House of Commons Hansard #4 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was farmers.

Topics

Agriculture
Government Orders

April 6th, 2006 / 6:15 p.m.

NDP

The Chair Bill Blaikie

Hon. members, I would like to open this session of committee of the whole by making a short statement about take note debates. This may be the first time some members have participated in such a debate so I want to explain how we will proceed.

This evening's debate is a general one on agricultural issues. As is the case for all proceedings of the committee of the whole, members need not be in their own seats to be recognized.

Each member will be allocated 10 minutes for debate and each speech is subject to a 10 minute question and comment period. Although members may speak more than once, the Chair will generally try to ensure that all members wishing to speak are heard before inviting members to speak again while respecting the proportional party rotations for speakers.

During the 10 minute period for questions and comments there are no set time limits on each intervention. I will work to allow as many members as possible to participate in this part of the proceedings and ask for the cooperation of all members in keeping their interventions as succinct as possible.

As Chair, I will be guided by the rules of the committee of the whole. However, in the interest of a full exchange, I will exercise discretion and flexibility in the application of these rules.

In turn, I would ask all honourable members to exercise caution during this evening's debate. It is very important to respect the traditions of the House in terms of decorum. The members must exercise judgment in their comments and questions so that order is maintained.

May I also remind members that even in committee of the whole ministers and members should be referred to by their title or riding name and, of course, all remarks should be addressed through the Chair. I ask for everyone's cooperation in upholding all established standards of decorum, parliamentary language and behaviour.

The first round of speakers will be the usual all party round, namely, the government, the official opposition, the Bloc Québécois and the New Democratic Party. After that, we will follow the usual proportional rotation.

At the end of this evening's debate, the committee shall rise and the House shall adjourn until tomorrow.

We may now begin this evening's session.

Agriculture
Government Orders

6:15 p.m.

Calgary Southwest
Alberta

Conservative

Stephen Harper Prime Minister

Mr. Chair, I congratulate you on your appointment.

It is an honour for me to speak to this issue. I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in this evening's debate.

This is an issue of vital importance both to those who work in this critically important sector of our economy and to all Canadians. As one of the protest signs on Parliament Hill yesterday stated “farmer's feed cities”, so the future of Canadian agriculture is clearly a matter that impacts us all.

Yesterday, thousands of frustrated farmers gathered on Parliament Hill to tell the members of this House that the status quo that they have been forced to endure for too long is completely unacceptable. I would like to say to them, this evening, that the new Government of Canada agrees with them, and that in the weeks, months and years to come, we will take action to support the Canadian agriculture sector.

Our government cares deeply about agriculture and we have deep insight into the problems farmers face in part because so many of our caucus members are from rural Canada. In my own case, I have family connections to agriculture through both my mother and my wife, both of whom grew up on farms. In fact, members of our family still work in agriculture today.

My government's direction for agricultural policy will be shaped by our members of Parliament, people from rural areas across this country who have been deeply involved in farming for their entire lives. We are stronger because of this representation and frankly, have a better understanding of the difficult times facing many farm families today than the previous government did.

In the previous Parliament, almost every agriculture question raised in the House resulted from our efforts as the official opposition. We stood up for Canadian farmers because we are dedicated to maintaining what is best about Canada, our traditions. Nothing is more important than the family farm.

The family farm has been a critical element in the formation of our nation. We cannot really talk about sovereignty as a nation if we do not have a strong role in the production of our food. That is why the government will stand up for a strong, vibrant farm sector that provides security of income to families dependent on farming and food security for all other Canadians.

To this end, one of the first acts of the government was to begin getting the $750 million promised by the previous government, but never delivered, into the hands of struggling grains and oilseeds farmers.

In contrast to the previous government, with its negligence and inaction, Canada's new government has a tangible plan to support Canadian farmers. For example, we will overhaul the current inadequate agricultural income stabilization program and implement a special disaster assistance fund.

Quite simply, the existing CAIS program is not working, a fact that Canadian farmers in every province know very well. That is why the government wants to replace CAISP and urges the provinces to work with us to replace CAISP and introduce a simpler, much more responsive program. The new program should properly address the cost of production, market revenue and inventory evaluation.

