Mr. Pierre Lemieux (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture, CPC):
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Today, I am pleased to be speaking to Bill C-18, the agricultural growth act, which is now at third reading. Bill C-18 is a vital piece of legislation for Canada's agricultural sector. This bill contains amendments that make it clearer and more robust.
The Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food heard from more than 50 witnesses representing many areas of Canada's agricultural sector. I would like to thank those who came to testify and shared their experience, expertise and recommendations.
Agriculture is a sector of the economy that is growing throughout Canada and around the world. A recent report by Farm Credit Canada stated that the agricultural sector accounts for 30% of Canada's gross domestic product, and only one other sector contributes more to our country's economic growth.
In addition, thanks to our Conservative government policies, farmers have improved their situation and are prospering. According to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, net cash income for farmers is projected to total approximately $13 billion. That is the highest it has been in nearly 40 years. Average net worth per farm is expected to reach an all-time high of $2 million this year.
The fact that the Canadian economy has posted some of the best results among G7 countries following the global financial crisis, in terms of both production and job creation, is due in large part to agriculture.
Our Conservative government is clearly working very hard to support Canadian farmers. We are proposing legislation to strengthen the industry.
It is important to note that, last June, the Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry issued a report entitled, “Innovation in Agriculture: The Key to Feeding a Growing Population”. Recommendation 8 of that report states the following:
|| The Committee recommends that Agriculture and Agri-food Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency bring the Plant Breeders' Rights Act...up to the standards of the 1991 Act of the International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants.
Bill C-18, with the amendments, supports this recommendation and will spur agricultural innovation within Canada. I would like to briefly mention the amendments that our government brought forward to strengthen Bill C-18, all of which were passed at the agricultural committee.
Based on discussions that the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food had with a number of stakeholders, we have amended the Agricultural Marketing Programs Act to provide clarity on key aspects of the bill. We have also amended some wording in translation to ensure clearer understanding of certain clauses in the bill.
However, I want to focus my remarks on the most important part of the bill, the plant breeders' rights.
Most of my comments are for the NDP, which has taken a clear stand against Bill C-18. What really bothers me is that farmers in NDP ridings in Quebec want their MPs to support the bill, but the NDP is refusing to do so.
I will have more to say about that later in my speech, but I just want to say that farmers, the organizations that represent them and various stakeholders across Canada strongly support our Agricultural Growth Act because it will stimulate investment in developing new crop varieties and innovation in the sector.
Ms. Patty Townsend, CEO, Canadian Seed Trade Association, said at committee:
||....if farmers are going to save grain to use as seed on their farms, they need to store it, so we were really happy to hear the minister say that they are going to propose an amendment to clarify that.
This amendment ensures that seed variety breeders will see a return on their investment and includes, within the farmer's privilege, the right to store seed and to reserve harvested grain to use as seed for planting in subsequent seasons.
At second reading of Bill C-18, the NDP member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord actually talked about that in the House. He said:
|| 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.
That is why I do not understand how that NDP MP and his colleagues can vote against this bill. The member did not even stop there. He went on to say that the bill would give farmers the right to save conditioned seed for use on their own farms. It would promote access for Canadian farmers to the results of private breeding research in Canada and other countries through more effective intellectual property rights.
Once again, it is clear that the NDP is turning its back on farmers and the party knows it.
During that same debate, the NDP MP for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine said that changes to the Plant Breeders' Rights Act and Canada's decision to sign the 1991 UPOV convention were good.
When the committee studied Bill C-18, the member for Berthier—Maskinongé, who is the NDP's deputy agriculture critic, said that the official opposition agreed with several parts of this bill and, having consulted the industry, believed it was good.
While at committee, as I mentioned earlier, we heard from over 50 witnesses from across the agricultural sector. We heard almost unanimous support for Bill C-18, and based upon comments from the NDP, one would say that it agreed with these witnesses. Instead, the NDP has sadly relied upon its friends from the NFU to dictate NDP agricultural policy.
I have said it before, it is a shame when a political party does not listen to the farmers within the ridings and throughout Canada.
The agricultural growth act strengthens intellectual property rights for plant breeders so that Canada can finally adopt and implement UPOV '91. Among the witnesses, we heard from Mr. William Van Tassel, first vice-president of the Fédération des producteurs de cultures commerciales du Québec, who said that the federation is in favour of the changes through which the plant breeders' rights would comply with UPOV '91.
Canada's current legislation meets the requirements for UPOV '78. Since then, there have been several updates to the UPOV requirements for plant breeders' rights protections. Significant innovation in agriculture and in plant variety technology has happened since then. Today, Canada remains one of only two UPOV members from developed countries with legislation that does not comply with UPOV '91. This puts our Canadian breeders and farmers at a competitive disadvantage.
Agricultural industry, farmers across Canada, and plant breeders all agree that it is time to reinvigorate invesment, innovation, and growth in our agricultural sector.
Even the NDP member for Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier, who spoke to Bill C-18, told the House that all these important changes address the concerns raised by her constituents.
Unfortunately, when the House of Commons voted on agricultural innovation last week, that member and all of her NDP colleagues voted against the government, against farmers all across Canada and even against the member's own constituents, even though she said herself that the bill addresses the concerns of those constituents.
During the hearings of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food, Gary Stanford, a farmer and president of the Grain Growers of Canada, spoke in favour of Bill C-18. He echoed that sentiment in early November when he represented Canadian farmers at the global grain conference.
Gary Stanford wants farmers to know that Bill C-18 contains important and positive changes. He also wants to set the record straight about what UPOV '91 really means. In an article published in Real Agriculture, he said that Canada is one of only a handful of countries not covered under UPOV ’91. Aligning our regulations will not only level the playing field for our producers, but it is also expected to encourage foreign breeders to release their varieties in Canada. This would give our farmers access to new varieties their competitors are already using. The bill also enshrines into law the farmers’ right to save seed, as they do now.
Mr. Stanford's organization is part of a general industry group called Partners in Innovation that strongly supports Bill C-18. This group is a coalition of 20 agricultural organizations representing the majority of farmers in Canada, including the Fédération des producteurs de cultures commerciales du Québec, which can be found in all regions of Quebec and includes unions that represent over 10,000 farmers.
