House of Commons Hansard #158 of the 35th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was wheat.

Topics

Farm Debt Mediation Act
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

On division.

(Motion agreed to and bill read the second time.)

Farm Debt Mediation Act
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Milliken)

When shall the bill be read a third time? By leave, now?

Farm Debt Mediation Act
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Farm Debt Mediation Act
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Essex—Kent
Ontario

Liberal

Jerry Pickard Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to introduce Bill C-38, the farm debt mediation act for third reading.

The bill will create a new strengthened farm debt mediation service to replace farm debt review boards. It will maintain the essential features of the old legislation including the stay of proceedings and a review of the mediation process. It will be coupled with and simultaneously implemented with a new farm debt consultation service.

The legislation reflects the views of farmers, their creditors and provincial governments across the country. We had many consultations with all groups. The bill was forged through some 18 months of consultations with farm organizations, leading institutions, farm debt review boards, panel members, financial experts, provincial government officials and the Canadian Federation of Agriculture. They all took part in our consultation process.

It is a prime example of the government making good on promises to give members of Parliament and parliamentary committees more influence in drafting legislation.

Standing committee deliberations included MPs from all sides and a host of informed and experienced witnesses from both inside and outside government. The result is that we have before us today legislation to replace the existing Farm Debt Review Act with a new, simplified mediation service for insolvent farmers that still brings the same benefits as before and adds several others. The new

act, along with the consultation service, means reduced overlap and duplication, streamlined administration of financial mediation and consultation services, and a broader range of advisory and counselling options.

The bill recognizes that farmers and creditors are generally comfortable with the current process that allows mediation with a view to resolving the debt situations of farmers. It also reflects a demand for flexibility, an effective and streamlined process that is immune to the realities of farmers today. It will help creditors. It will help provincial governments deal with the realities of financial problems in the overall picture of operating farm debt problems. We are looking for resolutions that will be helpful to farmers and creditors.

As recommended by producer organizations, we will have an act that provides a new appeal mechanism not provided by an old law. It will give farmers and creditors an impartial review of decisions related to stay of proceedings. We will have an act that will allow farmers to engage their financial advisers for the preparation and recovery plan.

The new farm debt mediation act and complementary farm consultation service will be funded through the Canadian adaptation and rural development program or CARD. Funds for those purposes will help agriculture and agri-food sectors be more efficient, self-reliant and competitive.

There is one point I would like to underline. The new farm consultation service provides farmers in financial difficulty with the same and probably a broader financial review and consulting service than was ever provided in the preceding acts.

This new service will be more proactive. It will help farmers to find sources of advice and one on one counselling very early on in the stage before serious difficulties develop. It will provide non-farm assessment and diagnostic review for farmers already in financial difficulty, including three year operational plans which will be a key to financial recovery for many. In essence it will provide more extensive services than those farmers get under section 16 of the act.

I would now like to focus on the administration of the mediation process. Ten years ago the Farm Debt Review Act responded to severe debt problems of farmers by establishing farm debt review boards in every province. They were to assist farmers and creditors in finding mutually satisfactory financial arrangements.

There are currently some 32 review board members appointed at the discretion of the minister and by order in council. These OIC appointees participate in panel meetings between farmers and creditors and facilitate discussions leading to an arrangement to be finalized. Under the new debt farm mediation act there will be no OIC appointments. Mediators who have specific mediation expertise and experience in agriculture and finance may apply and compete to be on a list of standing offers to provide the mediation service under the act.

The existing act also requires that at every meeting with the farmers and creditors there be a three person panel, a mediator and two panel members, regardless of whether they are needed. This often results in unwanted expenses, including per diems, travel and room and board. The new act does away with this requirement, allowing experts to be brought into the case only when circumstances warrant.

I am pleased that we have reached this stage of consideration of Bill C-38 with the quality input from so many organizations and individuals. I am pleased that together we have fashioned an act which preserves what was valued most in the past and builds on a relevant new approach to the future.

I know that many will welcome the more efficient, more friendly service we are providing today. It will assist farmers in improving their financial circumstance and it will promote growth and prosperity in Canada's agriculture and agri-food sector.

I therefore submit to every member of the House that the bill is great for Canadian farmers. I hope all members will support the bill.