We are also going to pitch in when the unexpected strikes by creating a fund for disaster relief assistance over and above income stabilization.

During the recent election we promised to commit at least an additional $500 million every year to farm support programs, a promise we will carry through on. Let me be clear, this will be new money on top of existing agricultural programs, not reallocation.

In addition, this government will stand up for farmers in supply managed sectors. We will ensure that agricultural industries that choose to work within a national supply managed system remain viable.

Our government will continue to support the three pillars of supply management and its objectives—to offer consumers high quality products at good prices with a reasonable return for the producer.

We are also going to address what has long been a sore point for many western grain farmers, not having the freedom to make their own marketing and transportation decisions. The government will empower producers by allowing them to have dual marketing options when it comes to the Wheat Board.

No discussion of agriculture in this country would be complete without the mention of diversification as in the longer run Canadian farmers will have to look for new opportunities. The government is committed to facilitating this necessary diversification. As those who make their living from the land already know, there is a fast growing market for agricultural products in the area of renewable fuel such as ethanol and biodiesel. Our government intends to merge environmental goals with those of agriculture by requiring an average 5% renewable fuel content in Canadian fuel by 2010.

Not only will this measure help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it will also protect consumers against the rising cost of fuel. By encouraging the consumption of renewable fuels, we will create new incentives for much-needed investments in Canada's rural regions.

Lastly, my government will work hard to promote Canada's commercial interests internationally. We believe that our entire agricultural sector must be protected, not only by strong international free trade, but also by fair trade practices.

In order to secure free and fair trade, the government will continue to support rules based trading systems like the WTO which we believe are essential to the interests of countries like ours that depend on trade. The future of Canadian agricultural and agri-food products is also dependent on enhanced market access and to that end we will support the phased reduction of all trade distorting barriers and the elimination of all agricultural export subsidies. Simply put, Canada's new government will go to the wall on the issues that matter to our farmers and rural communities.

During the last election campaign, we committed to protecting the rights of Canadian communities, both urban and rural. Those in power have ignored the interests of rural communities for too long. Today, I want Canadians to know that the era of neglect ended on January 23.

No longer will the concerns of rural Canada fall on deaf ears. Rural Canadians from coast to coast to coast finally have an ally in Ottawa. I do not say that we can fix the neglect of a decade overnight, and I know that our producers do not expect that, but in the weeks, months and years ahead, our government will move ahead, not with mere words but with actions.

The government, with our agriculture minister leading the charge, will give Canadian farmers the respect that has been denied to them for too long. For the first time in 13 years Ottawa will listen to Canadian farmers and begin to deliver the results they deserve.

Agriculture
Government Orders

6:25 p.m.

Toronto Centre
Ontario

Liberal

Bill Graham Leader of the Opposition

Mr. Chair, I would like to echo the Prime Minister's congratulations to you, sir, on assuming your new functions as our chairman tonight.

We said we want to make this Parliament work in a different way. A take note debate like tonight is an opportunity for us to exchange real ideas about how we can help Canadians arrive at real solutions to their problems.

I must say that I was a little disappointed in the Prime Minister's speech which really was not unlike his speech yesterday. He emphasized the fact that he is here because of change and then he tells everyone there are huge problems and they are all the fault of the old guys.

He said it himself. On January 23 he took power. When is he going to take responsibility for what he is going to do in the country? I do not think a lot of rhetoric helps by going back and saying they did this or did that.

I sat in our cabinet last year. Our party provided $5 billion to our farmers last year. The farmers know that. Our farmers know that the $750 million the Prime Minister is talking about giving them today is money that was promised by us and was there for them because we had booked it for them. Our farmers know that we were working at the WTO. Our farmers know that we put in an ethanol program.

Why do we not talk about how we are going to go forward? I would really like to hear from the Prime Minister and his agriculture minister tonight so they can tell the House when can farmers actually expect to receive cash in their pockets which will alleviate the problems they have to deal with.

