Personal Data

Lanark--Carleton (Ontario)
Birth Date
May 7, 1951
public affairs executive

Parliamentary Career

October 25, 1993 - April 27, 1997
  Lanark--Carleton (Ontario)
June 2, 1997 - October 22, 2000
  Lanark--Carleton (Ontario)

Most Recent Speeches (Page 1 of 16)

October 20, 2000

Mr. Ian Murray (Lanark—Carleton, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Justice. There is some concern in rural Canada that provisions in Bill C-17 relating to cruelty to animals will allow for prosecution for such normal activities as farming and hunting.

Will the minister please clarify the actual intent of the measures in Bill C-17?

Topic:   Oral Question Period
Subtopic:   Criminal Code
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June 12, 2000

Mr. Ian Murray (Lanark—Carleton, Lib.)

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to have this opportunity to respond to Motion No. 230. The motion of the hon. member for Louis-Hébert has two parts. The first would make labelling of genetically modified products compulsory. The motion also calls for the government to carry out “exhaustive studies on the long term effects of genetically modified foods”.

Let me begin by saying that the Government of Canada's commitment is always to safety first. The well-being of Canadians, animals and our environment is our highest priority. Canada has an enviable reputation around the world for the safety of its food and the rigour of its food inspection system. Canadians rightly trust the regulatory system which has been vigilant in ensuring that our high standards are maintained.

On the question of labelling of foods, our federal legislation calls for Health Canada to set the requirements for mandatory labelling. The data requirements for the safety assessments of all foods are established by Health Canada, which also conducts premarket reviews of new foods including those derived through biotechnology. Every such food goes through a stringent review process before being allowed on the market.

The role of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, or CFIA, is to carry out inspection and enforcement activities relative to the food safety standards set by Health Canada. The CFIA is also responsible for the environmental safety assessment of a number of agricultural products such as plants, animal feed and veterinary vaccines including those derived through biotechnology.

I remind everyone that current labelling regulations in Canada require that all food products, including those developed through biotechnology, be labelled where a potential human health or safety issue has been identified, or if foods have been changed in composition or nutrition.

Labelling decisions are made by Health Canada and are based on the results of its food safety evaluations. I am sure the hon. member would agree any authority for labelling must be based upon science.

Let me address the first part of the motion before us by reminding the House that several initiatives are now already in place to study the question of how and when to label a genetically modified food. The government believes that all food labelling must be credible, meaningful and enforceable. We are actively engaged in consulting with Canadians to score how labelling can best serve the public.

We have strongly encouraged the establishment of a Canadian standard for the labelling of foods derived through biotechnology. This standard will include provisions for definitions, labels, claims and advertising, and compliance measures.

The Canadian General Standards Board, under the sponsorship of the Canadian Council of Grocery Distributors, is in the process of developing the standards through open and inclusive consultation. Representatives and individuals from a broad range of Canadian interests have formed a committee to work on the standard, which is expected to be complete within the next six to twelve months. My hon. colleagues should be aware that by endorsing such a thorough process to develop a labelling standard Canada is indeed a leader worldwide.

I would also like to bring to the attention of the House that the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food has already begun its series of hearings on the labelling of genetically modified foods. Canada is also assuming a leadership role in the development of international standards governing how and when genetically modified foods are labelled.

Canada chairs the Codex Alimentarius committee on food labelling, otherwise known as the CCFL for good reason. At the recent Codex meeting in Ottawa, Canada was recognized for its success in chairing the CCFL working group that drafted key options and recommendations for the labelling of biotechnologically derived foods. Once again Canada has been tasked with leading the group that this year will look at which of these options can be turned into Codex guidelines and then be implemented.

It is clear that work is under way to address the information needs of Canadians on the issue of labelling. We believe that Canadians want labels that are meaningful. It is the goal of the government to ensure that information provided to Canadians enables them to make informed choices. I reiterate that the House should not support Motion No. 230 on the basis of the first part of the motion on labelling.

