Mrs. Pauline Picard (Drummond, BQ)
Madam Speaker, Bill C-60 is entitled an act to establish the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and to repeal and amend other Acts as a consequence. It sets up the Canadian Food Inspection Agency in order to consolidate and enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of federal inspection services related to food and animal and plant health as well as to increase co-operation between the federal and provincial governments in this area.
This agency will take over from the old Interdepartmental Committee on Food Regulation established in 1986. Thus there will be only one body in this area at the federal level.
The bill also sets out the responsibilities, accountability regime, organization, human and financial resources regime, powers and reporting framework of the agency. It also amends some of the enforcement provisions and penalties in federal statutes that the agency will enforce or administer, with regard to food and animal and plant health.
Simplifying the food inspection system in order to eliminate duplication, to enhance trade and improve enforcement of regulations relating to food safety is a very commendable objective. It has been set forth in the last federal budget and relatively well accepted by Quebec as well as other provincial governments.
I should mention that the auditor general, in his 1994 report, strongly recommended that the food safety assurance system be reviewed in order to deal with its numerous flaws. More specifically, he singled out the Interdepartmental Committee on Food Regulation for its lack of consistency. This committee, made up of representatives from Health Canada, Agriculture and Agri-Food, Fisheries and Oceans and Revenue Canada, has not always fulfilled its mandate of bringing specific changes to the food safety assurance system and of enhancing innovation and efficiency in relation to inspection methods.
Moreover, the committee has failed to report the results of its investigation as required in its mandate. The auditor general has also emphasized the inability of Health Canada to guarantee complete and effective enforcement. In a nutshell, the auditor general and most stakeholders think our food inspection system should be reviewed.
The goal of having in the federal government a single window for food inspection is commendable, but the way the federal government wants to go about it is totally unacceptable and is just one more example of federal intrusion into areas of provincial jurisdiction. In a way, Bill C-60 flies directly in the face of the repeatedly expressed will of Quebec to take on all its responsibilities under the Constitution.
Even if this bill did recognize the existing areas of jurisdiction, the present wording of several clauses still makes Bill C-60 a bad bill that would not meet the goals expressed therein, and it would still incur the official opposition's condemnation.
For example, the government maintains it is looking for a more efficient federal service for food, animal and plant inspection. In a system such as ours, with elected representatives, efficiency and openness often go hand in hand. When things are done behind closed doors, the interests of people behind the door are often well looked after at the expense of the public left outside.
In Bill C-60, the government had many opportunities to show it cares for openness. For example, clause 5 stipulates:
The Governor in Council shall appoint a President and an Executive Vice-President of the Agency to hold office during pleasure for a term not exceeding five years, which term may be renewed for one or more further terms.
There is no consultation, no consideration in committee, nothing of the kind. Only unilateral appointments made at the whim of the government.
Of course, the official opposition cannot support that section the way it is drafted. It would open the door to discrimination and patronage. If the federal government really wanted to be transparent, it would have ensured that these appointments could be examined by Parliament. These appointments should be submitted to the Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food at least for consideration, if not for final approval.
The same thing goes for clause 10, which deals with the advisory board and reads as follows:
(1) The Minister shall appoint an advisory board of not more than twelve members to hold office during pleasure for a term not exceeding three years, which term may be renewed for one or more further terms.
Again, it is unacceptable for a minister to act alone in appointing the members of the advisory board. Since this board is responsible for helping the minister choose the policies he has to implement, it is important that all the appointments referred to in this clause be reviewed by the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food. Therefore, the minister will not be able to yield to temptation and appoint his buddies or people who share his philosophy.
Another bit of lip service on the part of the government is co-operation with the government of Quebec and of all the other provinces. However, there is absolutely no mention of this in Bill C-60. Yet, this was a great opportunity. When appointing a board to advise the minister, the government could have guaranteed representation for Quebec, which accounts for 25 per cent of the Canadian population, and ensured that at least one member of the advisory board out of four is from Quebec so that the Quebec's point of view would be well represented on the board. Moreover, these appointments could have been approved by the provinces.
But, once more, the lip service expressed loud and long does not translate into government action. Subclause 4 of this clause provides that the minister shall appoint one of the members as chairperson of the advisory board. Again, the minister wants to
control the agency by appointing himself the chairperson of the advisory board.
Instead of letting competent people in the field who have to work with the food inspection staff choose a chairperson themselves, the minister will probably appoint one of his friends or one of his devotees who will defend his point of view at all times. This lack of transparency is apparent in the phrasing of several of Bill C-60's clauses: clause 22-corporate business plan, clause 23-annual report, clause 26-consultation, clause 32-annual audit, or any other clause concerning appointments or reports.
These actions must be examined and approved by the standing committee. Then, these appointments and changes could be submitted to the House, to all hon. members. This is not unreasonable. In a democratic system, there is never enough transparency, and prevention is better than cure.
Finally, clause 11 deals with the responsibilities of the new Canadian Food Inspection Agency. This agency would be responsible for the administration and enforcement of various existing federal statutes. So far, so good.
However, subclause 4 of this section reads as follows: "The Minister of Health is responsible for establishing policies and standards relating to the safety and nutritional quality of food sold in Canada." In this regard, the position of the Quebec government and of the official opposition is crystal clear.
I do not know how many times in the last three years I have quoted this section, which is part of the Constitution: "Under section 92, subsections 7 and 5 of the Constitution Act of 1867, and pursuant to the interpretation of many courts, health and social services are the exclusive jurisdiction of the provinces".
In closing, the Bloc Quebecois has always demanded that the federal government respect the jurisdiction of the provinces regarding health care and we intend to call upon the Liberals to withdraw from this field and to transfer to the province of Quebec all federal moneys regarding Quebec's health care. I think that the Bloc Quebecois will not support Bill C-60 in its present form.
Subtopic: Canadian Food Inspection Agency Act