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Bill 62–The Animal Diseases Amendment Act

 On Tuesday March 23rd, I spoke, at second reading, on Bill 62, The Animal Diseases Amendment Act.  My comments on the importance of biosecurity and on the importance of the human treatment of animals are below (from Hansard). 

Hon. Jon Gerrard (River Heights): Mr. Deputy Speaker, I want to say a few words about this bill, Bill 62, The Animal Diseases Amendment Act.

      We've seen over the last 50 years increasing concerns for a whole variety of reasons about bio­security at hog operations and at some grain operations. And, you know, increasingly it is has become apparent that such biosecurity is vital to the agricultural industry, and it is very important.

      The recent coronavirus pandemic, COVID‑19 infections, has highlighted once again the potential for transfer of diseases like this from animals. This occurred in the Wuhan market area, and although we don't have definitive information, the suspicion is that this originated in a transfer from animals, in this case perhaps bats.

      And although no one is farming bats in Manitoba, certainly there are a lot of concerns about the transfer of viral infections, influenza variants and so on, from hogs, as an example. And so we need the biosecurity, not just for the animals–to protect the animals, but we need the biosecurity to protect people.

      We've had, as is known, globally, epidemics and instances of porcine epidemic diarrhea, and this is critical for a whole lot of reasons. Infections getting into animals can result in loss of a lot of animals. They can result in multiple problems for those raising animals. And so the biosecurity in this and in other instances is vital in today's world. There's just no arguing about that.

      Now, I asked the minister about the size of the biosecurity zone, and I did this very deliberately because I think it's very important to have a minister who can communicate not just to farmers but to the general public. People in the general public need a picture of what a biosecurity zone is, how big is it, how far out it extends from, for instance, a hog barn, whether it's a few metres, whether it's a kilometre and so on.

      I think it's really important, and we emphasized this just the other day, when we were talking about agricultural awareness day and the really, really critical importance of giving Manitobans–the general public in Manitoba–a much better understanding of, and concern for agriculture, concern for our producers.

      And yet, the minister was not able to com­municate except by saying, oh, it's in some regulation somewhere, I have no idea what the size is myself. That was too bad because it missed an opportunity to communicate and provide people a better understanding of, you know, what a biosecurity area actually looked like.

      Now, as well as the concern over the security, which has grown steadily over the last 50 years, there is also an increasing concern about the ethical treatment of farm animals, and this ethical treatment of farm animals has become very important to the general public. It has also become very important to the markets that we would have for livestock, that animals which are not well treated will create problems for our industry and for our farmers.

      And thus, when we're looking at ensuring that there is good animal husbandry, it is not just a matter  of referring to some national standards. It is a matter of being able to demonstrate to the average person that animals are being looked after well, and so  that Manitobans–and the member for St. Johns (Ms.  Fontaine) has mentioned, a whole number of groups who are concerned about the ethical treatment of animals–are able to better understand what is happening with animals, how they're being cared for.

      There needs to be a level of transparency. Now, precisely how we achieve that transparency is not entirely clear. This is not a bill which will enhance transparency. It appears to be a bill which, if anything, goes the other direction.

      And it's too bad the minister didn't take this opportunity to provide a better balance, because that enhanced openness and transparency is really critical to having a greater acceptance of how animals are looked after in Manitoba, to having better opportunities in terms of markets for the long run and, of course, that the animals themselves are well and carefully and ethically cared for.

      This is an aspect which should not be put aside. It should not be forgotten. It should not be passed over. It is a really important part of how most farmers raise their animals, but it is something where we will have to, over time, figure out how we are more open and transparent about the care of animals and being able to demonstrate that on an ongoing basis.

      This challenge, which is there for all of us, to figure out ways to be able to be sure that we're going to be able to, as it were, look in on animals in some fashion or another so that the general public will see that the standard of care in our animal facilities is high.

      Now, there's not a lot of trust right now with the Minister of Agriculture, certainly not after he closed many, many agricultural offices. And it's no excuse that this process started under the NDP. The minister is responsible for his own actions.

      I have talked to farmers who feel that this is going to be a retrograde step, because agricultural offices, where there were people who would get out on the farms, were very important in terms of sharing good practices and keeping an eye on what was happening in the farms and this should not be forgotten; it should not just be a relic of the past. It needs to be something that is particularly important for helping young farmers get started and to grow their business and to do well in their business because they are the ones who need, in particular, the mentoring.

      And it is particularly now, when we've got increasing use of technology in a whole variety of different ways, that it would be helpful to ensure that farmers are there to be helped by agricultural officers and agricultural offices. Not that the offices need to be occupied all the time, just because of the way we now work with cellphones and other things, but we certainly mustn't forget this because agriculture's tremendously important to our province in a whole lot of ways. Agriculture is very important in producing the food that we eat. It's very important in terms of exports and wealth generation in our province. So we must never forget this.

      It is not just the closure of agricultural offices, it is the way the minister has approached the treatment of people who have been leasing Crown lands for ranches. The minister has, instead of recognizing that many of these people have been on the land and taking care of the land for years and years, that many of these people have not only taken care of the land, but they have been building up what they believe was equity which would be their pension when they were able to have a unit transfer to somebody else, that they could get an income from that and that that would be like selling a farm. It would be an income.

      But, of course, the minister, with one stroke of his pen, has in fact eliminated their pensions. I wonder what the minister would think if he walked in one day and found that his own pension had been completely eliminated and had gone from whatever it is now to zero. That would not be fair to him and, just so, it is not fair for the minister to get rid of pensions that people who have been leasing Crown lands have been planning to have, based on their stewardship of that land. And that is unfair treatment and it's unfair the way this has been done, in many different perspectives, including the dramatic tripling of–300 per cent increase in–the lease rates.

      The minister - he talks about what he does for farmers and the other hand has been working hard to cause trouble for farmers.

      The minister's also been slow to sign on to the AgriStability program to give greater stability for people in the agricultural community. It is there being offered from the Government of Canada, and yet the minister has not seen fit to give the security to farmers in this respect.

      Now, in summary then, this bill, I believe, needs a better balance of biosecurity and openness and transparency which looks at and enables people to see better how our animals are being raised, because only when we have that will we have a province which is fully supportive of the farmers in our province and of the way that our livestock is being looked after.

      I look forward to the comments which come forward at the committee stage, because I hope they will provide a solution and opportunities to look at ways in which these areas can be handled and can be improved, so that we do better for animals and we do better for people in our province.

      Thank you, Madam Speaker.

      Merci, miigwech.

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