I will now address the second part of the hon member's motion which recommends that exhaustive studies be carried out on the long term effects of genetically modified foods on health and the environment. The safety assessment of conventional products and of products derived from biotechnology are both subject to stringent health and safety requirements under Canada's food and safety system. I re-emphasize that food safety and consumer protection are priorities for the Government of Canada. We are strongly committed to the safety of Canadians, animals and our environment.

Canada has a strong reputation as a producer of foods that are consistently safe, clean and of high quality. We have built that reputation by putting very rigorous regulatory systems in place. Our approval systems are science based and transparent. The decision of the government to accept or reject a product is based on sound science and fact. Our regulators include experts in nutrition, molecular biology, chemistry, toxicology and environmental science, to name just a few.

There have been recent studies calling into question the safety of biotechnology derived products. We hear a lot of talk about junk science. Canadian regulators do not accept junk science, poor science or half science when evaluating products of biotechnology. The regulatory system assesses products on a case by case basis. The research and safety required for evaluation directly addresses the potential risks of the product to human health and the environment. If there is any question as to the safety of these products they are not approved. The government continually reviews the effectiveness of its approaches.

The Government of Canada takes pride in advocating our science based approach around the world. We rely on the need for scientific research to settle questions related to long term health, safety and environmental issues. We are committed to a regulatory system that meets the highest standards of scientific rigour. This commitment is reflected in the establishment of two important groups, an expert panel and an advisory committee.

The Royal Society of Canada has appointed an expert panel to examine future scientific developments in food biotechnology and to provide advice to the federal government accordingly. This forward thinking body will advise Health Canada, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Environment Canada on the science capacity that the federal government will need to maintain the safety of new foods being derived through biotechnology in the 21st century.

The Royal Society of Canada named its expert panel this past February. In examining the leading edge of this technology the panel will recommend what new research, policies and regulatory capacity will be needed to ensure the Canadian standards of safety remain as stringent for the next generation of biotechnology derived foods as they are today.

A number of challenges and opportunities are associated with biotechnology that require detailed consideration and public discussion. Food biotechnology presents Canadians with challenges but also unprecedented opportunities.

The recently formed Canadian Biotechnology Advisory Committee or CBAC will bring stakeholders and interested parties together to advise the government to raise public awareness and to engage Canadians in an open and transparent dialogue on biotechnology issues. Canadians want to take part in the dialogue on food biotechnology. The CBAC will actively create opportunities for Canadians to participate in its activities and discussions. This will include an interactive website for interested Canadians to review, consult and provide input into this topic among many.

The work of the expert panel of the Royal Society of Canada will contribute to a balanced and consultative process where all questions and concerns can be thoroughly considered. The government looks forward to the contributions the expert panel and CBAC will make in furthering the dialogue on biotechnology issues.

I assure the hon. member for Louis-Hébert that the government will continue to undertake the necessary steps to ensure the health of Canadians, animals and our environment. I would add that the assessment of any genetically modified plant or crop is rigorous and comprehensive. It requires significant scientific data to be provided and evaluated.

Regulation through sound science is an essential step in the continued safe production of biotechnology derived foods. The 2000 federal budget confirms this priority in Canada's regulatory system. The $90 million investment in the regulatory system for biotechnology products will help Canada, the CFIA and other regulatory departments to continue to enhance and evolve their safety first regulatory approach to keep pace with the next generation of scientific discoveries.

This increased investment illustrates the continued dedication of the Government of Canada to supporting the regulatory system for the benefit of all Canadians.

We can take great pride in the steps the government has taken. We should remember that Canada was the first country in the world to actively engage a broad range of stakeholders in this issue. These initiatives have become the model for other countries.

Just last week, on June 5, the United Kingdom announced the establishment of its Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission which will look at developments in biotechnology. This commission has a mandate that was decidedly similar to that of the CBAC.