Farm Debt Mediation Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-Guy Chrétien Frontenac, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to address Bill C-38 immediately after the parliamentary secretary.

As mentioned earlier, this is an act to provide for the mediation between insolvent farmers and their creditors, to amend the Agriculture and Agri-Food Administrative Monetary Penalties Act and to repeal the Farm Debt Review Act.

Before drafting Bill C-38, the Minister of Agriculture should have given some thought as to why many farmers experience serious financial difficulties. Some of them may have a hard time when they go through a divorce or a separation. This can cause financial difficulties, and so could, for example, an illness. Nowadays, the agricultural world has very little to do with the popular television series currently being rerun on Radio-Canada, Le Temps d'une paix .

Today, farmers must be good administrators, since they manage small businesses. The invested capital often approaches or exceeds $1 million. But could it be that these financial problems are also directly related to the federal government, to its lack of vision concerning agriculture in Canada and in Quebec?

After watching for almost four years this government mishandle agricultural issues, it is no surprise to see that, every year, hundreds of farmers run into serious problems and must declare bankruptcy.

Just before I rose, I was reading the classified adds in the most widely read newspaper in French Canada, in Quebec, La Terre de chez nous . When you see so many auctions and liquidations being held in April, it means there is a problem. That problem is not just the result of bad management, family problems, or illness: it is also the result of the terrible conditions being imposed on farmers by the government, month after month.

Let me give you an example of the problems experienced by our producers, with the exception of course of those who are in a supply-managed sector such as dairy, poultry and egg producers, who are lucky enough to be protected, at last. Still, later on I will discuss price fluctuations in the dairy industry.

Take, for example, feeder calves. Three years ago, we could expect to get $1.15 or $1.20 per pound, in the fall, for our veal calves. One year ago, or seven months to be exact, last fall, it was possible to buy very fine calves at 50 per cent of what they were worth two years ago. A farmer hoping to get $700 for his calf got $350 or $360. We are no longer talking about a drop of 2 or 3 per cent, but of 50 per cent.

You will reply that cow and calf stabilization insurance is needed. You are right, but you know how insurance works: the more you use it, the more premiums go up. Since the government is also getting ready to cut its share of funding for the farm income stabilization program, we can expect a large increase in premiums there too, as well as a decrease in services.

Take maple syrup. This year, the run seems much inferior in quality and quantity to what it was last year. Prices will therefore rise slightly, but the maple syrup producer will not receive a fair wage. Pork production is fine, but reform is another matter entirely. In the case of softwood lumber, with the agreement the federal government negotiated with our neighbours to the south, when the export quota is reached, it will be the same story there as well.

The Canadian Wheat Board, which one of my Reform colleagues brought up earlier in connection with Bill C-72, and which has a monopoly, of course, is trying to get the best prices, except that western grain producers are not free to sell directly to their neighbours across the border at prices very often higher than what they could get from the Board.

With the exception of producers who operate under a supply management system, dairy, poultry and egg producers face uncertainty as a result of fluctuating prices.

Which reminds me, I wonder whether this government will have the guts to defend supply management at the WTO, since the American foreign trade representative has sworn she would not accept the tariffs imposed in the course of negotiations approved in December 1993 by GATT, now the WTO. She said she would fight to the death, if necessary, to win her case. The United States seems determined to go before a WTO panel.

I asked the Minister of Agriculture whether he would defend our tariffs with equal vigour. We shall see if the government is able to defend our interests. Of course we have only a few sitting days left. We will have to run again in our respective ridings. So we do not know who will be in a position to defend us. Will we have a minority or a majority government? As for who will form the next government, your guess is as good as mine.

This also brings us to examine the role that could be played by the Farm Credit Corporation. I hope that when the FCC evaluates the solvency of a farmer and approves a loan of $300,000 or $400,000, it does a very thorough evaluation. If approving the loan is too risky, the right thing to do would be for FCC representatives to consolidate the loan or simply refuse it.

So in several respects, farmers are like skilled workers or the owner of a factory, except they should not expect to work only40 hours, five days a week. A dairy farmer has to milk cows twice a day, seven times a week. If he leaves Friday evening, there will be no scabs on his farm. He will have to find a replacement or make arrangements with his neighbour, and next time he will have to return the favour, because, as I pointed out earlier, there are no scabs.

