House of Commons Hansard #10 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was farmers.

Topics

Business Of The House

11 a.m.

Scarborough—Rouge River
Ontario

Liberal

Derek Lee Parliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I think you will find unanimous consent for the following motion dealing with speaking times during today's debate.

I move:

That, during today's sitting, the Member proposing a motion on an allotted day shall not speak for more than twenty minutes, following which, a period not exceeding ten minutes shall be made available, if required, to allow members to ask questions and comment briefly on the matters relevant to the speech and to allow responses thereto, and immediately thereafter a representative of each of the recognized parties, other than that of the member proposing the motion, may be recognized to speak for not more than ten minutes, following which, in each case, a period not exceeding five minutes shall be made available, if required, to allow members to ask questions and comment briefly on matters relevant to the speech and to allow responses thereto.

Business Of The House

11:05 a.m.

Reform

Randy White Langley—Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order.

I notice that the motion contained the words “during today's sitting”. In fact the motion was established some time ago. I understand there may be a party in the House that wants to enhance its opportunities for speaking.

I just want to make the point that for today's sitting, as far as we are concerned, this is the motion that exists. If any other party wants to have more speaking time then it should elect more seats in the House of Commons.

Business Of The House

11:05 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. As the House leader of the official opposition has indicated, the motion being put forward today is for today's purposes only. It is certainly something that will be discussed at a future House leaders' meeting.

It is put forward by the opposition House leader in the usual spirit of gentlemanly co-operation we have come to expect from the official opposition. We will be discussing it in the future and we will see about electing more members in the future as well.

Business Of The House

11:05 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

Does he have the unanimous consent of the House to present the motion?

Business Of The House

11:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Business Of The House

11:05 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Business Of The House

11:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Motion agreed to)

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Government Orders

October 25th, 1999 / 11:05 a.m.

Reform

Howard Hilstrom Selkirk—Interlake, MB

moved:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government has failed to defend the interests of Canadian farmers from the unfair subsidies and unfair trading practices by foreign countries and its Agriculture Income Disaster Assistance (AIDA) program is a catastrophe since Canadian farmers are continuing to face record low incomes, especially in the provinces of Manitoba and Saskatchewan where the combined realized net income is 98% below the five-year average and, accordingly, the government should immediately ensure that emergency compensation is delivered to farmers that have not been served by AIDA and launch an international campaign against foreign subsidies, provide tax relief, lower input costs, reduce user fees, and address the inadequacies of the farm safety net programs.

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11:05 a.m.

Reform

Jay Hill Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. At the outset of today's debate on the Reform motion dealing with the agricultural crisis in Canada I would like to notify the House that all members of the official opposition will be splitting their time today.

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11:05 a.m.

Reform

Howard Hilstrom Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, the motion is seconded by the Leader of the Opposition. This debate should not have even had to occur today because at the start of this session on October 12, after the prorogation of parliament, the Reform Party had asked for an emergency debate on the issue of farm income.

The farm income issue has reached a crisis proportion in the past year to year and a half and has been identified as such through committee hearings, by farmers themselves and by Statistics Canada.

The motion today sets out both short term and long term problems that have arisen. Certainly one of the long term problems that is identified in the motion deals with the practices of our competitors, namely the United States and the European Union. The program the government designed to address the farm income crisis was called the agriculture income disaster assistance program. I will be dealing with that a little later in my speech this morning. As an aside, I believe I indicated I will be splitting my time with the member for Calgary Southwest.

In dealing with this income crisis Reform knew as early as September 1998 that the farm situation in western Canada, in particular, and the cash crop people in Ontario were hitting a financial crunch which they were no longer able to handle totally on their own. As a result, the advisory committee on safety net programs was called to examine this issue. Reform put forward a motion to the Standing Committee on Agriculture to hold hearings with regard to the situation.

What came out of that was a solid recommendation to the agriculture minister as to the seriousness of this crisis and a suggested solution, which was a program of domestic support based on individual farm income situations. On receiving the recommendations from the safety net committee, which included all the different farm organizations across the country, the government took the program called AIDA and made it fit the amount of money on which the agriculture minister was able to get a commitment from cabinet.

The fact that the crisis was real, that the statistics were there from Statistics Canada, did not seem to matter. It was a situation where the government made the program fit the budget as opposed to taking care of the income crisis.

On top of that we had a situation where there was a natural disaster of flooding in southwest Manitoba and southeast Saskatchewan which certainly compounded the major problems in those provinces. We will see from the Stats Canada statistics that compounding will make for a negative realized net income in Saskatchewan and a drastically lowered realized net income in Manitoba.

Another statistic of great concern also comes from Statistics Canada. Total cash receipts for farms in Canada will be flat right through until the year 2003. When we look at whether or not the government has to do more for farmers in Canada to retain a viable agriculture sector, we see that the government has to do more in the area of domestic support than what it is doing at the present time.

The AIDA program was simply a two year program designed to provide funding for Canadian agriculture producers to cushion an extreme income reduction beyond their control. The government and the agriculture minister totally missed the point, missed the real crisis in farm income. The real crisis is that for many years now through the 1990s net farm incomes have been dropping due to the fact that commodity prices have been extremely low. This is mostly affecting commodities that are exported to other countries around the world.