We have initiatives under way to ensure that Canada is well positioned for the future. The Canadian public is already strongly engaged on the issue of genetically modified foods. The government is adopting a balanced and consultative approach to the labelling of these foods and we are letting Canadians know that our top priority is health, safety and the environment. We have incorporated these values into our regulatory system.

For these reasons I urge my colleagues to vote against Motion No. 230.

Topic:   Private Members' Business
Subtopic:   Labelling Of Genetically Modified Foods
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May 19, 2000

Mr. Ian Murray (Lanark—Carleton, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Secretary of State for Western Economic Diversification.

It has been almost two years since the Western Economic Diversification Agency signed partnership agreements with the provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. Can the minister tell us why such an agreement has not been signed with British Columbia?

Topic:   Oral Question Period
Subtopic:   Western Economic Diversification Agency
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May 12, 2000

Mr. Ian Murray (Lanark—Carleton, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, as this is the last day of International Youth Week, it is my pleasure to address the House on the many ways the government is helping young Canadians to obtain new skills and training to help them compete in the global economy and broaden their exposure to foreign cultures.

Through the youth employment strategy, six federal departments are investing nearly $35 million to help over 2,500 youth each year get this valuable experience. In today's global economy it is vital to end the “no experience, no job/no job, no experience” cycle.

These international youth internships and exchange programs are part of our answer to helping young people take control of their lives and to make wise career choices in the global economy.

These programs are getting results. To quote a recent participant in HRDC's internship program “This internship changed me from a graduate intern with no experience to an export market representative for a manufacturing firm at the cutting edge of technology”.

I encourage every young person who is interested in participating in such a program to contact their local Human Resources Canada centre or to look up HRDC's youth page on the web.

I have every confidence they will benefit from these youth projects and will learn valuable lessons that will last a lifetime.

Topic:   Statements By Members
Subtopic:   International Youth Week
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April 13, 2000

Mr. Ian Murray (Lanark—Carleton, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, I welcome this opportunity to speak to Bill C-214.

Canada's leadership role in human security, peacekeeping, international co-operation and development is well known. The Minister of Foreign Affairs has just announced the Canadian initiative on the treatment of children in times of conflict. Let us hope that the invaluable experience and sterling reputation which Canada developed during its leading role in the Ottawa process for the elimination of anti-personnel land mines is put to use to help the innocent young victims of war.

Hon. members will understand the importance of having a good system for concluding treaties, one which enables Canada to conduct its foreign policy effectively in the service of Canadians.

The bill introduced by the hon. member for Beauharnois—Salaberry has compelled us to once again give some thought to Canada's mechanism for concluding treaties. Is it as flawed as the hon. member suggests? Does it need to be radically overhauled as he is proposing? Does our current practice prevent us from playing a role and defending the interests of Canadians on the international scene? In my view, our current practice, with its flexibility and capacity to respond to change, already enables us to meet our objectives while recognizing the essential role of parliament in implementing treaty obligations.

The problems facing governments often extend beyond national borders. When countries decide to work together to improve a situation in an area such as foreign trade, common defence, disarmament or international crime, they negotiate and come to an agreement commonly known as a treaty or a convention.

Under our constitution, the power to conclude treaties belongs exclusively to the executive branch of the federal government. It is the executive that agrees to bind and commit Canada to obligations in the international sphere. It was, therefore, the executive that signed and ratified the charter of the United Nations and voted for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It was the executive that ratified the North Atlantic Treaty by which NATO was formed, and it was the executive that ratified the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. Canada is already party to nearly 3,000 bilateral and multilateral instruments and, with the growing need for states to respond to international trade and political imperatives, this number can only increase.

The member for Beauharnois—Salaberry is suggesting that the House of Commons does not play a large enough role in the process of concluding those treaties to which Canada chooses to become a party. I have trouble following the hon. member on this point. While it is true that the executive is responsible for signing and ratifying treaties, it has always been a responsibility of elected representatives to pass the implementing legislation for treaties in Canada.

The constitutional power to implement treaties granted to the House of Commons and the legislatures under the division of powers and confirmed by the highest courts more than 60 years ago ensures a healthy balance between the federal executive and the people's elected representatives.