So a farmer has to work seven days a week and often 60 or70 hours a week. Unfortunately, in many cases his income is less than that of a skilled worker who only has to work 40 hours a week for five days, and in many cases, a little less than 40 hours in four days. The farmer therefore has to devote a great deal of time to the operation, often along with his wife and children, in order to make ends meet.

Recently, this government made its cuts and the agricultural sector got it in the neck. Taking the example of a dairy farmer producing industrial milk, the government has found the trick of reducing his income by an average 5.5 per cent, for the past two years and the coming three. Then the government wonders why dairy farmers have to give up their farms, or even declare bankruptcy.

Their income is cut and then they are told what poor managers they are. You know as well as I that, for a dairy farmer, it is not the first cow in the barn that brings him profit, but the last ones. His electricity costs the same, regardless of the number of cows, and more cows of course require more feed and more hay, but the last ones you milk will be nothing but profit.

The Bloc Quebecois, like the Reform Party, was vigorously opposed, while this government, including some of its members who are involved in the dairy industry, such as the hon. member for

Malpèque on Prince Edward Island, voted in favour of cutting the milk subsidy. This is an out and out scandal.

In a few weeks, however, the member in question will be doing the rounds of his beautiful riding of Malpèque, and he will forget all about this. He will, as André Pratte so aptly described it, be playing Pinocchio, hiding or falsifying the fact that he voted against the dairy farmers in his riding and in favour of cutting back to zero the milk subsidy, which was $5.43, or 5.5 cents a litre. For an average farm, such as my colleague from Malpèque himself has, 5.5 cents a litre represents a loss of $7,500.

It is not surprising that the dairy farmers, while not necessarily going bankrupt, will be announcing farm auctions on such and such a day at such and such a time, in order to get rid of all their stock and equipment. They are opting for retirement before they are forced into it. The worst thing is that 48 per cent of dairy farmers are located in Quebec. So this government is following its usual practice of going after Quebec first and foremost, which is forcing our dairy farmers to take a $108 million loss as a result of the elimination of this subsidy. And so, once again, Quebec pays the highest price.

The worst of it is that, if milk producers want to get as much money for their milk, the price of industrial milk will have to be raised, and that decision rests with the Canadian Dairy Commission. You do not have to be a lawyer to see that raising the price of industrial milk will raise the price of butter, cheese and all other dairy products.

According to a study ordered by the dairy producers of Canada, a 10 per cent increase in the price of butter results in a 7 per cent decrease in its consumption. When I said, Mr. Speaker, that the last cow is the most profitable, you seemed to agree with me. So, if consumption now drops by 7 or 14 per cent, you cannot even keep one or two extra, but may have to lose a couple. This sort of situation will bring hard financial times to the farming community.

According to the same study, raising the price of cheese by10 per cent lowers consumption by 4 per cent and further reduces the size of your herd. The worst is that, when you look at Agriculture Canada's overall budget, Quebec gets only 9 per cent of what it invested last year in Canada. In a good year, the figure goes up to 16 per cent.

Quebec alone generates some 17 per cent of direct agricultural activity. Add to that the processing of such things as cheese, butter and ham, and our share climbs to 24 per cent. We pay 24 per cent of federal taxes, or $30 billion. But we are getting barely 9 or 10 per cent back year after year. That is appalling.

I will be waiting for you, my Liberal friends, when you visit the riding of Frontenac in the next election campaign and tell the people of my riding, as the President of the Treasury Board did in the referendum, that, while Quebec pays $30 billion, it receives $31 billion or $32 billion. Why is it so important to you that we remain a part of your Canadian federation if we are costing you so much?

Mr. Speaker, we must look at who, in this country, got the first break. We will recall that, in 1841, when Upper and Lower Canada were joined-Upper Canada corresponding to what is now known as Ontario, and Lower Canada to Quebec-so were their respective debts. Upper Canada's debt was 1.195 million pounds, as compared to a mere 200,000 pounds for Lower Canada. How were the debts handled? They were simply added up. Living together meant paying off our debts together. So the French Canadians had to pay up. At the time, they were referred to as the Canadians, while the others were called the English. That is how it was at the beginning of the colony.