With Bill C-18, we are taking the necessary steps to align the Plant Breeders' Rights Act with UPOV '91. UPOV '91 allows countries to entrench the right of farmers to save, clean, store, and use seed for their own operations. Mr. Doug Chorney, president of Manitoba's Keystone Agricultural Producers, also offered his support at committee, stating:
|| The changes to the act will bring Canada into compliance with UPOV 91, the international agreement for protecting intellectual property of plant breeders. It is anticipated that this will pave the way for increased investment in crop variety development.
The member for Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, the member for Sudbury, and the member for Timmins—James Bay all mentioned in this House, when speaking to Bill C-18, some of the benefits foreign research can have for Canadian farmers and plant breeders. Mr. Rick White, CEO of the Canadian Canola Growers Association, told the committee:
|| Additionally, Bill C-18 allows for the recognition of foreign data and reviews for new feed, seed, and fertilizer registrations. This should streamline the registration process, making it easier to bring new products to Canada while still maintaining high levels of safety.
Mr. White was not alone in supporting foreign data. Other witnesses spoke in favour of this.
If experts in the agricultural industries speak in favour of foreign data and information, and NDP members have said the same, why would they vote against Bill C-18? The New Democrats claim that they held consultations with stakeholders, but they clearly ignored the expert testimony of many agricultural stakeholders. The NDP stakeholder is the NFU. It always has been and it always will be. Farmers in Quebec and across Canada cannot trust their future livelihoods to the NDP because a clear majority of agriculture is not aligned with the NFU.
Farmers in NDP ridings in Quebec support Bill C-18, so how will the NDP explain to them that it ignored their opinion and voted against Bill C-18? It is a real shame to see a political party disregard the needs of its stakeholders and its voters.
Unlike the NDP, our government meets with all the stakeholders in the farming sector across Canada and holds consultations with them. The Minister of Agriculture had the opportunity to speak to stakeholders from Canada's farming sector about the many provisions of the bill, including those regarding compliance with UPOV '91.
We received some good ideas on how to make the bill clearer and improve the wording, and we followed through on those ideas. The farmers wanted Canada to adhere to UPOV '91, and that is what our government is working towards.
The Putting Farmers First report has been our guiding principle since the day we came to power. This bill's support for competitiveness is a significant and tangible way of showing our commitment.
Bill C-18 would give Canadian producers a competitive edge. This includes our innovative horticultural and fruit and vegetable growers. The horticulture industry is an incredibly diverse industry, with 120 different commodities. Statistics Canada is reporting that Canadian fruit and vegetable farmers sold $4.3 billion worth of produce in 2013. This is up 5.4% from 2012. The ornamental horticulture sector on its own represents over $14 billion in economic impact.
Mr. Victor Santacruz, executive director of the Canadian Nursery Landscape Association, said:
|| Our position is that we support the changes to the plant breeders' rights in the adoption of UPOV 91. Canada's ornamental horticulture sector was in a competitive disadvantage by being on UPOV 78, and we are pleased with the decision to move this forward. This will place our sector on a level playing field with our trading partners, such as the U.S., the U.K., Germany, and the Netherlands.
|| Access to new varieties and the ability to protect Canadian new varieties abroad is important to the competitiveness of our sector.
Bill C-18 is also good news for Canada's economy, which depends on the agriculture and food sector for over 8% of our GDP and for one in eight jobs. One of our government's main priorities is to promote agriculture within Canada and around the world.
During the many consultations with stakeholders our government had, we announced in 2013 an agreement on the Canada-EU free trade agreement. Last week, in this House, we debated the benefits the Canada-EU free trade agreement would have for Canada's agriculture industry. Once again, I worry that the NDP MPs will fail our farmers by voting against the adoption of the Canada-EU free trade agreement.
Our Conservative government listens to farmers across Canada. We make decisions, based on these consultations, that farmers want, such as increasing our strategic federal-provincial-territorial investments under Growing Forward 2 by 50% for market development, innovation, and competitiveness.
Farmers want to be competitive and use innovative technologies to improve their business. Bill C-18 deals in part with science, technology and innovation in the farming sector. Innovation is what the farming sector needs for a profitable and sustainable future.
In Canada in particular, an innovative farming and food industry is a powerful driver of our economy. In fact, it generates more than $54 billion in farm cash receipts; it employs 2.1 million people, which is the equivalent of one in eight jobs; and its exports are worth a record $43.6 billion.
In Canada, the fruit and vegetable industries and the potato industry contribute tremendously to economic growth. We want that growth to continue.
For that to happen, we must provide farmers with the tools they need to be competitive. We must continue to promote the strength of our farming industry and create favourable conditions for its continued growth. That is the goal of this bill.
Bill C-18 would strengthen intellectual property rights for plant breeders and would help increase investment in research and development for Canada's crop sector. That would help farmers remain competitive by providing them with access to the best new crop varieties, whether they are developed in Canada or abroad.
Without a doubt, our government has been working hard to level the playing field and to create new market opportunities for our producers. Bill C-18 could help the crop sector with a strong plant breeding program. Such a program could increase yields in crop varieties, improve their nutritional content and quality, enhance disease resistance, reduce the need for fertilizers and pesticides, and provide a wider selection of plant varieties. Supporting a modern system to make sure that plant breeders are compensated for their efforts and can continue to undertake further improvements is critical to the future of the agricultural sector.
As I have explained, adopting UPOV '91 in Bill C-18 would strengthen intellectual property rights for plant breeders and would help increase investment in research and development for Canada's crop sector.
Canada's farmers grow world-class food in a global marketplace that is ripe with opportunity. Bill C-18 is a key part of our strong agricultural agenda, and it would strengthen Canadian farming. We are ensuring that our legislation reinforces and takes full advantage of modern science and technology, innovation, and international practice in the agriculture industry.
Farmers cannot trust the NDP with the future of their agricultural livelihoods. The NDP simply does not listen to farmers across Canada. They repeatedly rely on the narrow interests of the NFU.
I encourage all MPs, especially the NDP, to vote in favour of Bill C-18. It is a great bill for farmers, a great bill for our agriculture sector, and a great bill for Canada.