The Prime Minister pointed out problems in the world that are caused by subsidies in Europe and the United States and many other problems that we have to work on together. When can farmers actually see some concrete results rather than just rhetoric attacking the previous government?

Agriculture
Government Orders

6:30 p.m.

Conservative

Stephen Harper Calgary Southwest, AB

Mr. Chair, I can understand why the hon. member would not want to take responsibility for the last 13 years in the agricultural industry in this country.

To answer the question directly, as the member knows, the cheques from the first $750 million are arriving now. They have been arriving for the past few weeks because of the immediate action the government took. We will be taking further steps in the upcoming budget.

I would share in the view of the Leader of the Opposition that our government House leader has provided this take note debate as an opportunity to hear the ideas of the opposition as we formulate further agricultural policies, but I did not hear any of those ideas in the comments he just made.

Agriculture
Government Orders

6:30 p.m.

NDP

Jack Layton Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Chair, we are in a terrible situation when it comes to farming in Canada right now. Farmer debt has doubled in the last decade. We have to look at where the responsibility lies here and I will take the point of the Leader of the Opposition that now is not the time to point fingers but to talk about the issues.

Many farmers today are producing the food that we eat at a loss in the big cities or anywhere else in the country. Their family members have to work off the farm in order to subsidize the food that we eat.

I met with farmers out here and I met with farmers during the election. They would take out their accounts. I remember one event during the campaign. A farmer came to us and this was a bit of a surprise. He showed up with the accounts of his farm. He showed that he and his family this year were going to lose $45,000 that had to be subsidized by his wife and by him taking another job and so on.

My question has to do with whether the government is really going to stand up for farmers. The Prime Minister mentioned the whole issue of the WTO. It happens that on January 31 of this year the government lost an appeal at the Canadian International Trade Tribunal that gave up a right that Canada had negotiated in the last round of the WTO and had to do with the dairy sector. The dairy sector is now open to uncontrolled imports of milk protein concentrates. This is going to hurt our farmers dramatically.

We heard yesterday from the President of the Dairy Farmers of Canada, Jacques Laforge, that there was a meeting and an answer was promised in two weeks. That was two months ago.

My question is for the Prime Minister. When are we going to see action to protect dairy farmers before they go under and we will not be getting milk products produce by them here in this country because they simply will not have the funds to run their farms?

Agriculture
Government Orders

6:30 p.m.

Conservative

Stephen Harper Calgary Southwest, AB

Mr. Chair, we are certainly aware of the WTO decision. The government vehemently disagrees with that decision and has fought it through all litigation available. We will continue to do so. We will look at every conceivable option that is available to protect our farmers if and when this rule comes into effect.

Agriculture
Government Orders

6:35 p.m.

Conservative

Rick Casson Lethbridge, AB

Mr. Chair, I thank the Prime Minister for being here this evening to kick off this debate.

One of the things we have to realize is that we are talking now of the three-quarters of a billion dollars that is going out into the agricultural community. It is being sopped up so quickly that it is not really making a huge difference. It is helping and of course the agricultural producers will take that money.

It seems to me that we have two issues. We have a continental market with which we can work. We can harmonize as much as we can with the huge customer we have to the south but there are also markets farther away. If we are going to work through the WTO, I believe that is the right angle and exactly what you said, but what are we going to do with our closest neighbour to the south? How are we going to enhance the prospects of our agricultural community by getting it more interested in the products that we have?

Agriculture
Government Orders

6:35 p.m.

Conservative

Stephen Harper Calgary Southwest, AB

Mr. Chair, one of the many things the Minister of Agriculture is looking at is stronger marketing programs. At the same time we have to be frank here in saying that Canada is caught in the crossfire of an international subsidy war. It is not just going on overseas. It is also the case in the United States, which is one of the reasons that we want to look at every option available to better support our farmers as the battle continues.