When this government abolished the WGTA, the Western Grain Transportation Act, two years ago, the yearly cost was-I would be much obliged to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture to look me straight in the eye. The yearly cost to the government was $860 million. What did you do to sugarcoat it in western Canada, to make this cut more palatable to western producers? You gave them $1.6 billion. Worse yet, you gave this money under the table. Farmers were not required to claim it on their income tax returns. This is appalling.

You have established a $300 million fund to finance adjustment measures, road upgrading, silo construction and the upgrading and construction of new railway lines. One million dollars was used to establish a loan guarantee fund to help certain foreign countries buy Canadian grain. All this adds up to $2.9 billion. Where is the equity in all this? For western grain producers, the government is prepared to pay $2.9 billion to save $860 million. But when the dairy producers subsidy was cut by $228 million, how much was paid in compensation? Not a penny.

Mister Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture, 48 per cent of all Canadian milk is produced in Quebec. That is what your notion of equity is all about. You and I can debate this in my riding of Frontenac.

Farm Debt Mediation Act
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

The Speaker

I remind the hon. member that he must always address the Chair and everything will be fine.

Farm Debt Mediation Act
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-Guy Chrétien Frontenac, QC

Mr. Speaker, you are absolutely right. I got carried away in the heat of the moment. Through the Chair, I am sending an invitation to the parliamentary secretary to come to the riding of Frontenac and debate the issue of his government's fairness-it will also be an opportunity for him to meet francophones.

In conclusion, since it is 1.55 p.m. and question period is fast approaching, the Bloc Quebecois will support Bill C-38. Of course, I hope our farm producers never have to use Bill C-38. It would be better if they had a decent income, even though I am well

aware that a bad manager can have problems making the best use of a loan and paying it off.

Mr. Speaker, what I would like you to convey to the parliamentary secretary has to do with the appointment of mediators. For example, look at what is going on in my riding. Who was appointed to the employment insurance board of referees? Nathalie. Who will be the Liberal Party candidate? Manon. You see, everything makes sense. In small communities, people all know each other. These are partisan appointments. This week, I got quite a shock when I asked a witness about the salaries of the five Canadian Wheat Board commissioners. My colleagues and friends from the Reform Party were just as surprised as I was to learn that the commissioners' salaries range from $114,000 to $144,000 annually.

Occasionally a member of Parliament is appointed to one of these boards after giving up his or her seat, to make room for someone who will eventually become minister. The federal government did that in two Quebec byelections, by bringing in newcomers who respectively became Minister of Human Resources Development and Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs. It seems the government is about to do the same in the riding of Beauce, to make room for its candidate.

In the end, who pays for this? The answer is always the same: the taxpayers. Mr. Speaker, I am co-operating with you by concluding my speech and confirming that, in the interest of our farmers, we will support Bill C-38.

Farm Debt Mediation Act
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

The Speaker

It being now almost 2 p.m., we will resume debate after oral question period. We will now proceed to statements by members.

Justice
Statements By Members

April 17th, 1997 / 1:50 p.m.

Liberal

John Finlay Oxford, ON

Mr. Speaker, last month I introduced into the House Bill C-391, which would seek to amend the Criminal Code to increase the maximum sentence for child sex offenders to a life sentence with no possibility of parole for 25 years.

While it seems doubtful that this bill will pass before this Parliament completes its work, I want to assure my constituents that I remain committed to this issue. We must send a strong message to those who prey on our children that their actions will result in a life behind bars. A maximum penalty at present of ten years is simply not enough for someone who steals and manipulates the innocence of youth.

To my colleagues in the House and to the people of Oxford I will continue to pursue this issue in the future.

Schoolreach
Statements By Members

1:50 p.m.

Reform

Dale Johnston Wetaskiwin, AB

Mr. Speaker, last weekend my hometown of Ponoka played host to the Alberta SchoolReach provincial championships. I want to congratulate the winners representing Leduc Composite High School: Joanne Brownlee, Neil Jackie, Danny Jackson, Colin McIntrye, Taeed Quaddusi and Evan Saumer, along with their coaches Sandy Ogrodnick and Mrs. Senio.

Competition was fierce as teams vied for provincial honours. As one of the judges, I was impressed with the depth of knowledge, the spirit of competitiveness and the ability of the participants to articulate their responses. These students are a reflection of parents who care enough to instil in their children a quest for knowledge and fair play.

