House of Commons Hansard #125 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was farmers.

Topics

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4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Claude Duplain Portneuf, QC

Mr. Speaker, I can only say that it will be a real pleasure for me to go meet the UPA representatives. In any case, I have done this in the regions that invited me.

I want to take this opportunity to say something else. Some contact has been made regarding various other problems in agriculture. The hon. member for Joliette talked earlier about the tobacco problem; we met with people about this issue.

I want to say once again that, under the new agricultural strategic framework, we will invest $5.2 billion in agriculture over the next few years, once the provinces have signed the agreement so that these funds can be made available to help farmers immediately. This money is there. It just needs to be made available to farmers, and our provincial counterparts can help us to achieve this goal.

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4:10 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I do not know if other invitations will be forthcoming but, in the meantime, the hon. member for Joliette has the floor.

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4:10 p.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, I made the invitation, but I did not receive one. I must say that it is important to be very careful. The agricultural strategic framework is mentioned every time a problem arises.

I know that the Quebec government signed, but the Union des producteurs agricoles and the Financière have set conditions to flesh out this agreement in principle, and I do not think that Quebec farmers will be bought.

If the money is there, it should be invested in special programs to resolve the problems Quebec is currently facing. I do not want the agricultural strategic framework to be used as an excuse. If the money is there, special programs need only be created.This was done to some extent in the case of the mad cow crisis. Had this been done immediately, a great deal more could have been done, in this case as in others.

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4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Alex Shepherd Durham, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to enter into the debate on the issue of BSE. I should say initially that there was a brief time in my life when I actually raised beef cattle. Although I was only a small producer, I certainly learned the trials and tribulations of that industry.

I can well remember back some 15 years ago when it seems to me we were selling beef cattle at 75¢ a hundredweight. Those numbers have not changed very appreciably in the ensuing years, and the BSE issue, of course, has made that even worse.

During that same period of time overhead costs to that industry have increased tremendously. The cost of fuel to run tractors and so forth has multiplied exponentially. The actual profitability of the cattle industry in the first place is very slight.

I heard people talk about the capital involved in, for instance, a feedlot operation. People's margins are very small so they rely very much on heavy volumes. Significant changes in the input and output prices of a commodity will cause tremendous fluctuations in one's bottom line. This of course is what we are dealing with today.

The cattle industry in Canada is a very significant one. It represents something like 20% of farm cash receipts in Canada among all agricultural industries. It represents about a $6.6 billion industry. From the statistics I have seen, Canada has 103,673 beef producers and 77% of these are a small size with less than 122 head. These producers represent over $3 billion in export trade.

When I first heard about the issue of BSE, I, like so many farmers in my area, thought that this would be resolved possibly quicker than it has. I do not think a lot of us fully understood the ramifications of BSE and its impact on our industry.

Cattle producers in my area often wonder out loud why one cow in the province of Alberta caused such consternation. I have often heard them say that the markets in Britain are closer than the incidence of mad cow disease, so why are they caught up in this issue.

Mr. Speaker, I want to remind you that I am sharing my time with the member for Hastings—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington.

The reality is that we do not segregate where in a country the disease occurs. It is simply that the whole country is embargoed. As we know, the Europeans, the Japanese and others have lived through this peril to some great extent.

Quite frankly, Canada is noted as a BSE country. As much as we talk about it and debate it in this chamber, that is the reality. We have a reportable case of BSE and Canada is designated as a BSE country.

I know many of our consumers would demand us to be diligent on the importation of food from other countries that had this disease. Indeed, Britain, which had an incident of BSE, still does not export beef to the United States.

We can see that in the 100 days that we have been talking about this incident since it occurred in Canada, we have actually been very successful in opening the borders to Canadian beef production, more so than any other country. We are also entering into protocols with Mexico to try to find ways of actually importing, exporting and transporting cattle through the United States to Mexico.

Some very positive things are going on. The substance of the motion is that somehow nothing has been happening, and that just is not the case.