The federal executive must secure legislative implementation from the elected representatives before agreeing on behalf of Canada to be definitively bound by a treaty. Without this approval, treaty obligations could not be implemented and Canada would fall well short of meeting its international obligations. Not only is it well advised to consult and obtain legislative approval from elected representatives in order to implement treaties, it is often essential.

When Canada wants to ratify a treaty involving one or more provincial areas of jurisdiction, the executive automatically consults with the provinces. On reading Bill C-214 one would think there was no consultation between the federal government and the provinces and that this legislation was absolutely essential in order to remedy the situation. Nothing could be further from the truth. For example, the provinces are continually consulted on the Hague conventions on private international law, which of course fall under the constitutional jurisdiction of the provinces over civil rights. Canada has not ratified some of the Hague conventions because of the provinces' unwillingness to implement aspects falling under provincial jurisdiction.

We have a practice that works, with no need to legislate or to impose any requirement to conclude unwieldy agreements concerning consultative mechanisms with the provinces. We already have consultative mechanisms. We do not need to reinvent the wheel.

Incidentally, I would like to mention a crucial point brought up by my colleague, the hon. member for Vancouver Quadra, in the first hour of debate on second reading of the bill. In his bill the member for Beauharnois—Salaberry attempts suddenly and indirectly to grant the provinces the power to conclude treaties. The courts have been clear that in the Canadian constitutional system the power to conclude treaties for Canada belongs exclusively to the executive branch of the federal government. In other words, there is no provincial power to conclude treaties, nor has there ever been. Bill C-214 would be contrary to our constitution.

The current practice already provides a balance between elected representatives who have legislative authority and the executive which has the power to conclude treaties for the country.

The hon. member claims that members of parliament do not have the opportunity to help formulate Canada's position in treaty negotiations. Let us stop to consider this argument and look at the role played by the all-party Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade when it is consulted about negotiating and concluding international treaties.

The Subcommittee on International Trade, Trade Disputes and Investment of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade held hearings and produced a report on the conclusion of an agreement on the free trade area of the Americas. In June 1999 the full Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade held consultations and produced reports on the World Trade Organization.

I would like to take this opportunity to remind the House that the government presented its response to the committee's report regarding the WTO on November 15, 1999. It is clear from that response that the government greatly benefited from the committee's recommendations in formulating its own position, a concrete example of the important role of parliament.

Committee hearings provide an excellent opportunity for parliament to consult, examine, analyze and debate Canada's international commitments.

Another example of parliamentary participation in concluding international agreements comes to mind. Canada and the United States are currently in the process of concluding an agreement on customs preclearance at Canadian airports. As members know, there are U.S. customs officers at many Canadian airports preclearing passengers who travel to the United States. This reduces the waiting time upon their arrival at U.S. airports.

The Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade studied Bill S-22, the purpose of which is to implement the Canada-U.S. agreement before a final agreement is even concluded. Why did it do this? To give parliament manoeuvring room to determine on its own what powers it may want to grant U.S. customs officers posted on Canadian soil. Needless to say, during the committee meetings the member for Beauharnois—Salaberry still found reason to criticize this government initiative.

Parliament is already regularly consulted on important matters that may be the subject of international treaties. Here again the hon. member is not inventing anything new. The advantage of the Canadian practice of concluding treaties is that it is flexible. It provides a balance between parliament and the executive branch in concluding and implementing international treaties and gives elected representatives an important role in debating and studying international agreements. Let us not forget that the government is responsible to this House for the conduct of Canada's foreign affairs, including the conclusion of treaties.

In summary, our system of concluding treaties, including the practice by which it is governed, works very well indeed. Through its flexibility it provides for the effective participation of elected representatives, in consultation with the provinces in areas of provincial jurisdiction, while guaranteeing that the interests of Canadians are fully defended and promoted on the international stage.

Topic:   Private Members' Business
Subtopic:   Treaties Act
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