The commitment and confidence shown by these young people prove that our future is in good hands.

Good luck to the Leduc Composite Reach team in the national finals. I know they will prove to be a formidable force in Vancouver but, win or lose, they have made their parents, schoolmates and communities proud.

Volunteers
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Liberal

Rose-Marie Ur Lambton—Middlesex, ON

Mr. Speaker, April 13 to 19 is national volunteer week, when communities across the country will pay tribute to their volunteers and reflect on the countless ways in which they help individuals, organizations and causes.

Volunteering is a prime example of active citizenship. It helps build a sense of community, of belonging, of being a part of this great country. As outstanding citizens whose efforts improve the quality of life for all of us, volunteers are a crucial component of every community.

The Department of Canadian Heritage works with a wide network of volunteer centres and other voluntary organizations to promote national volunteer week, an integral part of the department's mandate, to help ensure the growth, diversity and vitality of the Canadian volunteer sector.

I congratulate all the volunteers in Lambton-Middlesex, soon to be Lambton-Kent-Middlesex, and throughout Canada for all the good work they do in our communities.

Youth Volunteers
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Liberal

Dianne Brushett Cumberland—Colchester, NS

Mr. Speaker, our youth volunteers will shape the next millennium.

Today I rise to salute a young man from Tatamagouche, Angus Bonnyman, who is being honoured this week as the youth volunteer of the year for the province of Nova Scotia. Angus has volunteered at the seniors nursing home, the school cafeteria, student organizations and has organized environmental clean-ups. He was the Truro Rotary Club delegate last year to Ottawa for Adventures in Canadian Citizenship.

This is the second year that a student from North Colchester High School has won this prestigious award and I would like to congratulate the principal and staff for their leadership and community spirit which they continue to demonstrate to their students.

Congratulations to Angus and to all volunteers who so generously serve their communities across Canada.

Health Care
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Liberal

Georgette Sheridan Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

Mr. Speaker, April 17 is international hemophilia day.

In this year's budget the finance minister affirmed: "Our commitment to the principles contained in the Canada Health Act is unequivocal. These principles will be maintained". This echoed the Prime Minister's promise in the throne speech to ensure the future of our publicly financed health care system.

Since then the opposition parties have been tripping over each other to pay lip service to health care. It is one thing to make grand statements about the importance of medicare but what really matters is making sure we have the plan to pay for it.

Through good money management our government has provided the means to preserve and strengthen our social programs. By meeting and beating our deficit targets every year since taking office we have been able to put words into practice, committing some $300 million over the next three years to promote health care in Canada.

Health Canada supports the outstanding work of the Canadian Hemophilia Society in improving treatment for bleeding disorders and ensuring a safe blood supply for all Canadians. Happy international hemophilia day.

The Reform Party
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Reform

Margaret Bridgman Surrey North, BC

Mr. Speaker, the 1950s and 1960s were good years for Canadians. We had the opportunity for employment of choice, more earnings were in our pockets and we respected our justice system, and so on.

Since the early 1970s the traditional parties have applied their Liberal and Conservative political philosophies in such a manner causing Canadians to lose ground in their day to day lifestyles. For example, these parties have passed legislation that has eroded the opportunity for employment of choice to almost none, reduced the amount of money that we retain in our pockets and so on.

The United Nations may have said that Canada is the best country to live in but the majority of Canadians are saying even best can be better. We have been there and we can get there again. We have the resources and after 20 years of traditional party mismanagement we have the motivation.

It is time to change our direction and make a fresh start. The Reform Party has the plan.

Aboriginal Policing
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Liberal

Elijah Harper Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to advise that the Liberal government recently signed the 100th tripartite policing agreement under the First Nations policing policy with the Shoal Lake First Nation in Saskatchewan. The First Nations policing policy provides First Nations policing services that are professional, effective and accountable to the community.

This policy represents the federal government's commitment to working with First Nations. But in Manitoba only one of these agreements has been signed and that was with the Dakota Ojibway Tribal Council. Many First Nations in my riding are ready to talk seriously with the Manitoba government about tripartite policing agreements but they are getting nowhere.

It is time for the Manitoba government to get on with the program.