We also see that input costs are rising dramatically. The cost of a pickup, for instance, which most farmers require, is between $30,000 and $41,000 for a decent half tonne. How can farmers continue to survive on commodity prices that are only designed to buy a $10,000 pickup? That is just one little example.

We can look at what the people who administer the AIDA program are saying in the media. The managing director said that despite all of the negative talk about the program not working cheques are flowing to producers. He said that he thinks the message is out there and that payments are going to the rural communities. Part of the problem is in getting our urban cousins, city dwellers, to understand and support agriculture. In essence, they are doing a spin doctor routine by telling Canadians that money is flowing, cash is flowing and that farmers are all right, when in reality there are tens of thousands of farmers who are not receiving any money. A relatively small amount of farmers are receiving money.

The results of this crisis are being reflected in the communities, in families and at the social level. In Manitoba even the United Church has seen fit to try to do something for farmers by way of financial assistance and by bringing this crisis to the forefront. That has not happened since the 1930s.

The Liberal government got us into this mess and it has failed in its efforts to fix it. That is why we had to force this debate today. The Reform Party has put forward many solutions for the government to consider because it has failed to bring forward a suitable long term program to fight this income crisis and it is now in the position of having to come up with some immediate domestic support to get cash into farmers' hands before the end of October.

The agriculture minister promised in December 1998 that he would have cash in the hands of farmers by spring. That did not happen and that is a condemnation of this government.

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11:15 a.m.

Calgary Southwest
Alberta

Reform

Preston Manning Leader of the Opposition

Mr. Speaker, I want to compliment the member for Selkirk—Interlake for his presentation on the ongoing crisis in our agricultural sector and I urge him to persevere.

This is the fourth time in five months that the official opposition has tried to raise both the consciousness of the House and, more importantly, the consciousness of the government with respect to the seriousness of the income crisis facing our farmers, a crisis further compounded by flooding earlier this spring in certain parts of Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

We are frankly at our wit's end as to what more can be done to get the Prime Minister to personally address this issue and to get the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food to acknowledge the inadequacy of his efforts thus far, but for the sake of our constituents and Canadian farmers everywhere we will try again today.

Once again we will lay before the House the mounting evidence that Canadian farmers continue to face record low incomes due to factors beyond their control. We have already done so once before in this session during our replies to the Speech from the Throne, a speech in which the government completely failed to even acknowledge the problem. If only one fact could be cited, which should be sufficient evidence in itself to prompt the government to greater action, it is the fact cited in the motion that combined realized net income for farmers in Manitoba and Saskatchewan is down 98% from the previous five year average.

In human terms this means a lot more than the loss of income. It means tears and heartache. It means the churning of stomachs, worry and despair for thousands of farm families. It means a loss of the ability of those families to provide for themselves and their children. It means the loss of hope, which is the worst loss on the farm, a loss of confidence in the future and a desperate feeling of people not knowing where to turn. For some it has already meant the loss of the farm itself.

Once again we appeal to the government. If the government will not be moved by the statistics and the hard facts concerning the disastrous drop in farm income, surely it must be moved, and moved to do something more, by the human tragedy that surrounds those facts.

The position of the government appears to be that it has done all that it can or can be expected to do. This position we categorically reject. We urge the House to reject it by supporting this motion. Instead of pursuing its current policy, we therefore urge the government to do the following six things.

First, we ask that it acknowledge that its ill-conceived, ad hoc AIDA program is a failure. It should be reformed or replaced so that it actually delivers payments to farmers in combination with provincial contributions in the order of the $25 to $50 per acre promised in the press releases and the public statements of the minister.

Second, we ask that it present to the House an immediate plan to provide tax relief to Canadians, including agricultural producers and farm families. This plan should include reductions in taxes on agricultural inputs such as fuel and fertilizer and it should include reductions in user fees such as those collected through the Canadian Grain Commission and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

Third, in order to find the money to meet the cost of providing any additional emergency assistance, the government should make a formal and urgent request to the Standing Committee on Finance to do precisely that, to find the money; not by increasing total taxes or borrowing or returning to deficit financing, but by readjusting the government's current spending priorities. This is precisely what any family or business facing an emergency situation would have to do. It would have to take funds from other areas to address the emergency requirements. This is what the government and this parliament should be learning to do, whether it is to cope with the spending requirements of an agricultural emergency or to cope with the government's $5 billion pay equity bungle.

Fourth, in order to address the longer term dimensions of the problem and to ensure that there is a long term future for agricultural producers, the government should present a plan to the House to redress the inadequacies of its current farm safety net programs, in particular crop insurance and the net income stabilization program.

Unlike the NDP we do not advocate a return to the protectionist or dependency creating subsidies of the past. Such measures would not survive challenges under either the NAFTA or the WTO and proposing them only raises false hopes that will be dashed later on.

What we do advocate is reforming crop insurance to include disaster insurance so that programs like AIDA do not have to be invented on an ad hoc basis after the fact every time there is a major climatic disaster like a flood or a drought.