I was one of the members of our rural caucus who was able to meet with the Canadian Cattlemen's Association, the Canadian Federation of Agriculture and the Ontario Federation of Agriculture. It was interesting to hear most of those gentlemen, in their opening comments, thank the government for its efforts. They wanted to thank the governments for acting promptly on the file in the sense that it realized the shortfall would impact cattle producers who ship live cattle across the Canadian border and for the fact that we had found a system that would actually get money into their hands to alleviate some pain and suffering.

Some people think that my riding of Durham is somehow part of the Greater Toronto Authority. In some small ways it is, but I can say that General Motors is the largest economic producer in my riding and second is beef cattle. The cattle industry is worth $1.2 billion to the province of Ontario and is rated as the number two generator in Ontario agriculture, only behind the dairy industry. There are approximately 200 producers in Durham. That is just under 1% of all of the producers in the province of Ontario.

Before May 20, finished cattle were selling at $1,500 a head or $1.10 per pound. In July, after the BSE issue hit, that price went down to 30¢ a pound. That is a significant drop in the selling price of cattle.

Since the border reopened to packaged beef products the price has rebounded. I wanted to emphasize that because it seems to have been totally missed in this debate. Producers in my riding have said that this rebound in price back to 75¢ has been a significant boon to those who ship live cattle because they have been able to ship to slaughter houses in Montreal. That has been a significant recovery in the industry but we do not talk about that here.

In fact that was a specific result of government policy and efforts to reopen the border to Canadian beef shipments that has had a positive impact on producers in my riding. Those producers are not, unlike the debate that is going on here today from some of the members in the opposition, blaming the government per se. They are saying that they appreciate the efforts the government is making. Of course they would like the government to do more. They would like the border to be 100% open to live cattle and put them back where they were before May 20.

I know the cattlemen, who are proud, rigorous and independent entrepreneurs, understand that this is an issue that will not go away easily. We are a BSE noted country and all of the discussion in this chamber will not make that issue go away.

The class of livestock that was hardest hit was culled cattle, which is very important to the cattle producers today. Usually they would get 50¢ per pound or about $650 a cow when they shipped them. Today that price is 5¢ to 12¢ and there is no subsidy on culled cattle. The big issue with a lot of producers is to how to cull their herds. The fact of the matter is that there is no cash flow coming from that.

There has been a lot of discussion about the agricultural policy framework. Yes, it is the truth, even within my riding, that people in the agricultural industry are not happy with the way the agricultural policy framework has been put together. My experience with the farm community has been that it is very difficult to get agreement among all the producers and all the industries within the agricultural sector. Quite frankly, I think we are missing the boat if we feel that it is a form of blackmail, as was mentioned here today, because it is not. In fact, we need to have signed agreements to let money flow.

Since agriculture is under federal-provincial jurisdiction, we need agreements with the provinces to make money flow. Money is available. We might not like exactly how the policy framework is put in place. The federal government and Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food has talked about a review process that is in place.

We have the machinery to review that as it is going on but by all means I would encourage the province of Ontario, in particular, to sign the agreement and get the money flowing into the producers hands who really need it. The whole purpose of this program is to deal with risk management .

I know my time is running out, but one other issue I want to talk about is the dairy industry. This is one industry that has been overlooked in this process. I have a number of breeders in my area who ship dairy cattle not only to the United States but worldwide. They are prevented from shipping those cattle today. That has had a tremendous negative impact on them. Of course there is no subsidy. There is a recognition that somehow we should try to address that issue. The reality is they have been negatively impacted through no particular fault of their own but because of the discovery of BSE in one animal. This was certainly the most expensive animal that we have ever seen in this country and possibly in the world.

I do not support the motion. I think it is grandstanding. The opposition does not seem to think that we should have an independent foreign policy, but certainly the producers have an independent mind and think we are doing a lot of positive things.

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4:20 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Gary Schellenberger Perth—Middlesex, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will remember to address the Chair this time.

