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 industry.

Topics

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September 23rd, 2003 / 10:55 a.m.

Prince Edward—Hastings
Ontario

Liberal

Lyle Vanclief Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food

Mr. Speaker, would you give me an indication of how much time I have left?

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10:55 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I was just about to answer that very question. The minister has approximately six minutes remaining in his time.

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10:55 a.m.

Liberal

Lyle Vanclief Prince Edward—Hastings, ON

Mr. Speaker, as I said, while we continue to work to open the borders in all the ways I have just described, it is important that we start the flow of the funds that we have.

On top of the $560 million, $312 million of which was the federal contribution to the BSE recovery program, I announced last Friday that the second instalment of the $1.2 billion transition money that the Prime Minister and I announced in June 2001 would flow to farmers. The application forms and the information on that will go out in the very near future. That is $600 million that will go out to farmers. It is all federal money. Last year, some of the provinces put up 40% of that. Others chose not to.

I have no idea whether the provinces will be doing that this year or not. However, I want to inform and remind everybody that $600 million will go out. Much of that will go out to beef producers. But as hon. members have said today, there have been other stresses in our industry, be that drought in some areas or market situations for other commodities as well.

I also announced a few weeks ago that money will flow for provinces that have made their commitment to the agricultural policy framework. In other words, they have signed a federal-provincial agreement with the federal government. All federal-provincial agreements expired on March 31, 2003. The provinces have known for three years that that would be the expiry date. Several provinces have signed, which allows the federal government to flow money to them.

By doing so those provinces have committed their 40% to programs, and not only to support crop insurance, companion programs, disaster programs, food safety programs, environment programs and renewal science and innovation. Some provinces have not signed and they have not even indicated to their industry that they will support them in that way.

We want to move that money. For those provinces that have signed, I announced two or three weeks ago that I would be prepared to and this week I signed bilateral agreements with four of those signatory provinces to allow producers there to make interim applications on the business risk management type program that will be there when more provinces sign. Those provinces have made the transition. They have made the commitment. Others have not made that commitment. I would suggest that the industries in those provinces ask their provinces to sign so that money can start to flow, because we know the producers need the money.

We will continue to work with the provinces and the industry to assess their needs and determine what additional measures would be appropriate.

We know that there have been and will likely be some continued changes to our beef industry overall. As the beef round table is doing and will continue to do, everybody in the beef industry--right from producer to consumer, governments to industry--needs to put their heads together, as has been happening, to develop the beef industry to deal with some of the realties that may very well be facing us. They are realities that we do not like, but realities that we are going to have to face in the future.

The beef industry can be proud, and we are all proud of it in the way in which it has reacted to and developed the beef market, not only domestically but around the world in the past. I am confident that whatever the changes are, few as we hope they are, that the beef industry will be able to react to that as well.

We can see that the federal government, along with the provinces and the industry, is doing everything possible to reopen the borders. Yes, that is extremely important and I am not diminishing that whatsoever, but what is also important is that we do all we possibly can to develop the industry here in Canada. If we are not able to market meat from older animals into other countries, which we are trying to do and will work on, then we need to help develop the use and the markets here in Canada.

All our fast food chains announced this year that instead of buying some of that beef offshore, they are going to use Canadian beef. That is a market opportunity. It is a tough way to get it, I agree.

We have lost because until we had the health situation, there was no Canada-U.S. border in the beef industry. There really was not and the beef industry develops on that. I am not criticizing them; that is just the reality that was there. We now have a health border that we have conquered to some extent. I am confident we will conquer some more as we go forward.

Maybe we have an opportunity to bring some of those slaughter facilities, or create some of those here. We could bring some of those jobs back and create employment here. We could create products here that in the past were being brought in from someplace else using somebody else's beef rather than our Canadian beef.

I want to thank everybody. It has been a team Canada effort. I have none other than a positive indication that it will continue to be so. Again, I want to thank the Canadian consumers because they have been there big time in recognizing the importance of the beef industry, along with everybody else recognizing it and supporting it throughout the summer. I know they will continue to do it.

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11:05 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gerry Ritz Battlefords—Lloydminster, SK

Mr. Speaker, it was a pleasure to see the minister rise to speak to the issue.

He talked glowingly about a future for the industry. I agree with him. They are a tough breed out there. They will hang on. The thing that is missing, and the minister must show some leadership in this, is that we do not see leadership, we do not see a plan to transition the industry from the crisis it is in today to the future he talked about working toward.

