House of Commons Hansard #148 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was farmers.

Topics

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Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Liberal

Jerry Pickard Kent—Essex, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am glad that everyone in this country does not have the morbid point of view that my colleague just raised.

I believe there is a great deal of pressure on many farmers in this country but the reality is that in many respects the government is trying to put in place quality programs. It is not doing it on a unilateral base. It is doing it in conjunction with the farm community. It is discussing these issues with farm leaders on a regular daily basis. It is discussing the issues with provincial leaders on a regular daily basis.

We are not going down a stream of the federal government not understanding the realities in every region of the country. As I tried to point out, we are trying to put in place programs and resources that will help our farm communities.

I suggest the member is correct. Canada does have an extremely low price when it comes to agricultural and food commodities. As many others, I am very interested in making sure Canadian farmers get a fair return for their dollar. I am not opposed to making certain that a fair return does come back to the farm and there is no question when we raise that.

However, I would not like to leave on record that we are looking at a monstrous unfair system either. We as a government are trying to do our best to support farm communities and make certain they have the tools to work with.

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1:30 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Mark Muise West Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, the farmers of West Nova over the past two years have suffered very difficult times living through two very dry summers. Last winter when the ice storm hit Ontario and Quebec we quickly saw that if, for example, there was no farming taking place in the Atlantic provinces, particularly in my riding of West Nova, we would have effectively been cut off from milk, produce and things of that nature.

Farming is very important in my riding and that is why I am standing up today to say that. It is so critical for farmers to receive just compensation for the hard work they do. In the past years that has not taken place.

My comments are for the minister of agriculture. I would just ask him to work together with his provincial counterparts because it is very important for the farming community to be taken care of.

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1:30 p.m.

Liberal

Jerry Pickard Kent—Essex, ON

Mr. Speaker, that is absolutely true. The comment made by my hon. colleague is so clear. Farmers are exposed to the elements. They are exposed to any kind of disaster that happens in nature. They do not have a guarantee at the end of the year that they will be able to harvest the crop they plant. It is a business that has a lot of risks to it which are extremely difficult to deal with at the best of times. There is no question about that.

I believe that it is a desired direction we need to go in. We need to make sure we have programs in place which help take those high risks out of it and give farmers an income they can count on for support. We have to do this in conjunction with the producer groups, the provincial governments and with anyone who will sit down and work out good policy.

My colleague does raise an important point and one that all of us have to be aware of. Farming is probably in the only business in the western world that is so uncertain because of the uncertain weather conditions. It is something we all have to consider every day.

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1:30 p.m.

Haldimand—Norfolk—Brant
Ontario

Liberal

Bob Speller Parliamentary Secretary to Minister for International Trade

Mr. Speaker, I can stand in my place today on behalf of the constituents in Haldimand—Norfolk—Brant, particularly the farming community, and say that our hearts go out to the many farmers and their families suffering through this crisis which is one that is not of their own making. The opposition would have us believe through its motion that this crisis, which it is, was made primarily because of unfair subsidies and unfair trading practices of other countries. I think that does a disservice to the Canadian people. They would agree that unfair subsidies and unfair practices are a problem. They would agree that Canadian trade representatives around the world are fighting on behalf of not only Canadian farmers but Canadian businesses in this area and are doing an admirable job. Under the WTO last time we came out with a good deal for Canada, a deal which was supported by all the commodities across this country, farm commodities, and I think the opposition would agree with that.

Because of the situation in the world, the financial crisis in Russia, the Asian financial crisis, the problems in Latin America and the fact that a lot of countries around the world told their producers to get into pork, for instance, we have had a situation where there are a lot of these commodities on the market. This is the problem we need to address.

We can deal with the trade situation. We have people in place and we are working at that. How do we deal with some of the fundamental problems? I want to say to the Canadian people that this is a crisis, particularly for those in urban areas. Some people may be watching today and saying what are these farmers complaining about, they have a good life. We do in the rural areas but there are times, because of the nature of the world and because of trade, when beyond our control situations hit us. This is one of those times.

I have been here for 10 years. When the Progressive Conservative government was in and then when we came in in 1993 and took government we debated on how we deal with the WTO and the trading rules. We signed an agreement in 1993. Part of that was to deal with the situation of farm income. So we brought in NISA. I agree with those who say that NISA was never made for this situation. There was always an intention under the third line of defence to have something there for an emergency situation. Governments at both levels and the farm leadership failed in getting that through. I think we failed in the House in making sure that aspect did not go through.

