market. I am pleased to have had the opportunity to speak to this bill.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for .
I have to say that I am absolutely stunned that thus far, and perhaps it will happen but perhaps not before we recess for the summer, we have not heard any Conservative members speaking to this bill. It is clearly a very important bill. We often hear those on the other side talking about how they are the party that represents agricultural producers. We would welcome hearing from them, and hearing the perspectives of the farmers they allegedly represent.
There is not enough discussion in this place about the contribution made by agricultural producers to this country, particularly to the Canadian economy. I am proud to share that my ancestors were fishers and farmers. My great-grandma Sarah Duncan moved to Alberta from Saskatchewan when her husband died. She ran two homesteads, raised four kids, and got them all university educated.
The Steeves family, who I come from, emigrated from Germany, first to the United States and then to New Brunswick, in the mid-1700s. One of them became a Father of Confederation. They farmed since that date. My ancestors then moved to North Dakota and then, by wagon at the turn of the last century, up to Alberta.
My grandfather Pike, who came from a family of fishers in Newfoundland emigrated to this country in 1898. When he was relocated with the bank to Alberta, he was a person who liked to get his hands dirty in the soil and started a ranch in northern Alberta. Sadly, he lost that ranch in the 1930s. I did not discover that ranch until my uncle wrote a history about that.
I have very proud agricultural roots. I spent many childhood days visiting farmers with my father. I was in tears frequently because I could not have a lamb or a baby pig. I am also proud to share that I am an honorary member of the Preservation of Agricultural Land Association, based on the years that I worked with Alberta farm producers who fought long and hard for stronger protections for our prime agricultural lands.
This is a shout-out to the Prairie producers. I certainly value their contribution to this country. I would like to give particular thanks to Lynn Jacobson, who is with the Alberta Wheat Commission, the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, and the Alberta Federation of Agriculture. He has been very generous with his time, in sharing his knowledge with me when I go through proposed legislation.
Bill , as has been shared previously, is yet another omnibus bill. It is a very important bill. As I understand it, it changes nine laws. It is regrettable that the time allocated to us in this House does not give us the time to review the entire bill. My concern is that when this omnibus bill goes to committee, there will not be time to review the changes to all nine laws in detail.
Mr. Jacobson thinks that it would be useful for this bill to be taken out to the fields. Here we are tabling this law in this place, and discussing it, when many farmers are still seeding, weeding, and so forth, and are going to be harvesting right up until late fall. Let us hope that this bill is not rushed through, and that the farmers have an opportunity to genuinely participate.
Mr. Jacobson and others have expressed concerns to me that there has not been sufficient consultation to date. There has certainly not been any consultation on the regulations proposed under this bill.
In the brief time I am allotted, I intend to speak to the plant breeders' rights section. It is an issue where we are hearing the most concerns.
In order for Canada to ratify the convention, Bill must actually enact legislation. That is precisely what is intended by Bill C-18. The legislation as it sits right now was put in place because Canada intended to ratify the previous convention on the protection of plant varieties. That was in 1978.
In 1991, a new convention, which extended greater protections to plant breeders, was signed by many nations. Since that date, Canada has not brought forward legislation. That was 13 years ago. Finally, the government, in its wisdom after being in power for six or seven years, has decided it will bring forward legislation. Let us hope it does not rush it through, because it is a very complex bill.
The difference between the previous convention and the current legislation of the proposed bill is it expands the rights of those who develop and essentially “copyright” seeds to include the exclusive right to produce, reproduce, condition, sell, export, import, or stock other propagating material. It is much more extensive than the previous rights, which were simply the copyrighted right to produce or sell the seed.
It is really important to recognize that debate has gone on around the world for many decades about whether or not there would be greater rights accorded to plant breeders—who, generally speaking, tend to be large corporations like Monsanto. It is absolutely critical for those extended rights to be balanced off with the rights of farm producers. It is generally recognized that saving, reusing, selecting, exchanging, and selling seeds have been understood to be a traditional practice and an inalienable right of farmers.
The concern with this bill, which extends greater rights to the plant breeders, is that the farmers' rights will be cut back. I am advised by the farmers who have been looking at this proposed legislation that there will be even deeper concerns if the Canada-EU comprehensive economic trade agreement is signed, because that bill could potentially extend the plant breeders' rights even further and thereby limit the farmers' rights.
I want to share what some of the issues are. In the bill are accorded certain of what are called “farmers' privileges”. The only provisions in the bill on plant breeders that are accorded to farmers are the rights of the plant breeder, which are enforceable in civil law. As I understand this new legislation, the government will assume responsibility for enforcing these laws, with additional costs assumed by Canadians, including farm producers.
Privileges only—in other words, not really enforceable rights—are extended to the farmers, but they are very limited rights. They include allowing the farmer to use those seeds for the purpose of propagation, but the farmer then cannot sell the crop or the seeds. Many have suggested this is a very hollow privilege.
In addition, the law allows for even further limiting of this privilege by regulation, but the government has not yet revealed what it intends to do by regulation. There are concerns about that.
As I mentioned, the Canadian Federation of Agriculture submitted a brief on the bill. It is presumed that members of this group will be key witnesses at committee, and we encourage them to do so. They are concerned about claims of infringement. There are scenarios in which, for example, there can be drift of seed onto a farmer's land; if the farmer then collects that seed and replants it, and it happens to include some of the seed that is patented, under this law the plant breeder can go after the farmers and sue them.
Additional concerns have been raised, including some raised by Mr. Jacobson in the case of organic farmers. We have had a number of situations of complaints being brought forward by Canadian producers over GMO seeds drifting into organic farmlands, causing their crops to become contaminated and to diminish in value. It reduces their ability to market, certainly overseas.