Mr. Malcolm Allen (Welland, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, it is always with great pride that I come here to talk about agriculture and farmers.
The parliamentary secretary tried to encapsulate what we did around the bill, how the committee functioned and whether it had great and vigorous debate on amendments. If I were able to dance, it is less than what used to be referred to as the “one-two”. Usually, it is a “one and a half” when it comes to debate from the Conservative side. When the Conservatives do not really have any more logical things to say, they just say “no”, which is the intent of the debate.
When the Conservatives portray this as some sort of vigorous and spirited debate in this place, one gets used the hyperbole, embellishment and all of the other things that happen here. The parliamentary secretary is taking somewhat of a poetic license around his descriptor of how the agriculture committee works, except for the fact that, for the most part, it is a pretty genial committee, to be truthful, as far as the tenor.
I would like to thank the chair of the committee, who was very good and generous about ensuring there was a balance of witnesses. When I say that, there was an equal number of witnesses who spoke quite passionately in favour of Bill C-18 as was without amendment. That is even before the government's amendments. On the other side, in equal number, there were many who had a number of amendments to put forward. A few of those amendments were covered by what the government did.
None of them ever thought about the major amendment that the government made, which had to do with the advanced payment process and about recouping money from farmers who went bankrupt. That is why it used the example of the student loan program. It was not actually my narrative or descriptive of how the advanced payment reclaim program would work. It was from the department of Agriculture and Agri-Food. When I specifically asked to have the six pages of amendments to fix this one piece explained, the department told me that it was a very technical piece, but that it was like the student loan program.
For those of us who know young people who have student loans, that conjures up a vision that is not pleasant. I do not know too many student loan recipients who think the program is a great one to be in. They would see it as a very onerous program. That is what the government decided to do. That was its major amendment.
The government's minor tinkering with the farmers' privilege piece did not do the first thing we suggested it ought do. We do not believe it is a privilege for farmers to save seed. We think it is their right to save seed. Some would ask is that not just semantics, or are we not just being wordsmiths? Legislation is about words, and words are important. That is why we spend an exhaustive amount of time, according to the government, talking. It says that we should do more doing and less talking, but carving legislation is about writing the words down, and debating the words and their very meaning.
Fundamentally, the difference between a right and a privilege under the code of law, of which I am not a learned person in the sense of being a lawyer, is the significant difference between one having a right to do something and one having a privilege to actually do it. That is a significant piece that I think the government understood. I think it purposely decided to leave it as a privilege because it intended to do things. At least, it would leave itself with the ability to do things.
One of the things that was mentioned earlier, and my friend from Timmins—James Bay pointed it out, was the minister's ability, on a case by case basis, to change that privilege. My view is that if it were a fundamental right, he would be unable to do it on a case by case basis because he might have to come back to here. We suggested that needed that be struck from the bill and if the government wanted to change things, it could write new legislation and bring it back here.
The government says that it is a bit onerous and that it takes too long. It takes too long for who? For the seed company, of course, the folks who will end up with the ownership of seeds that they wish to sell, because they will say that they have developed it or done something with it and they own that intellectual property, which is understood.
However, if the minister simply allows things to disappear for farmers, where is the balance in that? For us, clearly Bill C-18 was about balancing the needs of those seed developers and the rights of farmers, and ensure that the balance was appropriate and not totally unequal. Those who held the intellectual property would still have greater weight than those who did not. They would have the ability to sell or not, they owned it, and no one else could have it if they had not previously bought it. This became problematic for us, and to be truthful, problematic for most farm organizations across the country. Most said that needed to be changed.
The minister came back with a minor tweak to say that the farmers could now store seed. However, the initial legislation did not say that. It actually said that one could save it, clean it, but not store it. Therefore, what were they going to do with it? If they could not store it, where was it going to go after they saved it? It had to be kept somewhere. It could not be sent to a friend down the road to store it, because that would be a commercial transaction even though no money was exchanged. There is no exchange even for non-monetary purposes in this legislation, and the seed could only be kept for oneself. Therefore, the Conservatives made this minor tweak to enable farmers to store it, and that is all they did under farmers' privilege, even though it was identified by a number of farm groups across the country as needing needed a bit more strength for that particular aspect.
UPOV '91, which is the major piece in this legislation, is the new threshold on intellectual property rights when it comes to seed. There is no question about that, and it is accepted around the world.
UPOV is simply an acronym for intellectual property and '91 signifies the year it came into force with a number of countries, including a previous government here which signed on but never enabled it. This has been around for a long time.
Therefore, there was the issue of getting it done, which had been tried before, but the majority of farmers said that they did not want it, so it was withdrawn. However, the reason it has come forward now is that although farmers are still basically leery of UPOV '91 and what it may hold for them years down the road, there are very few alternatives these days.
Public funding for public research through Agriculture Canada has been on the decline for the last 25 years. However, nearly every farm and farm group will tell us the same thing: they need more money to go back into public research so there is a balance with the privately-held independent companies.
To be truthful, private companies are in the business of making a profit, and that is not a dirty word. Yes, I am a New Democrat, but for private companies, profit is not a dirty word. That is what they are there to do. They provide a product or service and sell it. There is nothing wrong with that.
However, I will be so bold as to say that we take seed to grow crop to make food. It is a simple proposition. Anybody who puts seed in the ground and looks after it well, it will grow. It may be flowers, vegetables or anything. Farmers do exceedingly well in our country and they deserve to have the latest technology and seeds to do that. The problem is this. At what price and are they a captive market?
Our view of this was how to balance it. One way is to protect farmers so they can be empowered in dealing with their competitors so they can withstand the push of, “here's what you're getting and here's the price you're paying”, because they have options. The problem is that the government has limited those options.
Clearly, that was the dilemma we had with the legislation. It was not the fact that a private seed company would own intellectual property under UPOV '91. We did not fundamentally disagree with that at all.
We wanted to see the tables balanced. The Conservatives did not want to see the tables balanced. They have allowed the table to be unevenly balanced because, even on a case-by-case basis, as I said earlier, the ministry has the right to take some things away if it chooses. That, we think, is not the direction to go when farmers are now at the whim of the minister, not Parliament, with the latter now able to say, I do not think they need that.