We do not see protocols on the handling of the SRMs and rendering. Where is that protocol? We are seeing that type of thing happening. We are seeing landfills being filled with this type of product but we do not have leadership at that level. We are seeing the provinces and industry agreeing. Everybody agrees that the APF the minister keeps blackmailing folks into will never handle a crisis like this, or give us the transitioning that is required to get back to pre-May 20 situations.

Certainly there are going to be some changes but what we are not seeing is leadership and planning at the federal level. We have to have that. That is the void.

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11:05 a.m.

Liberal

Lyle Vanclief Prince Edward—Hastings, ON

Mr. Speaker, it was some months ago, prior to May 20, that the government put in place a series of round tables. As minister I made the announcement.

There are many players in all of this. We put in place a beef round table. The first approach of the round table prior to May 20 rightfully asked how we could enhance the beef industry in Canada. How could they enhance it both domestically and internationally? On May 20 the concentration of their work obviously changed, but what we already had in place was a round table.

The hon. member asked what is happening. Unfortunately it is not like some people think, that we can just phone President Bush or Secretary Ann Veneman and say, “Excuse us folks, we are coming through with some cattle liners tomorrow. We are coming through with some culled cows tomorrow”.

It is not that simple. It takes a lot of diplomatic work. It also takes a lot of work with the industry. The resources have to be there within the industry itself to change some of the plants over to process some of the product that they have not been able to process in the past. That work is underway.

I mentioned in my comments about making sure that when we change the regulations that we can carry them out. They have to be meaningful, credible and enforceable. We will not act until we can because we have demonstrated to the world in the past that when we did these things, we could live up to them. They have recognized them and that is why we have borders open.

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11:05 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Rex Barnes Gander—Grand Falls, NL

Mr. Speaker, the minister talked about all the money the government has put into the crisis. It is like the fishing industry. All kinds of money went into the crisis but it seemed that the people on the ground who needed it the most did not get it.

The minister talked about a little over half a billion dollars. Basically it looks like it right now in the compensation package with the combination of the provinces putting in some money. Who actually got the money? If the money is out there, it seems that the farmers are saying that they do not have it. Who actually got the money? I would like the minister to outline where the money has gone.

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11:05 a.m.

Liberal

Lyle Vanclief Prince Edward—Hastings, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member should look at how the BSE recovery program went.

When the owners of those cattle shipped their animals, they filed and got a cheque for the amount that the BSE recovery program paid. That paid out over $500 million directly to those people who sold their animals. The transition money cheques, the $600 million of transition money that I announced last week, will be based on their eligible net sales, their history and will go directly to farmers' mailboxes. When they make their applications through the disaster aspect of the business risk management, the APF, it will go directly to the farmers. All of that money will go directly to the farmers.

That is who is getting it. That is who deserves it. That is whom it will go to.

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11:10 a.m.

NDP

Dick Proctor Palliser, SK

Mr. Speaker, the minister knows in the breakdown that a lot of the big feedlots got the vast majority of the money. There was a cheque written for almost $5 million to one feedlot. There were a heck of a lot of cow calf operators who did not see a dime of that $500 million and are not likely to in the near future.

I specifically would like to ask the minister about the issue that came up yesterday on cull cattle. This is the glut in the system that we need to get out, recognizing that a lot of the slaughterhouses in Canada really cannot process those culls that are normally processed in the United States. We only processed a little over 3,000 last week as opposed to 15,000 that need to be culled between now and the end of the year.

What plans does the minister have to see that glut and backlog reduced so that we can go ahead with the younger animals being processed here in Canada?

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11:10 a.m.

Liberal

Lyle Vanclief Prince Edward—Hastings, ON

Mr. Speaker, we had a federal-provincial ministers meeting yesterday and the cattlemen made a presentation. As far as their suggestion on dealing with the cull cows, there was a clear consensus of the ministers who were there that we not do anything specific on cull cows, that we flow the money, the $500 million that is there under the agriculture policy framework.

By the way, I do not have a cap on that. Some of the provinces have said to their treasuries, which I understand, that they budgeted for what they might think. Federally we do not have a cap. If we need more than that, that money is there, if more than that money is triggered because farmers' incomes dropped in reference to their production margins in the past. That may very well be because they did not get as much for fat cattle, they did not get as much for cows as they did in the past, or they did not get as much for canola or they did not get as much for wheat, corn, soybeans, or whatever it is, in their individual situations. That money is there. That was the decision as well.