There are concerns with the free trade agreement that would potentially allow for the seizure of a farmer's assets upon infringement. There is concern about costs imposed on the government, including farmers, to enforce this new law, and issues about compulsory licensing.
Right now, under law there is a provision for compulsory licensing. The plant breeder must ensure that the seeds are made available at a reasonable price and are widely distributed. There is a provision in this new law that would allow them to apply for exemption. What is the problem there? As with the other regulations under the act, there are no provisions to require consultation with the agricultural producers.
With that, I will close my comments. I look forward to questions on the bill. I look forward to the government opening up this dialogue to producers across our country.
Mr. Speaker, today, I have the pleasure of rising in the House to speak to Bill . I am also proud to say that the NDP has decided to support the bill so that it can be studied more thoroughly in committee.
In our opinion, many aspects of the bill constitute progress for farmers and the agricultural community. However, we are concerned about certain other aspects of the bill. We will examine the bill in committee and propose amendments. We will see how we can work with the government to advance the cause of the agriculture and agri-food sector.
The NDP feels that this bill is massive and is basically an omnibus bill. It amends nine different laws. Certainly, this government has introduced even bigger omnibus bills in the past. One of our concerns is our inability to study each item separately. The Conservatives have been introducing massive bills from the outset.
As parliamentarians, we cannot oppose certain parts of bill if there is no clause-by-clause study. We are supposed to vote in a block, either in support of or in opposition to the bill. If we vote in favour of the bill, we cannot oppose the negative items. However, if we vote in opposition, the government will say that we do not support farmers. That tells me that we are unable to clearly express our opinion on government bills.
Today I will be looking at all of the proposed changes, and I will be stating which ones we support and which ones concern us. I hope that the Conservatives will be open to certain changes and amendments in committee. That is what legislators do.
The NDP went to talk to farmers and those affected, including small and large businesses, in order to gather their comments. We feel it is important to hear everyone's views. Although I live in a very urban area, I visited community and allotment gardens in my riding. The people there have concerns about what is happening in our agri-food and agricultural sector. It is very worthwhile for an MP to travel in her riding and talk to people about what is happening in the House of Commons.
The first amendment was about the Plant Breeders' Rights Act. What this is about is moving toward ratification of the 1991 Act of the International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants. This is good: it expands the rights afforded to plant breeders for the varieties they develop and increases the places along the value chain where plant breeders can collect royalties. A new provision allows farmers to save and condition seed for purposes of plant production and reproduction on their own farm. It protects researchers' right to use patented materials as the basis for developing a new variety or for another research use. It enhances public accessibility to the registry of plant varieties, which is a major change from the previous act. It maintains the ability of CFIA to grant compulsory licences to ensure that in certain situations, plant varieties are available at reasonable prices, widely distributed and of good quality. There are a lot of good things in here.
As written, the bill would ensure that variety developers are able to see a return on investment for their plant breeding research efforts, which is very important. It grants farmers the privilege to save and condition their own seed. This is another big step in the right direction. It promotes access for Canadian farmers to the results of private breeding research from Canada and other countries through an intellectual property rights regime. It protects researchers from infringement of plant breeders' rights.
We also have some concerns, and I hope that we can address them by working effectively in committee with all our colleagues from all parties. The Liberals also said they are supporting this bill. At least we are all on the same page. From that point, it will be important to agree on the few amendments that will have to be made. I believe that it is important for a government to have objective criticism of its legislative measures. Working together as a team provides us with the opportunity to address and correct any flaws in the ideas being proposed.
Our concerns have to do with the provisions on the privileges granted to farmers and the fact that those privileges do not extend to the stocking of propagating material. The consequence of these provisions is that even if farmers are able to save seed for the purpose of reproduction, they may have to pay to store it, which would effectively negate that privilege. The privilege also does not extend to the sale of harvested material. This means that farmers will probably have 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. That is another one of our concerns.
We also have 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 a patented plant genetic material. These protections were not included in Bill . Perhaps the Conservatives will be open to adding that protection.
I now want to talk about the amendment to the Agricultural Marketing Programs Act and the advance payments program. Both of these are also affected by this bill. The advance payments program is a financial loan guarantee program that gives producers easier access to credit through cash advances. Bill expands access to the advance payments program in a number of ways. There are new allowances for multi-year agreements. This expands producer eligibility beyond those “principally occupied” in the farming operation, which will mean that farmers with significant off-farm employment will also be able to access the program. Furthermore, breeding animals will now be included in the advance payments program.
Our concerns are shared by the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, which has been calling for an increase to the maximum amounts of advances in order to address rising farm expenses. The Conservatives did not include these increases in Bill .
Unfortunately, I do not have time to talk about all of the amendments because, as I was saying, there are so many of them. There are amendments to the Feeds Act, the Fertilizers Act, the Seeds Act, the Health of Animals Act and the Plant Protection Act. We have some concerns in this regard. There is a new licensing and registration system that will require Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada to allocate additional resources to the CFIA.
That is too bad because, once again, the government has not provided for additional funding for the CFIA. With the crises that have occurred in the past, I think that the Conservatives are again imposing additional obligations on an agency without giving it the means to fulfill them. That is something that we have seen the government do repeatedly. It imposes new laws and regulations that are worthwhile and help our country progress but it does not give the agencies or departments responsible the means to carry them out. This is once again a weakness in the bill. I hope that together we will be able to remedy that problem.
As I mentioned at the beginning of my speech, we are going to support this bill because it nonetheless does have some benefits. However, the government must be open to some changes and amendments. The usual democratic process for a bill is to send it to committee. Recently there have been some problems with committees. I hope that with this bill, the government will note that we are open to changes being made.
I hope we will be able to improve the bill so that it is good for our farmers.
I hope to answer some questions, even if we do not have much time.