One of the other amendments we tried to push forward was that the seed companies themselves can now appeal to CFIA not to register the seed. If they do not register it, it means that it is totally private, meaning in turn that the farmer cannot save it, because only the registered varieties can be saved. So now the farmer cannot save it. Not only are the seed companies allowed to lobby the minister to see if he can remove certain privileges, but they also now have the right to ask CFIA not to register a particular variety of seed if they do not want that done. That gives them more power in the marketplace. The fewer the varieties of seed that get registered, the less the ability of farmers to find a competitive price for the seeds they need to buy.
That is why we made amendments. We did not strike the bill. We did not go into committee and say, “Let's eliminate this or let's eliminate that“, and try to wipe it all out. We did not do that at all. We went to committee with the good intention of trying to make a bill that would be acceptable to the seed producers and their intellectual property rights, and for farmers who are the end-users of that particular product. That was our goal at committee.
Unfortunately, my friends on the other side of the table, in government, decided that they we did not need to level it out that well. They believe they know what is best for farmers. We heard that in the House this morning: the parliamentary secretary said that they know best for farmers. However, what he did not say was that when witnesses and farm groups and farmers came here, including the Conservatives' witnesses, or at least ones that we did not call, they said that we needed a substantive amendment. My colleague wants to suggest that there is only one group we spoke to.
One of the amendments came from my discussion with the vice-president of Bayer CropScience AG. Back in February I had a two-hour conversation with the vice-president of Bayer on the phone. We discussed the piece on farmers' privilege and their ability to store it. When we went through that with him, he said that was not actually what he wanted to see. He wanted to see a more balanced approach to this. That is when we suggested that we would draft an amendment that would give balance, but still protected his company's intellectual property rights if it developed a new variety. It is only fair if they have put the money in and own that property that they have a right to charge for it. That is what UPOV '91 said.
Even the vice-president of Bayer was saying that, yes, he heard us, that we were right and needed to find a balance. To suggest somehow that due diligence was not done on this side of the House by New Democrats and the agriculture critic is a bit facetious, because, quite frankly, it was.
We spoke to other major chemical groups, seed manufacturers, agricultural groups, and individual farmers. In fact, we probably put more effort into Bill C-18 than I have seen since I went on the agriculture committee back in 2008. Why? It is because when the government tabled the bill, it was in such a hurry to do it. It tabled the bill a year ago, I think, and it has languished, so we actually had the ability to go out and talk to people for a long period of time, which was nice. We did exactly that. We talked to experts on intellectual property, who eventually came to the committee and talked about those types of rights, including a lawyer who specializes in agriculture. We had all of that discussion to frame our position so that farmers would get the best deal they possibly could, based on a balanced approach, which is really what we wanted.
What does it mean for farmers and their privilege, and what could it mean? That is the great unknown, because it has all gone back into the hands of the minister rather Parliament. There will a question now as to where the royalties will be in the system. A lot of questions were asked about that. There is a debate as to end-point royalties or beginning royalties. When a farmer buys the seed, they get it there. Some say they would rather pay at the end, because if the seed is not any good, then maybe they will not pay that much money. If the seed is really good, then they will pay a percentage based on the seed that was really good and they got a great crop.
There is a fundamental debate about that, which should be had by farm groups and farmers, but the dilemma is that it belongs in the hands of the minister. New Democrats hope he will have a conversation with the farm groups, but it is not a sure thing.
Every bill needs a regulatory process, and I accept that. The problem with most of the bills that come before the House is that the government puts all of that and more into its own hands and makes decisions without the House having an opportunity to debate it. Of course, its catch-all phrase is, “Don't worry, we will consult”. Who will consult? The parliamentary secretary says he has a list of folks he likes to consult, and there are folks that New Democrats consult that he obviously does not want to listen to. That is not consultation.
People who both agree and disagree with one's view have to be consulted. In fact, the folks who disagree should be consulted more often than the ones who do, because they challenge one to think more about a particular piece of legislation and how it can be made better. It also hones one's ability to discuss with them and explain why one is going in a certain direction, which allows them to see why one is headed down that road.
However, one can change directions, as New Democrats have done here. We said that we wanted to get the bill to committee to have good discussions, which happened. We had good discussions and brought forward substantive amendments for sure. It is always hard for government to accept substantive amendments, I understand. It was not about taking the bill apart but strengthening it for farmers, the very people whom the parliamentary secretary said the government was there for. The amendments put forward were for farmers, crafted mainly by what farmers told us either at committee or privately in meetings and conversations that have taken place over the last eight months.
The parliamentary secretary says it is only one group that New Democrats listen to. I have a number of letters from rural municipalities in Saskatchewan, not from individuals but councils in rural municipalities, that actually adopted resolutions, not just one but a few. They adopted resolutions that said Bill C-18 should be defeated.
I did not receive these last week but at the beginning of the year during the consultative process. Rural municipalities in Saskatchewan were saying that this is not a good bill for farmers. That was six or seven months ago. They were all saying this in March, early in the process, when copies of those letters were sent to me, the originals having gone to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food.
Therefore, the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food was well aware that a number of rural municipalities in Saskatchewan were saying no thanks to Bill C-18—not even as amended as New Democrats proposed. They were saying no, carte blanche: “We don't want it, it is not a good bill for farmers”, they said. Yet the parliamentary secretary and the minister would have us believe that everything is rosy in farm country and every farmer in Canada loves what the government is doing. The reality is that this is not true, just as in life one cannot be loved all of the time by everyone—unless, of course, one is Speaker. I know that the Speaker loves all of us all of the time because we are so well behaved.
Clearly, there are diverging viewpoints. With this bill, I actually thought there was enough give and take and room between the government and the opposition to craft a really significant bill for Canadian farmers. Unfortunately, much to my chagrin, as I learn as I get older, I was wrong. I was disappointed by that, but it still does not shake my faith in Canadian farmers.
Canadian farmers really know what they want, they know how to tell us what they want, and I would suggest to my friends on the other side that Canadian farmers will show them what they want during the election in 2015. I suggest that those rural municipalities in Saskatchewan are a bellwether for the members who say they did not want it and are now about to drive it down their throats.