I do have one thing to say. I agree that the Minister of Agriculture and the agriculture committee have worked very hard to resolve this problem. I know the difficulty. I was in Cancun. I have talked to a lot of people. I know how hard it is to negotiate with the various countries and how hard it is to put things together.

All I am saying, and I am not grandstanding, is that I wish he would realize that I do not think it is wrong to try something different or new to quicken the process to open the borders. That is where I am coming from. It is not that whatever has been done has not been done with a real sense of urgency and importance.

I saw how we impacted in Cancun in our meetings. Yes, we were parliamentarians and we had some impact but not the impact that senior ministers or senior people would have. That is why I suggest that the Prime Minister head a multi-party delegation, like the one in Cancun. Let us have the heads of the parties or those people make a presentation to the president or the vice-president. Let us send some very high profile people there. I think this needs high profile people, not that we are not, but I think the Prime Minister has to be involved in this.

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4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Alex Shepherd Durham, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very happy for that question from the member for Perth—Middlesex. The reality is the Prime Minister has spoken to the President of the United States on numerous occasions on this file. We know that the Minister of Agriculture has talked to his counterpart in Japan and indeed his counterpart in the United States, Mrs. Veneman. We know that those discussions are going on.

What I did hear was the member for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough talking about the belief that somehow the Prime Minister's stand and our party's stand on Iraq and a number of foreign affairs issues, which really stood up for Canada's independence as a nation, or independent foreign policy, were somehow faulty and that that is the reason we could not open up the border. The motion is simply a cheap political stunt to try to make the opposition parties look like they are doing something on this file.

The reality is those producers are independent-minded people. They do not believe in begging. They believe in carrying on a negotiation on a one to one basis and that is what the government has been doing.

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4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Larry McCormick Hastings—Frontenac—Lennox And Addington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate this opportunity to talk about a very serious crisis that is ongoing. I have met with many people from Prince Edward County, Hastings County, Lennox and Addington and Frontenac. They are all suffering, yet I want to take this opportunity to talk about some of the things we have done and what we are doing.

The government fully understands the financial hardships that Canadian cattle producers and the Canadian cattle industry have endured and continue to endure ever since we had the bad news on May 20 that a single cow had been discovered with BSE. When we export $4 billion worth of cattle and beef a year and our major customer closes its border, the impact is going to be severe. It has been severe on the farms, in the feedlots and throughout the beef industry.

The Government of Canada continues to work with people in the industry to help see them through this difficult time. We have done so since day one and we will continue to do so until we have the full resumption of the integrated North American cattle industry that we had on and before May 19.

While the immediate priority has been to focus energies on reopening the border, at the same time the government has been working to assist the industry financially until such time as full trade in beef and cattle resumes with all of Canada's trading partners. Of course other animals are involved such as the goat industry, the sheep industry, and as we have heard, cattle of all kinds, from the dairy to the heifers and the springers.

As my hon. colleagues will recall, immediately after the news was announced, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency launched a comprehensive trace back and trace forward investigation. This investigation involved the necessary culling of some 2,700 animals. The CFIA has now compensated producers for all animals ordered destroyed during the active investigation. Cheques have been sent out, with amounts based on the market value of each animal.

When it became apparent that the U.S. border reopening was not imminent, on June 18 my hon. colleague, the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, along with his provincial and territorial colleagues, announced cost shared assistance totalling $460 million. The national BSE recovery program comprised a maximum investment of $276 million from the federal government and a maximum of $184 million from provincial and territorial governments.

This assistance was designed to compensate producers when the price of cattle fell below a reference price based upon the market value in the U.S. The producers of other ruminants were also eligible for payments.

Under this program, processors are also offered incentives to sell or otherwise move out of inventories surplus meat cuts that were produced after May 20. The aim was to free up storage space, allowing processors to operate in an increased capacity to serve the domestic market.