I think we can rectify that if all the parties can come together and agree that we need to deal with an emergency situation. Whether it be tax cuts, like the opposition says which has some merit, and certainly we on this side have moved over the last number of budgets to cut taxes directly, or whether it be some sort of relief that would come in to these farmers or some sort of payment is debatable. We need to agree first that something definitely is needed and that we need to take action. In listening to the debate, I think we could probably get all members in the House to agree to that. It is a question of what and how we go about doing it.

I suggest that the farm leadership in the provinces and the minister when he meets with it in a couple of days come up with an emergency package to deal with the situation. I call on all members to support it.

This is not simply a problem of western Canada. Granted, places in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Prince Edward Island will feel the heat.

I have today in the gallery a constituent, Karen Scott from Ontario, a pork producer and representative of the Brant Federation of Agriculture, who can tell members directly the impact this crisis has had on the pork industry.

I can find people all across Ontario, through Quebec, through the maritimes. This is a national problem and it takes national leadership and all the premiers.

In 1988 when we had this other crisis we had the premiers coming to Ottawa. I have not seen them yet. They came to Ottawa to lobby. I encourage them to get away from their houses within the next week and come to Ottawa to talk to the Prime Minister and cabinet ministers and let them know exactly how this crisis is impacting them.

I think there is a solution. I call on all members to join with me in working to find that solution. I can say directly that Canadian farmers are good farmers. We are fair traders. We need the help of all Canadians in this situation.

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1:40 p.m.

Reform

Dave Chatters Athabasca, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to hear the member opposite admit that his government has failed miserably on this issue. That was the best speech I have heard all day. It certainly had a ring of sincerity to it.

If and when the premiers come to Ottawa to discuss the issue and to meet with the Prime Minister and the agriculture minister, are the Prime Minister and the agriculture minister prepared to recognize that there is a crisis and in an open and honest way say that they want to solve the crisis now before spring seeding?

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1:40 p.m.

Liberal

Bob Speller Haldimand—Norfolk—Brant, ON

Mr. Speaker, I had hoped when I spoke that my speech would not become some sort of partisan attack on me or on our government. I could definitely get partisan in the House but I know a solution to this will not be found in trading barbs across the House.

A solution to this will be found in all people across the country coming together and saying we need to have a united front, all different commodities no matter if it is pork, dairy, supply managed or grains and oilseeds.

I hope that united front comes soon. I call on members across the way not to be partisan and to work with the government in finding a solution.

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1:40 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I have a tremendous amount of respect for the parliamentary secretary.

He indicated that everyone is coming to Ottawa. He hoped that the provincial premiers would get out of their houses and come to Ottawa.

I do not see very much farming going on inside the House of Commons today. If the Liberal government wishes to know exactly what is going on in farming communities across the country, not just in the prairies, the meeting should be held in Strasbourg, Saskatchewan or in Upper Musquodoboit, Nova Scotia.

The ignorance of the problem by the government and the arrogance of the minister of agriculture toward the farmers is absolutely appalling.

In the last parliament the government brought in Bill C-101, the deregulation of transport. It also privatized CN and eliminated the Crow rate. These were all supported by the Reform Party.

The government must have known that when we download these responsibilities to the farmers, their income is going to drop rapidly and that is one of the major reasons why we have such a crisis today.

I thank the hon. member for mentioning the word crisis because we have not heard that from the minister of agriculture yet.

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1:40 p.m.

Liberal

Bob Speller Haldimand—Norfolk—Brant, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member knows that the minister of agriculture called the meeting with his representatives and with 34 different commodity groups in Ottawa. The minister has recently had meetings in Winnipeg. He will have meetings across the country in terms of consulting with Canadian farmers and all Canadians on the future of the WTO negotiations.

This meeting was called in Ottawa. Different groups are coming here and they are coming, I know, with the knowledge that the minister of agriculture will listen to their concerns and that he will work with them to come up with a solution to this crisis.

The minister has always indicated, in fact he has indicated in the House many times, his willingness to look at the situation. He said that NISA is only a short term solution and that there needs to be more fundamental change so that farmers in this country can farm with the knowledge that these crises, these major shifts in commodity prices, will not hurt them in the future.

The minister of agriculture, as members know, has been a farmer for many years. He listens very closely to the views of farmers. I know he is greatly concerned about this crisis and will work with the farmers, the provincial ministers of agriculture, the premiers and whoever else wants to discuss and resolve this situation.

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Government Orders

1:45 p.m.

Reform

Leon Benoit Lakeland, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am really concerned that I must stand here today to make a speech that I, quite frankly, hoped I would never have to make. On the other hand, it is important to talk about the crisis that our farmers are facing.