I will make the same appeal to the other side that the parliamentary secretary made to this side. Members representing people who live on the Prairies may want to rethink Bill C-18 when it comes time to be whipped, because, clearly, there are a lot of folks in those ridings who are saying no thanks.
Hon. Mark Eyking (Sydney—Victoria, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, it is great to stand in the House today to talk about Bill C-18. For many of the listeners out there, if they are from the farming community or they just like food and are trying to figure out what is in Bill C-18, I am going to do a little more explaining in the next 20 minutes about the bill and about some of the things that I and the Liberals had a problem with, as well as some of the things we agreed with.
The bill would amend nine separate pieces of agriculture-related legislation affecting plant breeders' rights as well as feed, seed, fertilizer, animal health, plant protection, monetary penalties, agriculture marketing programs, and farm debt mediation. There is a lot in the bill. That is why we are saying it is an omnibus bill. It would have been helpful if, in the 10 years the Conservatives were in power, they could have done some of this beforehand and perhaps split some of this up so that we could have had meaningful legislation.
However, that being said, there is a lot in this bill, and it is needed. The bill is needed. It is needed for today's modern agriculture and for our farms and our food industry. It largely appears that the bill attempts to streamline regulatory processes affecting farmers and the agriculture industry more broadly.
Bill C-18 would amend the Plant Breeders' Rights Act to amend certain aspects of the plant breeders' rights granted under the act, including the duration and the scope of those rights and the conditions for the protection of those rights. It would also provide for exceptions in the applications of those rights. That sounds complicated, but that is where it is.
It would amend the Feeds Act, the Fertilizers Act, the Seeds Act, the Health of Animals Act, and the Plant Protection Act. A lot of different acts would be affected by this one bill.
It would authorize inspectors to order that certain unlawful imports be removed from Canada or destroyed. If a P.E.I. farmer, for example, bought some diseased seed potatoes from another country, we would want to be able to destroy that product. The member from P.E.I. would understand this, because he was a seed producer before. That is one part of it.
It would authorize the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food to take into account information available from a review conducted by the government of a foreign state when he or she considers that applicable. For instance, let us say we were looking at a product that was good for our farms. Let us say it was an organic product, for instance. If a peer review was done in Europe or in the United States and our farmers needed it, the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food could use that information as he or she sees fit. That is another good part in the bill.
It would require that a registration or a licence be obtained for conducting certain activities with respect to certain feeds, fertilizers, and supplements that have to be imported for sale. We have seen this problem recently with the hog industry. Some supplements were coming in that were questionable. Through this bill, we would have legislation that would allow the minister to intervene if something was brought in as a supplement that was not suitable for our industry.
It would also amend the Agriculture and Agri-Food Administrative Monetary Penalties Act. Among other things, it would increase the maximum limits of penalties that could be imposed for certain violations. I will talk about this aspect later, since we have a little problem with this one. As I said in my some of my questioning of the government, even the Cattlemen's Association has a problem with how this whole penalty and violations business would really change the CFIA's role to being more of a referee than a coach. When I was in farming, when the CFIA inspector would come, many times it would help us improve our productivity and help us to have a better product.
I see some of where the Conservatives are going with this part of the bill. It is a bit more about having big penalties and hitting the farmers with them, or anybody producing food, instead of helping them produce a better product and a safer product. Therefore, we have a bit of a problem with that one.
Bill C-18 would amend the Agricultural Marketing Programs Act to modernize the requirements of the advance payments program in an effort to improve accessibility and enhance its administration and delivery. I will talk about that later. There are quite a few changes in that area. Overall, they are pretty good. The amounts could have been increased, but I think some of the other changes are really applicable to today's farming.
As I go through this, listeners out there will find that there are many parts of this bill that the Liberal Party agrees with and want to move forward and that there are some parts we have some problems with.
The bill would amend the Farm Debt Mediation Act to clarify the farm debt mediation process and to facilitate participation of the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food in the mediation process when that minister is the guarantor of a farm debt. In this way, the minister could have some discretion in the mediation process.
As members can see from the many amendments, this omnibus bill has caused some concerns among farmers because there is so much in there to digest and because the repercussions are big. Therefore, we must carefully investigate each of these acts that would be affected. I believe it is important to give people a look at exactly what changes would be made. I figure my best role in my 20 minutes here this morning is to tell people exactly what is in the bill, especially if they are in the food business, so that they have a better understanding.
One of my concerns as the Liberal agriculture critic is the sheer scope of what is being dealt with in this omnibus legislation. The more broadly based the proposed changes are—and in this case, they cross into many areas and many regulatory issues and industry standards—the more difficult it is for people to get their heads around all of it. We have seen that the government has a tendency to just push all this stuff through. It could have been done a little differently and a bit better. We, the opposition on this side, could have helped the Conservatives, but I think it might have hurt their pride, because they had a problem accepting any of the amendments from this side. If any party that is in power really wants to make Parliament work, it would accept ideas from other parties to make the legislation better and to have a made-in-Canada approach. We do not see that happen very much here.
I would also like to highlight more details of some of the other aspects in this bill. One that has been brought up and is the most contentious is the Plant Breeders' Rights Act. Anybody who is listening for the first time would probably wonder what we are talking about in the House of Commons today, but there need to be some changes in this area. If we are to compete with the rest of the modernized world or the western countries that are producing a lot of food, it is only fitting that we have a new system in place.
The old UPOV '78 was just not what it should have been. We needed a more modern approach, and that is what UPOV '91 is. It puts us up there with the other big producers of food and seeds around the world and it helps our farmers. However, there were some problems with it, and we put amendments forward.
It is quite a step for Canadian farmers. We had many witnesses who came forward on both sides of this issue. Smaller growers, organic growers, or growers who just had certain seeds or certain varieties that were unique to a region or an area were worried that they might lose that variety or that somebody might technically steal it. I think some of what is in the bill would protect them.