On August 17 my colleague, the Minister of Agriculture, announced an addition to the recovery program involving an investment of $36 million.

The national BSE recovery program, which represented a total federal investment of $312 million, fully did the job it was intended to do. Slaughter levels were restored to comparable levels before May 19. The domestic market was kept moving and feedlots and processors received some relief from severely depressed prices. With the help, support and fairness of those processors, we certainly could have done much better. In my opinion, they did not try hard enough.

We are now in the fall season. Calves are coming off pasture and producers' need for cash to mitigate the effects of the border closure is still urgent. To this end, in his August 17 announcement, the hon. Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food also advanced disaster assistance to producers under bilateral agreements, with provinces already committing funding for all five elements under the agricultural policy framework. Some provinces signed these bilateral agreements yesterday and producers will be able to apply for assistance within two weeks.

These advances constitute a transition measure until new business risk management programming is fully implemented across Canada. Transition funding will be equal to a portion of a producer's expected payments for this year, when the new Canadian agricultural income stabilization program comes into force.

Just this past Friday, my hon. colleague, the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, announced further assistance for producers through the second installment of $600 million in transition funding. This investment is part of the $1.2 million investment that the Government of Canada announced in June 2002.

This will help producers with immediate needs related to BSE as well as other pressures encountered this year. Cheques will be delivered directly to producers across the country this fall. Payments will be based on a producer's average eligible net sales for the past five years. Payments will not be counted as revenue under the Canadian agricultural income stabilization program.

This direct payment approach is preferred by most producer groups, and it fulfills the Government of Canada's commitment to continue to help the industry with its immediate needs while in transition to the new programming under the agricultural policy framework. I know my colleague the hon. Minister of Agriculture is eager to get the available resources out to farmers as soon as possible.

Under the business risk management element of the agricultural policy framework, there is a total of $1.1 billion a year in federal dollars available to producers in provinces that have signed the framework implementation agreement. Collectively under the cost sharing agreement, the provinces and the territories will contribute another $700 million. This brings the total investment to $1.8 billion a year. That amounts to a total federal, provincial and territorial investment of some $9 billion over the five years of the framework.

We need to flow these APF funds as soon as possible. What is needed right now is the money, but we continue to work with the industry to assess its needs. The Government of Canada remains committed to doing everything possible to help our cattle producers and our industry manage through this difficult time. We have been working co-operatively with the Canadian beef industry and we will not let up one iota until we have full restoration of the integrated North American market.

I want to thank my neighbour and our friend the agriculture minister and his department because all we have to do is check the records. It is sad to say we are a BSE country. No country has ever gone from BSE to shipping products across the border as quickly as Canada has done and that is because of the good science and the cooperation of our neighbours, the United States.

The United States wants the border open except for a few people who have protectionism along the border. My neighbour, our friend the Minister of Agriculture has worked untiringly, continually on this all summer. He has done such a good job that now U.S. secretary of agriculture Ann Veneman is working to fast track this. Let us hope that comes along well and we can have the border open so we can resume some normal sense of shipping back and forth.

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4:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Kevin Sorenson Crowfoot, AB

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for his presentation on BSE. It was a little disheartening because it was a presentation from a Liberal and was nothing but accolades for the Liberal government and for what it has done. All Canadians still have some major concerns with the border not being completely open. When that border is open and when live cattle are moving across that border, perhaps then we will stand back and give a little more applause. Until then, the majority of Canadians are asking where the government is now.

It was on May 20 that one isolated incident of BSE was found in Canada. The CFIA moved into action. It had the ability to trace and to track, and to show the genetic lines of that animal to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was one isolated incident.

Since that time, we have not seen the government step forward with a strategy to open the border to live cattle. We do appreciate some of the help that has come through the recovery plan and other programs, but we have not seen a strategy with timelines involved showing what the government is doing now to get the border open. We have a process and a protocol for countries that have an outbreak of BSE. Most of these protocols are put in place for countries that have many cases of BSE. We had one isolated incident.