As far as capacity to handle these, it was very clear yesterday through work that was done by the provinces and by the industry that they feel we do have the capacity to move them. The packers are not paying very much for cull cows right now. I am confident that if the packers were perhaps to pay a little bit more, more animals would be presented to them by the producers.

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11:10 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Kevin Sorenson Crowfoot, AB

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the minister for making his presentation to the House today in this very timely debate.

When the crisis hit on May 20, we saw that the CFIA responded quickly and it seemed to have a plan. It seemed to be able to show over a period of time some of the evidence that it was only one isolated case. Now the public is seemingly more concerned that the strategy is over. Given that we have shown that it is one isolated case, given that we have shown the science, now the public does not see any strategy anymore.

My question is twofold. First, is there a strategy for reopening the border? The minister talked about diplomatic procedures and process, but is there a specific strategy and who drew up the strategy?

Also, the process for reopening the border was laid out decades ago, or at least 10 years ago. In some ways it would appear that the process is for a country that has an outbreak of BSE.

Could the minister explain the difference between a country that has an outbreak of BSE and another with one isolated case? How would we respond if we were in the Americans' shoes and if the Americans had the BSE outbreak? What measures--

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11:10 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Order. There is only one minute remaining on the clock and I would want to leave a little bit of time for the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food to respond.

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11:10 a.m.

Liberal

Lyle Vanclief Prince Edward—Hastings, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member is very familiar with the beef industry and I respect his comments and his question. I know he is not going to have a chance to respond but my guess is that if that cow had been in the United States, many hon. members in this chamber would have said, “They have BSE, we don't”, and they would suggest that we follow the guidelines of the OIE.

The OIE has guidelines for different levels, minimal risk, different levels. Other countries are following those guidelines. However, many of those countries are saying that because of the system we have here, because of the strategy that the CFIA, Agriculture Canada and international trade, Health Canada and everyone has put in place, we have successfully had the borders opened to some extent. It is a big step but we have a long way to go.

Let us take advantage of what we have and the system that we have which is recognized throughout the world. Remember, the international body said that no other country in the world has ever moved as quickly, as competently and as thoroughly in addressing, assessing and seeking to see what the level was. No other country in the world has moved and moved as quickly as Canada has done. Our officials worked night and day. Our industry worked night and day. All Canadians need to be given thanks, and I know everyone does, for what has been done so far. But they too know that our job is not done.

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11:15 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gerry Ritz Battlefords—Lloydminster, SK

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today and speak to the motion put forward by my colleagues from the Tory Party. I certainly agree with it.

The motion came before the agriculture committee in an emergency meeting this summer. I think it was July. It was unanimously passed. It was a non-partisan push, that we need to do everything and anything to get back to normalcy in the livestock industry.

It is not just beef at this time either. We talk about beef because that is the key but it is the livestock industry as a whole. Every facet of it is facing crisis and needs to be let out.

I will be splitting my time with the member for Medicine Hat who just reminded me of that. Of course he is very much into the beef industry as well.

It is not just a photo op. The minister talked about that. It is fine to have all these folks go down to Washington and so on but Washington alone is not the answer. It is part of the answer but it is not all of it.

We have interventions from other countries saying that they are ready to get back into the Canadian beef trade. Who is over there talking to them? All members of the House who have been in sales know that if they get a lead on something they follow it up. They get over there, do their job, make the sale and then they are done.

The Prime Minister has led team Canada initiatives all over the world. At the drop of a hat, he is away. If he is looking for a legacy here is a chance. He can take a beef sample kit, hit the skies in his fancy new Challenger jet and get the job done. However he is not doing that. Where the heck is he? Neither one of the so-called leaders are showing leadership on this file.

We have the minister stumbling around saying that he talks to Ann Venamen on the phone and that he does this and he does that. I have a lot of constituents who will talk to me over the phone but a lot of people want a face to face meeting when it is a real crisis situation. I think this is and I think it requires a trip to Washington. We need to talk to the folks down there and show them the human side of this, show them the people who are in crisis out there.