There was also a lot of opportunity pointed out during committee. We heard from landscapers and horticultural people. Other groups came forward and said that if growers or plant breeders came out with a certain variety of grain that grew well in Quebec, it might grow well in some Scandinavian countries too, so they could be selling that seed someday, and this system would help. The landscapers and horticultural people talked about how they could come up with varieties of roses in Canada, which I think they are doing right now, that they could sell to the northern United States as well as other places. They wanted to know if they would be protected.
There is a lot in this bill. It is a modernization, but I think we could have done both. We could have had a modern bill for plant breeders and farmers, but we also could have put a little more teeth into the protection of small farmers so that they would not be faced with court decisions and the like to protect their seeds. There were some amendments, but I do not think they went far enough.
The bill also proposes that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency be authorized to consider foreign reviews, which I mentioned already. That is a good thing.
The bill also speaks to licensing and registration. It would increase monetary penalties for violations and provide stronger controls at the border for agriculture products. That is key, because what happens at our borders is important. I was talking to some farmers this morning who are associated with Chicken Farmers of Canada. Chicken is coming into Canada that is not supposed to come into this country. We need stronger controls at our border to check on what is coming in, not only to protect our farmers, but to make sure that a product is safe. Having stronger controls at the border for agricultural products is also a good thing.
The bill would also amend the Agricultural Marketing Programs Act and the Farm Debt Mediation Act. Some of the proposals relate to the delivery and ease of the advanced payments program for producers. There is quite a bit in the bill with respect to that. Most of the debate on this legislation has been about the limit. The Canadian Canola Growers Association mentioned that the limit, which is how much farmers can borrow, is too small.
The advanced payment program was set up by the Liberals many years ago. Let me explain what this program is about. As a result of a farmer spending a lot of money in the spring to harvest a crop, that farmer might need money in the fall, and that is where the advanced payment program comes into play. Farmers sometimes sell their crop too quickly just to get some cash flow. The advanced payment program was set up to help farmers with their cash flow. Of course, any amount that they received they would have to pay back, and 99% of all farmers do pay it back. It is a really good program. Most farmers are honest and they work hard, and they do pay back any money that they receive. They might have a crop failure or various things could happen, but they do manage to pay it back. That is what the program is all about.
The Canadian Canola Growers Association told us that a limit of $400,000 was not enough. It suggested that the limit should be $600,000, taking into account the size of many farms today. I recently visited Manitoba, and the amount of investment that farmers have put into their farm operations is unbelievable, whether it is on machinery or something else. We have to take into account how much money needs to be available.
Other changes in the legislation are with respect to the delivery of the advanced payment program and making it easier to deliver to farmers. The bill would allow for multi-year advanced guarantee repayment agreements upon delivery. In other words, the bill would make it more flexible. For instance, if a farmer cannot sell a product within one year, multi-year payments could apply. A farmer could face a disaster and be forced to wait for over a year to sell a product. This is a big part of the legislation.
I would like to go back to where we were with the plant breeders and some of the things that the Liberal Party wanted to include in this legislation.
Some farmers are worried about being limited in the right to save their seeds. This is where the language of the bill comes into play. The legislation talks about the right to save, reuse, exchange, and sell seeds. The Liberals proposed an amendment to this part of the bill. One of the things that really struck us first, and something that a lot of farmers are concerned about, and I can understand why, is that under this legislation saving seed would be considered a privilege. That wording did not sit right with a lot of people, especially farmers. Privilege means that someone could take seeds away from a farmer. It is like having a licence taken away at any time. That set this part of the bill on the wrong foot right off the bat. The Liberal Party pushed for it to be considered a right rather than a privilege, thereby allowing farmers to have that right. When it is considered a right, they are innocent until proven guilty, but if it is considered a privilege, it would seem to be the other way around.
We tried to get more clarification. The government did change the wording a bit, but we were hoping that it would have been a bit stronger and provide more protection to farmers. That did not happen, so we had to move on.
The bill would increase the areas along the value chain and within the seed reproduction chain where plant breeders can collect royalties.
At the end of the day, it was not that the farmers were concerned. The biggest concern they have is that they buy the registered seed, and they should pay a premium if it is really good seed. However, when they take that seed and grow a crop out of it, as farmers, they might say that was a good seed and they would like to use some of it next year. That should be allowed for in the bill. It is stated in the bill now that they are allowed to do that, but it was a big concern.
Plant breeders who come up with this good grain, from which it took years to make the seed, would want their royalties from it, like anybody else who produces a product. As long as that farmer was not going to sell the seed, they would not be penalized. However, the language was vague and we wanted to strengthen it. We got some of that, but it was not exactly where we wanted to go with the whole thing.
There is another part of this bill where the CFIA, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, has a stronger role in dealing with products. The CFIA intends to utilize our bill to develop regulations, setting conditions around farm-saved seed and compulsory licensing that must continue and engage a farm commodity.
I would like to explore the amendments to the Agricultural Products Marketing Act and the advanced payment program in Bill C-18. We are going to move on from the Seeds Act to the marketing act. Many of the specifics are yet to be determined, but the Canadian Federation of Agriculture has been working with the government, and it sees the merit of a lot of these changes.
I will list some of they key amendments to the marketing products act and the advanced payment program. They are as follows:
|| Program administrators will now have the ability to provide advances on any commodity and in any region, with a number of limitations. Any program provider wishing to broaden their portfolio will be required to have the respective support of producer representatives within that commodity and/or region.
That makes sense.
There are also multi-year agreements, which I alluded to before on advance payments. This change will do the following:
|| This will allow for multi-year agreements.... This will be one of the first changes implemented, with no regulatory amendments required, and will reduce administrative burden for those applying to the program in consecutive years.
That sounds pretty good. There are also repayments without proof of sale. It says the following:
|| This will allow repayment scheduled suited to the perishability of non-storable crops and will allow for cash repayments where the pledged product is not sold, so long as the administrator is satisfied that the quantity of product on-farm covers the value. All advances must still be paid by the agreed due date, but this will allow producers to avoid having to sell product at inopportune times just to meet repayment requirements.
That is what I mentioned about the advanced payments and how it would be good for farmers. It is good that they would not have to sell their product right away. In this part of the act, it states that we are not just talking about grain farmers. If a potato farmer took a long time to get the crop and a lot of inputs, this advanced payment would also broaden into other commodities, like potatoes, where a farmer might be better off selling potatoes in March instead of November. This advanced payment would cover that as well.