There is a reason I had hoped I would never have to rise to make a speech like this. I am the member of parliament for Lakeland constituency, which is a very large rural constituency in Alberta. Agriculture is the most important industry in that constituency.

I have a farm myself. I worked to help support the farm for many years as a farm economist with the Alberta department of agriculture. In this job and in private consultations with farmers during the 1980s and early 1990s I saw things that I hope I will never see again.

I sat at the table with members of farm families whose farms were failing. This did not just happen once or twice or a dozen times. I literally met with farmers and helped them deal with situations dozens and dozens of times when I knew, often from the very start, that the end result would be that a farm family would be forced off their farm.

In many other cases I knew that the end result would be the downsizing of a farm in a way that the family never expected and never wanted.

The problem in the 1980s was caused by many of the same things that are causing the current crisis. For that reason I hoped it would never happen again. I really, really hoped that this government would recognize the problem and would deal with the situation so that we would not face this kind of crisis again.

Unfortunately, we are here today debating a motion, which I will read again:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should move immediately to defend the interests of Canadian farmers from the unfair subsidies and unfair trading practices by foreign countries, which have changed the problem of stagnant farm incomes to a full-blown farm income crisis, and in the event no immediate progress is made on this front, introduce emergency measures to provide tax relief, lower input costs, reduce user fees and address the inadequacies of the farm safety-net programs.

Here we are. We must talk about this. I think it is really important to go through what has happened in the last five years since this government has been in power, and indeed before that, to recognize clearly what has led to the situation that Canadian farmers are facing today.

I know the situation is a Canadian-wide situation, although I believe that the crisis is worse on the prairies.

It is important to look first at what has caused this situation. There are many causes for this situation. The first of course is the Asian economic problem. We recognize that as being part of the problem.

The second cause is normal market cycles, for example with hogs, which has been made even worse by the economic crisis which has spread beyond Asia.

Those things were not really preventable by Canadians and the Canadian government, but there are many things that were and those are the things we have to talk about.

We have to talk about the preventable factors that have led to this situation becoming as critical as it has. To do that we have to look at what has happened over the past five years.

When I think back to the first speech I made in the House of Commons, we were talking at that time about farm safety nets and about the farming situation. One of the things being discussed was the elimination of the Crow subsidy. The Crow subsidy was causing a lot of harm on the prairies, in particular in processing industries. Processing was not happening on the prairies, where it would have made sense. Jobs were being exported as raw commodities left the prairies.

Reform supported the elimination of the Crow benefit, but called for putting at least part of the capitalized value of the Crow benefit into a trade distortion adjustment program. We campaigned on that in 1993.

Look at what the Liberals allowed to happen. They did eliminate the Crow benefit, but instead of putting that money into something like a trade distortion adjustment program, which would have been there now to help farmers deal with this crisis, they made a $1.2 billion payout which really was done for political reasons and did farmers almost no good whatsoever.

As a result, we are in this situation with nothing to help farmers deal with the crisis.

A trade distortion adjustment program, which we campaigned on in 1993 and which was presented in this House by Reform MPs again and again after 1993, right up to the time the Crow benefit was eliminated, would have put some of the capitalized value of the Crow benefit into a fund which would have been there to deal with unfair trade practices in other countries. In other words, if commodity prices were hurt, as they are being hurt right now due to unfair trade practices on the part of Europe, the United States and Asian countries, there would have been money in this fund to help farmers deal with that situation.

We have unfair trade practices. For example, the European Economic Community has subsidies which are higher than the price we get for our alfalfa. European subsidies alone are destroying our alfalfa industry. It is very near collapse. We have nothing to help deal with this situation. That fund was not established, in spite of the pressure that was put on this government to do that. That is sad because now our farmers face a situation they should never have had to face.

If we go through the list of things that happened in the last parliament and did not happen, it is a long list and it is a sad indictment of this government. It is important to point these things out. If we do not, then this government will not do what has to be done now.

We can start with the elimination of the Crow and the fact that the money is no longer there to help anyone. Farmers face extremely high freight costs and, with low commodity prices, it is causing an unnecessary hardship on farmers. Had that fund been established, with this situation being forced on farmers, the money would have been there to help.

We can go through the list. There was the privatization of CN. We supported the privatization, but we did not support the legislation. There was nothing in it to ensure that competition would be allowed and that there would be fairness in dealing with situations involving a dispute between farmers and others and the railways.

Look at the Canadian Transportation Act. We called for the same kinds of things to be put in the act, but they were not.

In terms of cost recovery and user fees, one after another has been piled on farmers, often at costs that are much higher than need would be and no competition is allowed in terms of who can provide the services that these fees pay for. That is costing farmers a lot of money.