Could the member tell us that he believes the process is flawed? Could he tell us that the protocol for reopening the border is flawed?

A government that should be applauded is one that puts a process in place before a crisis hits. Seeing how the crisis is here, what is the government's strategy toward letting the public and producers know that there is a process in place to have the Americans open the border?

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4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Larry McCormick Hastings—Frontenac—Lennox And Addington, ON

Mr. Speaker, our strategy is to continue to work on this. As I have said, the minister, the Prime Minister and several ministers have met and have talked to every level of government in the United States. We have taken the good science that is recognized around the world as well as that of Dr. Brian Evans who is one of the top veterinarians of the world.

However there are politics in North America and our neighbours have elections.

We have pages and pages of records and documentation of when members of our front bench have talked to the United States, or Japan or when they have worked with Mexico. They have been back and forth continually.

We have the science and that is why the border is open now, and it has been opened quicker than for any other country that had BSE. I wish we had it open fully. I am sure we will.

I want to mention one thing at this opportunity. The Calgary paper is not always friendly to the Liberals, but today it stated:

Alberta's agriculture minister said Ottawa's argument that available aid money has not yet been accessed is fair. I cannot argue that” McLellan said. They've got money available.

Let us work through this and let us get that border open as soon as we can.

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4:35 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, I listened intently to the member's remarks. I do, however, agree that there appears to be an absence of a comprehensive plan going forward and I acknowledge that there have been extraordinary efforts made at all levels and in particular, the stakeholders.

I listened very closely to one point in the member's speech when he said, “and this Liberal government is willing to do anything”.

My question for the hon. member is this. Why would the government not support a non-partisan effort? If other ministers of his government, if other members, if other emissaries have made interventions and tried to go to Washington to make this happen, why would the government not support this effort?

I hear someone flapping their gums over there, referencing it as being a partisan effort. I remind the hon. member that members of the agriculture committee, members of his own party, supported almost an identical motion put before the agriculture committee at a special meeting this summer. Why is there the pull-back now?

I know the hon. member spent time on a farm. I have spent time on a farm. We raised beef cattle when I was a kid. While my father was here, my grandfather and I were looking after our Scottish Highland cattle. Therefore I know the perils they are facing. I know very much the angst they are feeling over these cattle that may have to be fed over the winter months because they cannot take them to market. They cannot do their normal routine and slaughter in the fall.

If the government is sincere in saying, “we're willing to do anything, we're willing to do everything in our power”, why would it not support a non-partisan intervention, an effort to bring stakeholders, people from the agriculture community, members of Parliament, leaders--

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4:35 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Order, please. I want to leave a bit of time for the hon. member to respond. The hon. member for Hastings—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington.

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4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Larry McCormick Hastings—Frontenac—Lennox And Addington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the comments by the leader of the Progressive Conservative Party, who is a fine young person and a very bright young man. I also compliment the person who brought forward the motion today with good intent. I will give him credit for that.

Our agriculture committee has a reputation for getting along with all parties more than any other committee on the Hill. I have said that in all 10 provinces and I hope I can continue to say that.

I do not think this is the right timing. Last week we had beef people from across the country and a cattle liner assembled on the Hill. I went to the meeting later with the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food along with the Ontario Federation of Agriculture and the Canadian Federation of Agriculture. The minister laid the cards on the table and we made great advances, according to the top officials of the United States department of agriculture.

I think we are getting there. Our steps are quickening. I just do not think it is the time for us to go to Washington. We have been there before at a committee and I think we should do it regularly, as my colleague said.

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4:40 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Stockwell Day Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

Mr. Speaker, I too congratulate the leader of the Progressive Conservative Party for bringing the motion forward, as our own leader has done the same in a number of different ways.

We have been able to make some rather tragic observations in this process, observations in general about the performance of the government. Depending upon the type of pressure, we can estimate how the government will respond.