Agriculture
Government Orders

6:35 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Malpeque, PE

Mr. Chair, well there was really nothing new in the remarks from the Prime Minister, but I have information from a farmer in the Porcupine and district disaster area which would be in the riding of Yorkton—Melville. This individual, Lee Howse, said that the farmers in the rural municipality of Porcupine No. 395 in northeastern Saskatchewan find themselves in a catastrophic situation. He went to say in a letter to me and others that a request to the Minister of Agriculture and to the member for Yorkton—Melville for a disaster relief program to help the farmers in Porcupine has been unsuccessful. He said that they desperately need our assistance to pressure the government in power.

That farmer in the riding of Yorkton—Melville is saying that the member from that riding and the Minister of Agriculture are not coming forward with immediate funds. He wants pressure put on the government. There is no better person to pressure than the Prime Minister. Will he deal with this issue and immediately come forward with cash to help those cash-strapped farmers?

Agriculture
Government Orders

6:35 p.m.

Conservative

Stephen Harper Calgary Southwest, AB

Mr. Chair, what a contrast. We have beside me the Minister of Agriculture who has been consulting farmers around the country and members here have been working hard on behalf of farmers for years. The member for Lethbridge just asked me a question about trade negotiations on the grain subsidy wars. Not only has he been throughout Canada but he was in the United States during the BSE crisis fighting on behalf of our industry and here is that member of Parliament who for 13 years was as quiet as--

Agriculture
Government Orders

6:35 p.m.

An hon. member

Missing in action.

Agriculture
Government Orders

6:35 p.m.

Conservative

Stephen Harper Calgary Southwest, AB

Absolutely missing in action. Now he has found his voice for agriculture and nobody in the areas of the country he talks about is going to buy it for a minute.

Agriculture
Government Orders

6:35 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Malpeque, PE

Mr. Chair, if the Prime Minister thinks I was quiet, he was absolutely wrong because I had consultations with farmers last year. I presented the report to the minister of agriculture. I would ask the present Minister of Agriculture to pass that report on to the Prime Minister. In fact in the last election many of the members on that side of the House quoted from that report. They said that it made a lot of sense to go forward with those recommendations. I ask the Minister of Agriculture to ensure that the Prime Minister sees that report and acts on it as rapidly as he can.

First and foremost, I want to thank all parties for their support in having this debate because there is indeed a farm crisis. Thousands of farmers were on the Hill yesterday, not because they wanted to be but because they had to be to try to push the government into taking some action. As we heard from the Prime Minister's remarks, there is really very little action. The throne speech was much like the Prime Minister's remarks, no action, just words.

The Conservatives say we have to wait for the budget. That is not true. The Minister of Agriculture could have asked the Minister of Finance to use some of that surplus before it went back to the treasury on March 31. That is what happened last year with the previous minister of agriculture when it was coming up to March 31. There was a problem in the farm community. The minister prepared some documentation and he received $1 billion from the minister of finance. Members opposite could have done the same and could have put cash in producers' pockets immediately.

Those members are talking now about $755 million that the previous government booked in November. They are bragging about getting it out. The fact of the matter is the government has put out only about $400 million to producers. What is the holdup? Get those cheques out. Those cheques would have been in farmers' pockets by now had there not been an election. Members on that side of the House talk about a lot of things, but the minister and the government must make an immediate cash infusion to the farmers prior to spring planting.

There is no question that some will wonder why farmers require dollars. Some will wonder why they are in a crisis. What is the real reason? I agree with the Prime Minister's point that a lot of the crisis is due to international trade situations, to subsidies in the United States and Europe, to policies pushing prices down and making our farmers uncompetitive. I had the opportunity to look into that issue a year ago and the real reason farmers are in crisis is a lack of power for primary producers in the marketplace.

I refer the Prime Minister to that document. There are some 46 recommendations in that report. They are not partisan recommendations and members opposite know that. They are recommendations that came from the farm community itself. I would refer that document to the Prime Minister and to the government. I urge him to implement many of those recommendations.

I would ask for unanimous consent in the House to table the report.

Agriculture
Government Orders

6:40 p.m.

NDP

The Chair Bill Blaikie

The member has asked for unanimous consent to table a document. Is there unanimous consent?

Agriculture
Government Orders

6:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.