Another part has to do with new means of repayment. It says:
|| Regulatory power will be given to the Governor in Council to define new means of repayment, which will be developed in consultation with industry. This offers the potential to provide greater flexibility for unique situations like farm liquidation.
That says a lot, but at the end of the day, it is flexibility. It is flexibility if a farmer has a certain situation where they cannot sell it within one year of the crop. Let us say that there is an accident or something happens, it gives that flexibility for repayment processes, which is also a good thing.
Another part is about producer eligibility. It says:
|Producer eligibility will be expanded beyond those “principally occupied” in the farming operation, allowing farmers with significant off-farm employment to also access the program.
This is a good one. As I said, there are parts of this bill that are good, but that part is for small farmers or new farmers who cannot make all of their living from their farms. They would be eligible for advanced payments where they were probably not eligible before. It would give a start for them to move on.
The other part of the bill is on the whole subject of advance payments. As I stated, the amount does not reflect the reality of agriculture right now. We should have at least gone to $600,000. Some would even go to $800,000. We could have found a median somewhere in the middle that would have worked, but a $600,000 advance payment would have been good.
I have explained most of the bill. A lot of the time we have focused on just one part of the bill, the Seeds Act, but I think we have explained to the public a little more about what is in the bill.
There is a lot in the bill that is good. The Liberal Party will be voting for the bill because there is much in the bill that we want the farmers to have. When we are in power next, perhaps we will take care of what was not done properly and put more in there for small farmers.
Mr. Bob Zimmer (Prince George—Peace River, CPC):
I would first like to say that my thoughts and prayers go out to Pat Quinn's family for their loss today. He was a great Canadian.
Mr. Speaker, I stand today to express my support for Bill C-18, the agricultural growth act. This is a well-informed bill.
The proposed legislation is the result of extensive consultation with Canadian farmers, producers, and the organizations that represent them. In my view, this is the mark of a progressive, responsive, and responsible government. It is one that identifies, reviews, and establishes laws, policies, and programs in collaboration with the citizens most likely to be affected.
I support Bill C-18 because it would foster the continued growth and maturation of this country's agriculture and agri-food industry. One of the ways the proposed legislation would achieve this is by supporting the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's modernization and transformation agenda.
To fully appreciate the last point requires a good understanding of the larger context.
The CFIA is dedicated to safeguarding our food supply, along with animals and plants that contribute to that food supply. Ultimately, the CFIA serves to enhance the health and well-being of Canada's people, environment, and economy.
The Government of Canada established CFIA in 1997 as the federal agency responsible for the regulation and enforcement of key food and agriculture legislation. Prior to that time, several departments and agencies shared responsibility for this legislation.
Since the agency's inception in 1997, almost 20 years ago, there have been many significant changes in the agriculture and agri-food sectors across Canada and around the world. These changes include dramatic increases in crop yields due to advances in science.
In general, farms are getting larger, and economies of scale continue to grow. Land that produced enough to feed only 10 people a century ago can today feed more than 120. That is a dramatic increase.
Another significant change is the growth of international trade in agricultural products. Today Canadians regularly eat foods produced in countries around the world. In Canada's agriculture and agri-food industry, the focus is more and more on international markets. Last year, in 2013, the value of Canada's agriculture and food exports set a new record, topping $50 billion for the first time in our history.
The legislation now before us would modernize existing statutes and support the CFIA's transformation so that it could provide the best and most efficient and effective service possible.
The next step is up to us in Parliament. By endorsing the legislation before us, members of this House can help make sure that Canada's legislation remains in step with modern processes and practices. Here is why.
Some of the laws Bill C-18 proposes to amend date back to the 1950s. Although they have served Canada well, they must be updated to support further progress to help our home-grown entrepreneurs harness innovation, add value, and create jobs and growth right across this country.
According to stakeholders who appeared before the House standing committee, Canadian farmers spend as much as $4 billion each year on fertilizers. That is more than they spend on any other crop input. It is estimated that without fertilizer, crop production in Canada would decrease by half.
The Feeds Act and the Fertilizers Act provide the legal basis for the regulatory framework that govern the use of fertilizers. During his testimony in committee, Mr. Clyde Graham, acting president of the Canadian Fertilizer Institute, had this to say about the current state of the regulatory framework:
|| The federal regulatory system has served the industry well for 50 years. It has ensured a science-based and consistent regulatory environment for fertilizers and supplements, which emphasizes the principles of safety and efficacy for all products.
||...That being said, the fertilizer and supplement industry supports new provisions in the bill that would enable tools such as incorporation by reference, licencing, export certificates, and acceptance of foreign equivalent scientific data.
Bill C-18 includes the provisions and tools Mr. Graham referred to in his comments. The proposed legislation now before us proposes new, broader controls on the safety of Canada's ag inputs through the licencing and registration of feed and fertilizer manufacturers.
I would like to share another relevant comment from a stakeholder who appeared before the committee. Reg Schmidt is with the Feeder Associations of Alberta, and this is some of what he told the committee:
|| When the Feeder Associations of Alberta was first notified last fall of the new set of amendments, we were not anticipating this exceptional amount of change that is being proposed. We were thinking more of a lipstick and makeup approach. Instead what we got are a very well thought out set of amendments that bring another round of comprehensive updates to an otherwise excellent program
As Mr. Schmidt pointed out, Bill C-18 involves a series of improvements. Among other things, the legislation proposes to authorize CFIA to license or register fertilizer and animal feed operators along with facilities that import or sell products across provincial or international borders. This would enhance the current system under which feed and fertilizer products are typically registered. Adding the provision to license or register facilities and operators would provide a more effective and timely approach to verifying which agricultural products meet Canada's stringent safety and other standards.
This approach would allow for better tracking and oversight of production processes and the products being produced, a more efficient system that identifies issues early, and a faster response if and when a product recall was required.
To license or register feed fertilizer facilities and operators, regulations would have to be developed. The government would work closely with stakeholders to design an effective regime.