If the pressure is on the government from internal individuals or organizations for the government to be quick to get them their subsidy, or their contract, or things that they did for the government or their particular appointment, the government can move with the speed of light and address those concerns. However when it is an issue on one of the inevitable crises of life, when it is an issue that affects all Canadians outside of government, Canadians who maybe are not in line for an appointment, or a contract or a subsidy, then the government moves with glacier-like speed.

The problem is livelihoods are at stake at these times when crises like this hit. It is inexcusable to have a government that drags its feet and is so unconcerned, possibly because so many of the people affected, not all, are beyond the sight of the CN Tower.

There are many in Ontario who are affected and this is true. However this industry which is so vital in the western Canadian economy is suffering. It has been hit hard. We can see the pattern. When people from within the Liberal party need help, the government is quick and to be there for them.

When it is outside the party, the first response is usually denial, that it is not a problem. We have seen this pattern in a number of different crises that have hit. Then we see an acceptance when the groups and citizens themselves react and the opposition speaks up and raises the issue. The then government moves from denial to all right there may be a problem.

There is sort of a grudging acceptance that there could just be an issue here affecting Canadians. Then only under sustained pressures, usually from the opposition, does the government admit there is a problem and it takes a few baby steps to address what is a huge problem, then sits back and says that it is done.

We see that pattern all the time. Frankly, it is not acceptable when people's livelihoods and futures are at stake.

Look at every international incident of the past year: the blackout in Ontario, the outbreak of SARS in Toronto, the softwood lumber issues. All of these emphasize this government's short-sightedness and inability to respond.

Minister Vanclief travelled to Tokyo in June, but came back empty-handed. The Japanese were unable to tell him how to restore international trade, and the minister did not present them with any suggestions for resolving the problem. The crisis continues.

Another question we can ask ourselves is: Where is the Minister for International Trade? Where is he?

Is it enough to have Prime Minister Jean Chrétien speak on the phone? It is not.

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4:40 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Order, please. This is the second time a cabinet member has been referred to by name instead of by portfolio. I do hope the hon. member for Okanagan—Coquihalla will be able to adapt his text to refer to the portfolio or title of members instead of their names.

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4:40 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Stockwell Day Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

As usual, you are right, Mr. Speaker. Thank you for correcting me; I needed to be reminded.

I was saying that our Prime Minister speaking on the phone is not enough.

That is not enough. More has to be done.

We have looked at the rapid response from the industry itself, whether it is beef, veal or dairy. That industry has lost over $1 billion and is facing a true winter of discontent, a winter where feeding has to take place or there is a possibility that we may have to destroy up to 700,000 head of cattle.

The support announcement in June was only good until August 30. Today is the first day of fall. It is a harbinger of a winter to come. Regardless of the views on global warming, it will be a cold winter for the industry. Banks, equipment dealers, retailers in small towns across the west, in Ontario and in other parts of Canada will all face very difficult choices.

The Minister of Agriculture has said that money will flow, but he said that it will flow when farmers force their provincial governments to sign on to a flawed agriculture policy framework. It is one thing to stand up and say that the money will flow, but the Liberals always leave out the other portion. They say that when farmers get their provincial governments to sign on to this policy, a policy that is ripe with flaws, then there will be money. They need to be honest about the money problem and why it is not flowing. The APF has no provision for emergencies such as border closures and provides less coverage in bad years than previous programs.

The Canadian Cattlemen's Association has called for the government to assist in finding alternative markets. We understand Russia was willing to buy older cows and to pay ranchers up to $330 per head for 10% of their herds. That is the usual number that is culled in a year. They also want the payment, regardless of slaughter, which will allow ranchers to wait for the best time to sell rather than flooding a down market.

People in the industry, the hard-working people, the agriculture community, have worked to come up with solutions. They are not just sitting back shouting and protesting, though they are doing that. It was a pleasure and an honour to be involved in a demonstration and a rally out on the steps of Parliament just last week with colleagues and with members of almost every other party except the governing party.