moved that Bill C-15, An Act to amend the Agricultural Marketing Programs Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased and honoured to support of the proposed amendments to the Agricultural Marketing Programs Act, or the AMP legislation. I would like to thank all parties for their enthusiasm for the legislation and trust we will get it through the House this day.
There is no doubt that many of our farmers, particularly those in the grains and oilseeds sector, are going through some tough times financially. Over the past weeks and months I have sat down with producers, provincial ministers and other stakeholders from across the country and they have all stressed the severity of the situation to me.
At the same time, they have reiterated their desire to work with governments in order to help them earn a greater portion of their incomes from the marketplace. This is a desire we all have. This is what we are working toward for the longer term and it will require taking action on the domestic and on the international front. Internationally, we are working through the World Trade Organization to level the playing field for our Canadian producers.
We have also taken action on the national scene. As the members may note, the budget provides for an additional investment of $1.5 billion this year in farm families and the future of Canada.
We are also taking other measures to assist farmers. That is what we are addressing here today. As well as more responsive farm income stabilization and disaster programming, the government has committed to making cash advance programming more responsive to the needs of producers and more reflective of the modern Canadian farm business today.
This is precisely the aim behind the amendments to the AMPA legislation that we are proposing to the House today. Farmers have told us that they want these changes and we are acting.
Under the legislative changes the government is proposing, the spring credit advance program would be consolidated into the advance payments program, making one single program under the AMPA called the advance payment program, or APP. This consolidation would reduce red tape for producers and would extend the repayment period of advances to 18 months.
Further, under the single program, the government is proposing increased levels of coverage for farmers and broader coverage to include a much wider range of commodities, including livestock. Specifically, these proposed amendments would, first, move to a whole farm approach by increasing the types of commodities covered, including livestock but excluding supply managed products and breeding stock; second, acknowledge today's larger farm size and increased farm input costs by raising the interest free component of the cash advance loans from $50,000 to $100,000; third, increase the overall limits on advances from $250,000 to $400,000; and fourth, enhance emergency cash advances.
To help producers with immediate assistance while these changes are in the works, the government has announced that a transitional program, the enhanced spring credit advance program, would be implemented consistent with the proposed changes to AMPA. This was announced, with an order in council relevant to this made a couple of weeks ago. Under this enhanced program, the maximum interest free provision is set at $100,000. Further, the repayment schedule will be extended to September 30, 2007 under this interim program.
With these improvements, the AMPA represents a total annual federal investment of about $100 million, another illustration of how this government is standing by its producers and will continue to stand by them.
As well as addressing the financial needs of producers, the proposed amendments reflect the fact that the size and complexity of farm operations in Canada have been steadily growing. There is no denying that the realities of modern agriculture are different from what they were in the past. Farm operations are bigger than they used to be and, over the last decade, farmers have seen their operating costs rise by more than 80%.
The new cash advance program is designed to better reflect these realities. By giving farmers timely access to credit, it frees producers from having to make marketing decisions based solely on the need for working capital. The changes we are proposing will also cut down on the paperwork and streamline the administrative and assessment processes.
Our prime objective is to ensure the prosperity and stability of all farm enterprises in Canada.
This is good news not only for agriculture but also for rural Canada and all Canadians.
In closing, I will repeat what the Prime Minister told the House in the take note debate on agriculture a month ago:
--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 Canadian families.
It is for these reasons that I trust the House will join me in supporting these proposed amendments that are so vital to the success of our producers. Again, I would reiterate my thanks to all opposition parties for supporting this legislation, I hope, ensuring its speedy passage and sending it on to the Senate.