In his intervention with the minister, the member for Crowfoot mentioned that we were not seeing a strategy now. We saw the CFIA do its job. We saw the trace-out working properly. They came back to a farm in my riding, McRae at Baldwinton. They are still questioning whether it was even their cow. There is a lot of concern out there that in their hurry to find the right animal they glossed everything over and, boom, we were done. They have some lawsuits pending and they are talking about going after the CFIA, the government and so on, because of the way they handled that particular farm. Others are looking at that too. That is something else out there on the radar screen, along with 3,500 people at CFIA who are poised to go on strike. Right in the middle of all of this, we may finally get some beef moving again and these guys will be off the job. The minister will have his hands full in the next little while, and rightly so.

We saw this develop into a crisis because they would not implement a floor price on sales right after the BSE incident happened. The minister talked about his round table and the beef industry, and so on. That recommendation came right from those folks. We picked it up as a political issue here and talked about a floor price. Let us not let it drop to the bottom. What is hurting cull cows now is not allowing the feedlots to restock and so on. People are not selling their cattle. The price is not back up.

We are starting to see it move. We are seeing some strength in grassers coming off, the six and seven weights, that the price is coming back, but a lot of folks out there who back-grounded over the summer are stuck with oversized cattle that will not fit into the feedlot situation. What do they do?

We have cow-calf operators, a lot of them up in my country, who do not winter their calves over. They do not even have the infrastructure to do it. No penning. No water bowls. Nothing. We are facing another year, in a lot of western Canada, with a lack of feed. We need feeding programs. We new a cull cow program. We need some leadership and some strategy from the government. We are not seeing it. It has dropped the ball right there at centre court.

We still have containers that were locked overseas when this hit 120 days ago. They are still sitting there now. The Beef Export Federation cannot get anybody to address the situation and get these containers home so we can start addressing some of these markets that will be coming back on stream.

The Alberta government announced $4 million to bring back a few from Japan and Korea specifically for some of their shippers but we do not know what the federal government has done.

According to the Beef Export Federation and the folks who do this, the government has done nothing. Those containers are still over there. We do talk about the future of the industry but we are not taking care of the ABCs to get us there. Again, it is that lack of vision and planning.

We do need a transition. We did not see one at the start of the BSE crisis and we are not seeing one now; a transition that will give the industry strength and something to hang on to and hang on for.

The banks and lending institutions have been very good. They have all restructured. Guys have gone in and renegotiated and done a great job at that. We have seen the PFRA, which falls under the minister's purview, demanding cash before cattle is released out of pasture. That is unprecedented.

The federal government's own agency is demanding cash from cash-strapped farmers when they cannot access all this APF money and transition money that the minister talks glowingly about. How do farmers get at it? Now he is saying that he will allow some advances to provinces that have signed on, which really puts pressure on provinces that have not signed on. The specific reason they have not signed on is that it will not work. There is less money in the system now for primary production of agriculture than there ever has been. The agri-food side of the Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food has always done very well and continues to do very well, but the primary producer on the agriculture side is getting short-changed again.

The federal government is trying to pull out of companion programs. There goes the farmers' crop insurance program, the drought and trade subsidies and so on. The feds are going to pull out. They are putting less money in. In the middle of all of this, the federal government announces that it will backstop Bombardier for $1.2 billion in loan guarantees for the purchase of Bombardier products. Where is the backstop for agriculture products?

The fiscal capacity seems to be there because the Liberals have money to stuff in all their pet pigeon holes, but they cannot backstop primary producers. What is wrong? Agriculture is the third largest contributor to the GDP in this country. Some 200,000 jobs revolve around agriculture on the in and the out. How come these guys cannot get that?

The member for Crowfoot asked: If there is a strategy, who designed it? That is a pertinent question because we see more and more of these flawed agricultural programs coming out of the ivory towers here from guys who have never seen a cow, never seen a dusty piece of ground, do not even know what wheat or durum is, or canola for that matter, and they are designing the programs. No wonder they are doomed to fail. The Liberals are going for the public relations spin for the people who eat in Canada but not for the guy who produces the food.

If we look back over history at any third world country, we see that they became third world countries because they could not feed themselves. We are facing that same situation because the Liberals do not take the production of food in this country seriously. A lot of money is going into food safety, biometrics and all sorts of fancy stuff out there but not into primary production, not to the guy on the ground, the family farm, the guy raising the cattle, the guy raising the sheep, hogs, or whatever it is. The Liberals do not take it seriously.