It is important to recognize that the new requirement would not apply to farmers who make these products for use on their own farms. It would only apply to businesses that sell their animal feed and fertilizer products across provincial and international borders.
It is also important to note that the proposed amendment would better align Canadian legislation with that of our international trading partners and would help our feed and fertilizer industries maintain their export markets, especially in the U.S.
Bill C-18 also proposes to address international trade in agricultural products in another way: by strengthening border controls for agricultural products.
Bill C-18 would authorize CFIA inspectors to order imported shipments of feeds, fertilizers, and seeds out of Canada if they failed to meet legal requirements. This would be similar to the provisions already in place that authorize the CFIA to order imported plants and animals removed from Canada if they do not meet legal requirements.
The CFIA already takes action now and sometimes seizes illegal products related to animal feeds, seed, and fertilizers. Under the current process, after seizure the CFIA assesses the ability of the importer to bring the products into compliance. Where this is not possible or where the importer refuses to fix the non-compliance, the CFIA may have to destroy or dispose of the product, sometimes at taxpayers' expense. In some cases, court proceedings may be launched. While this process works, it sometimes leaves Canadians paying the bill for the disposal of illegal products that have been seized.
Bill C-18 would give CFIA inspectors the ability to allow the importer to fix the problem in Canada but only if it was not a matter of safety and if they could be sure that the issue would be addressed properly and in a timely manner.
The legislation would also provide the agency with even stronger tools to protect Canada's plant and animal resource base. It would also provide additional reassurance that imported agricultural products met Canada's strict requirements. For Canada's farmers it would mean that they would compete on a level playing field.
Now I would like to again touch on the issue of UPOV '91. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency consulted broadly on plant breeders' rights. The agency conducted formal consultation sessions across Canada and received valuable feedback from plant breeders, farmers, horticulturalists, seed dealers, and the general public.
The feedback led directly to a series of proposed amendments that would increase investment in plant breeding in Canada and would encourage foreign breeders to protect and sell their varieties here. The amendments would also align the rights of Canadian plant breeders with those of their counterparts abroad.
This would effectively level the playing field for Canadian farmers and give them greater access to innovative new varieties bred to enhance crop yields, improve resistance to disease and drought, and meet specific market demands. It is what farmers want. In other words, the amendments would support the continued success of Canada's agricultural producers.
Amendments in the proposed legislation would also explicitly recognize the traditional and popular practice known as farmer's privilege. The practice involves saving, conditioning, and replanting seed generated from protected varieties grown on Canadian farms.
As members will be aware, a further amendment has been brought forward on the issue, one that makes the language in the act explicitly clear that storage of seed is included in farmer's privilege. This amendment, once again, shows that the government listens and responds to farmers.
Canada's farm community is very supportive of the reforms proposed in Bill C-18. For instance, the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, Canada's largest farm organization, posted a page on its website entitled, “C-18 is Good News for Farmers”. Indeed it is. The page includes a quote from federation president Ron Bonnett, as follows:
|| The proposed changes reflect a number of recommendations made by industry over the years and showcase the government has been listening. We're pleased the government has taken action and followed-up in a concrete way with legislative changes and formal consultations on these proposed amendments.
That is a certainly a ringing endorsement. The federation's web page also points out that the proposed legislation will boost innovation in the agricultural sector and inspire more farmers to plant new crop varieties. The bill is designed to modernize Canada's agricultural legislation and encourage innovation in the sector.
Joe Brennan, chair of the Canadian Potato Council, said the following about Bill C-18 and what we did as a government at committee stage:
|| The proposed amendments will encourage the development and availability of superior potato varieties that will further enhance the competitiveness of the Canadian potato industry.
Keith Kuhl, president of the Canadian Horticultural Council, emphasized that the proposed legislation would make Canadian companies more competitive internationally. He said, “Ensuring that our plant breeders' rights regulations are aligned with our global trading partners is imperative”.
We heard more of this support from witnesses at the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food.
The Agricultural Marketing Programs Act was enacted more than 15 years ago. The act requires that the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, in collaboration with the Minister of Finance, review the effectiveness of the legislation every five years. The last review was completed nearly two years ago and a report on the review was tabled in the House in November of 2012.
The review included a series of activities during the spring of 2011. For instance, stakeholders participated in a series of nine engagement workshops held in communities across the country. The sessions attracted a cross-section of Canada's agriculture industry, producers and administrators, along with representatives of producer organizations and financial institutions.
During the sessions, the stakeholders freely expressed their views on both the act and on the program that it authorized. Participants discussed program relevancy, performance, operations and delivery. They outlined specific strengths and weaknesses, and provided suggestions for potential improvements.
The review also involved a targeted survey. Questionnaires were sent out to approximately 3,000 producers who participated in the advance payments program, also known as APP, in 2008. These engagement sessions and questionnaires led directly to many of the proposed amendments to the Agricultural Marketing Programs Act included in Bill C-18.
In general, the amendments would reduce the administrative burden that producers and producer organizations must bear to participate in the program. More specific, the amendments would provide additional ways for participants to repay their loans. They would also broaden the criteria used to determine eligibility in the program and foster multi-year advance guarantee and repayment agreements, with administrators to streamline delivery.
I now wish to talk about the consultations with stakeholders that took place to inform the proposed amendments in another key part of Bill C-18, the Plant Breeders' Rights Act, administered by the CFIA. These stakeholder views are positive and tell only part of the story of Bill C-18. This is because the proposed legislation will inspire further consultations as resulting regulations are readied.
This government remains committed to consulting in order to determine the best path forward for farmers. Should the legislation now before us receive royal assent, some changes will come into force almost immediately, while others will be phased in or require regulatory amendments.
The overarching goal of the agricultural growth act is to strengthen Canada's agriculture and agri-food industry in a way that protects our food supply and promotes economic growth. Bill C-18 proposes to achieve this goal by ensuring that Canada's legislative framework is effective, innovative and nimble enough to deal with 21st century realities. Updated, streamlined and harmonized legislation would benefit Canadian farmers and industry, support the Government of Canada's and CFIA's modernization initiatives, and meet the interests of Canadians and Canadian farmers.
I encourage my hon. colleagues to join me in supporting Bill C-18.