We advocate an expanded NISA-type program that will really do the job, a single trade distortion adjustment program, a single agricultural income insurance program that compensates agricultural producers for income injury suffered as a result of somebody else's subsidies in violation of the spirit and letter of free trade.

This idea was first raised in this House by Elwin Hermanson, our former agricultural critic and now the leader of the official opposition in Saskatchewan. He is a respected agricultural leader who has just received an overwhelming mandate to represent the farming and rural communities of that province.

Fifth, we demand the immediate formation of an emergency team Canada mission to Europe and Washington, led by the Prime Minister but including the Minister for International Trade, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and other provincial officials. Their mission would be to make the case as it has never been made before that European and American subsidies, contrary to both the spirit and the letter of free international trade in agricultural products, are killing our farmers.

We have one further proposal for the agricultural minister which we insist he convey to the Prime Minister and that is that the Prime Minister himself participate in this debate. The Prime Minister has consistently absented himself from every major discussion of this issue in the House since he became Prime Minister six years ago. This is inexcusable in a country where agriculture is one of the major primary industries and where hundreds of thousands of Canadians are dependent on agriculture for their livelihood.

We are aware that the Prime Minister does not know the difference between wheat and toadflax, but surely the agriculture minister could brief him before he came down, because the Prime Minister's continued indifference to this issue is an insult to farmers everywhere in this country, particularly in the west.

If the Prime Minister really cares about this issue, why does he not come down here and say so, and present to the House not the usual fluff and chaff, but a plan incorporating the emergency measures and agricultural reforms which this motion urges upon the government?

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11:25 a.m.

Liberal

John Bryden Wentworth—Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, in a major speech of October 13 the member for Calgary Southwest berated the government for not having a good policy or an aggressive policy with respect to tax cuts and debt reduction. While I have great sympathy for helping not only western farmers but farmers in my riding, particularly the pig farmers who have recently suffered considerably from low prices, he now proposes and is advocating increased spending for crop and disaster relief for farmers.

Within the context of his remarks about debt reduction and tax cuts, can he put a figure on what he thinks the government should be spending on farmers who are in difficulty? Is it $1 billion? Is it $2 billion? Is it $3 billion? Is it $4 billion? Can he be specific in terms of the money that he would spend?

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11:25 a.m.

Reform

Preston Manning Calgary Southwest, AB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for paying attention to my speeches, but if he had paid a little closer attention he would have had the answer to what he is driving at.

I think we should wait until we see the further updated presentations from Saskatchewan and Manitoba later this week with respect to the figure. Whether the figure is $1 billion or $1.5 billion, this is what we should do to meet that.

First, we should try to meet it within the existing government spending envelope. We are simply going to have to learn to do that. If there is an emergency let us readjust our spending and tell the Standing Committee on Finance to do that. We have some ideas as to where to get that money. We would be interested to see if anybody else in the House does as well.

Second, I said in my reply to the throne speech that one of the answers was to cut taxes. That is still part of our solution. Why not cut taxes, including taxes on agricultural inputs? That can be done without increasing the deficit or the spending requirements of the government.

The third thing which answers the member's question is, if the House had listened to Hermanson when he was here, as early as 1995 he proposed the reform of the NISA and the setting up of a single trade distortion adjustment mechanism. If that had been done the amount of money in the NISA accounts today to deal with emergencies would be significantly higher than they are. We would be in a much better situation to address this problem.

The answer is to listen when reforms are proposed by the official opposition.

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Government Orders

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Alex Shepherd Durham, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened very intently to the member's speech. As someone who has farmed for about eight years, I can understand some of the concerns and issues that are going through our farm community today.

The member said that the finance department and the finance committee should find the money. If I recall, it was his party that proposed something like a $600 million reduction in spending for the Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food in one of its budget proposals. We left that money in that envelope for financing, yet the member's party would have withdrawn it.

Second, he talked about taking the NISA program and expanding it so that we protect farmers from all kinds of trade distortions that are occurring all over the world. I agree with him. It is a big problem that our farm community is facing today. I know that the member also believes in equality. I hear him saying it time and time again. Is he also going to protect every other business interest in this country from trade distortions all over the world using government programs?

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Government Orders

11:25 a.m.

Reform

Preston Manning Calgary Southwest, AB

Mr. Speaker, there are two responses to that question. First, the point about Reform advocating a reduction in agricultural spending several years ago is correct. However, we also proposed these other measures, which more than compensated for that from the farmers' standpoint and which would protect distortion adjustment mechanisms.

Second, if the member does have this great background in agriculture, which I am sure he does, he will understand that there is more protectionism today in the agricultural sector than there is in many of the other sectors that are subject to free trade. That has been the case ever since free trade has been talked about. It has been the big problem in Europe. The big problem is getting subsidies down in agriculture.

Where the trade distortion adjustment program is particularly relevant is in the agricultural sector. That is why we advocate it. There are other measures in both the WTO and NAFTA to deal with other trade distortions. In agriculture, those measures are inadequate as is demonstrated by the situation our farmers are in today.