We are seeing supply management going into a tailspin because every time we have trade talks the Liberals start talking about dismantling supply management because they do not have the power anymore on the world stage to keep things up. We are seeing trade challenges to our Canadian Wheat Board again and again. Whether one likes the board or hates the board, the farmer pays the bill. It comes out of their pooling accounts.

Every time we turn around the primary producer is getting whacked between the eyes and the government is sitting back and saying it has all kinds of money to backstop producers but they have to make a deal with the devil to get it.

A lot of folks in western Canada are starting to wake up and say that they will not go that way. They are saying that they cannot be bought. Ontario is saying the same thing. The Ontario minister is saying that farmers in Ontario cannot be bought. Even through an election she is standing solid because her production groups are saying that this is not a good deal and that we should not buy into it. Once a province is locked in it is locked in for five years.

The minister has said that he will do an annual review. He is missing one little word in that phrase. It should be a mandatory annual review. We have seen annual reviews on a lot of things that Treasury Board has done and the reports get shelved, never get looked at, disappear from the light of day and are never scrutinized.

Looking for an annual review does not mean a thing. It is a hollow promise unless he puts it in the legislative portion of it that it is mandatory and has to be done. In that way the provinces would have some clout and could come back after the minister.

Where is the plan? Where is the strategy? We have a processing shortfall in Canada, an infrastructure that is sadly lacking. We need to do something with our culled cows. Somewhere in the neighbourhood of 300,000 to 400,000 head of cattle by the end of the year have to go somewhere. A lot of things could be done with those cows but we do not even have the processing to do it because we have let that go.

This all comes down to one mad cow and 100,000 mad farmers. I think the minister would be much better off to start recognizing these farmers.

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11:25 a.m.

Brampton Centre
Ontario

Liberal

Sarkis Assadourian Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, I followed the hon. member's comments very carefully.

My riding of Brampton Centre, like most ridings in the Toronto area, does not have any cattle farmers. However they continually ask us what has happened to supply and demand. I want to tell my colleague about the Chrysler Corporation in my riding. Every time there is an over supply of cars it reduces the price of its vehicles. If someone buys a car, it gives $1,000 rebates, reduces the interest rate or makes the purchase interest free.

Most consumers in my riding have been asking me why they have not seen a drop in the price of beef for consumers to encourage them to buy Canadian beef when the price of a cow has gone from $500 or $600 to $60 or $70.

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11:25 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gerry Ritz Battlefords—Lloydminster, SK

Mr. Speaker, that really is not hard to explain. He is saying that his people do not understand farming, and so be it, but they have the safest, most secure food supply in the world, bar none. During and even before the crisis our grocery bill is still one of the cheapest in the world.

There are reasons that we did not see a change in beef and other livestock products over the counter. For one, we still have our NAFTA imports and in southern Ontario, and Toronto especially, a lot of American beef is coming in. It is not western beef. It is not even Ontario beef because it goes south to be processed. We have that inventory in the mix, roughly two months, at all times.

The problem we had was with the supplementary quotas, the Oceanic beef, Australia, New Zealand, Uruguay, the grass fed beef that feeds into the fast food chains. Again, that is in play and there is two months booking ahead of time. We have that kind of inventory in the cycle before we can start to see savings from domestic raised beef.

On top of that, the packers during the summer cycle were into the hamburger and barbecue cuts, so they could use about 25% of the carcass, that is all. The rest of it is sitting in freezers from coast to coast to coast until we finally get a lot of this offshore stuff going.

The minister talked about 10 million pounds crossing the American border. That market is usually 880 million pounds a year. Ten million is a drop in the bucket. We are starting to roll but not to the degree that we need to do.

We do not have Mexico on board yet. It takes some of the lesser cuts, which will relieve some of the strain back to the packers. That is, in a nutshell, why we did not see a lot of change over the counter.

We also have the argument that if they lowered beef, pork would suffer, lamb would suffer, chicken, turkey and so on would suffer. There are always those arguments. The retail associations that came before the committee did a great job of outlining that. They print their flyers with pricing in them two and three months ahead of time. A lot of those things go into the mix.

We are seeing some cuts where prices have been lowered, such as hamburger. I know Rick Paskal from Alberta brought six semi-trailer loads of hamburger into Toronto. He was practically giving the stuff away just to prove that the product could be moved.

The right things were done without a plan from the government.