Tax increases on things like fuel, which affect all farm inputs, have put an undue and unnecessary burden on farmers. Tax increases across the board are one of the single biggest factors that have caused the problem we see today.

Prohibitive regulations have topped all of this off and made it extremely difficult for farmers to deal with the very difficult crisis they are facing today.

This list of indictments is something the government should take note of. I want to see the government stand in this House today to say exactly how it is going to make up for the wrongs that it has committed in the past and for the lack of action that has been shown on many issues.

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Government Orders

1:55 p.m.

The Speaker

We still have five minutes for questions and comments and we will take that time after the question period.

Today is a rather special day and, with your agreement, I want to proceed to Statement by Members.

The Canadian Justice System
Statements By Members

1:55 p.m.

Liberal

John Maloney Erie—Lincoln, ON

Mr. Speaker, federal, provincial and territorial ministers responsible for justice met for two days in Regina last week.

It comes as no surprise that public confidence in the justice system was the first item on the agenda. Even though crime rates across Canada may be dropping, fear of crime among Canadians has increased.

The message is clear. Canadians deserve a justice system that protects society, one that is administered efficiently and fairly.

Canadians deserve a system that is accountable, one that is more responsive to the needs of victims and communities.

Canadians deserve safer communities, ones that are free of crime and free of the fear of crime.

All ministers expressed their commitment to working together to establish a more effective and more equitable justice system in which Canadians can have confidence.

I think that effort deserves the support of this House.

Canadian Finals Rodeo Week
Statements By Members

November 3rd, 1998 / 1:55 p.m.

Reform

Deborah Grey Edmonton North, AB

Mr. Speaker, next week marks the Canadian Finals Rodeo Week in Edmonton, Alberta.

To many Albertans this is real life itself. It is more than just horsing around. It is more than just roping a calf. It is more than just steer wrestling or a bucking bronco. It is more than just a lot of bull. It is where the best of the breed, men and beast, meet to compete.

It is an exciting week in Edmonton. Our city welcomes thousands of visitors during that week. They come from near and far. They come in campers and pick-up trucks and they have a wonderful week down at the coliseum.

This is serious competition. It is not just horsing around. The winners move on to compete in the world finals. It is a pretty exciting challenge for them.

The stakes are high and the money is big, just like Alberta.

I want to welcome all these people to the Canadian Finals Rodeo. I want to welcome all the contestants to cowboy country.

Good luck and good riding.

Municipal Elections
Statements By Members

1:55 p.m.

Liberal

Clifford Lincoln Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to offer my warmest congratulations to mayors Peter Yeomans of Dorval Bill McMurchie of Pointe-Claire, Roy Kemp of Beaconsfield, Ann Myles of Baie-d'Urfé, and Bill Tierney of Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue on their re-election.

I also wish to take this opportunity to congratulate all the municipal councillors who were elected or re-elected in these cities in the riding of Lac-Saint-Louis.

We have established on the West Island of Montreal a remarkable tradition of co-operation and harmony among the three levels of government: municipal, provincial and federal.

I look forward to continuing this close co-operation with all the mayors and their councils, as well as my National Assembly colleagues to whom I offer my warmest wishes for re-election.

May the spirit of co-operation and harmony which animates our West Island region live on and on.

Natural Disasters
Statements By Members

1:55 p.m.

Liberal

Jerry Pickard Kent—Essex, ON

Mr. Speaker, it was with regret and dismay that all of us heard of the enormous disaster that occurred in Nicaragua and Honduras by hurricane Mitch.

At present it is estimated that up to 7,000 people may have lost their lives in flood and mud slides. The International Red Cross said yesterday that it was tripling its efforts to make sure assistance was going to those hurricane victims. In many places in Canada we can do a great deal to help in this cause.

Small villages sat where seas of mud now exist. I call upon the generosity of all Canadians to try to support organizations like the International Red Cross and church organizations which are sending relief to flood and disaster victims in Honduras and Nicaragua. Canadians should get together to help those people.

Transportation
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Liberal

Raymond Lavigne Verdun—Saint-Henri, QC

Mr. Speaker, this morning, I had the honour to present a petition on the use of the Champlain bridge landing to install an electric monorail with pneumatic suspension, which means no noise and no pollution.

I have received this petition with 6,200 names from the Comité des citoyens pour un monorail. Today, I want to recognize and congratulate these men and women for the countless hours they have put into furthering an issue they believe is not only important but also essential to the economic development of southwest Montreal and job creation in that area.

I am sure that the tenacity and patience of this committee, combined with the competence of its members, will move this project forward for the greater good of our community.