An Act to amend the Agricultural Marketing Programs Act

This bill was last introduced in the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in September 2008.

Sponsor

Gerry Ritz  Conservative

Status

This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the Agricultural Marketing Programs Act by modifying the eligibility requirements for advances to livestock producers. It also expands the circumstances in which an emergency advance may be paid to producers to include situations of severe economic hardship.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Jobs and Economic Growth ActGovernment Orders

April 13th, 2010 / 11:15 a.m.
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Bloc

André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-9, the budget implementation bill.

An implementation bill often contains fine print. As the saying goes, the devil is in the details. The government often tries to slip in certain measures in implementation bills that it did not announce in the budget. These measures end up in the overall bill, as do all the technicalities and all the details on implementing the budget. Everything must be read very carefully because often the government tries to pull a fast one, as is the case in this bill.

Fortunately, this poses no problem to the Bloc Québécois since it was already against the budget, which in no way meets the needs of Quebec in a context of economic crisis and the crisis in the forestry and manufacturing sectors. Obviously we will be voting against the budget implementation bill.

I have discovered that the budget says nothing at all about the restriction on Canada Post’s exclusive privilege that the implementation bill would introduce. Once that measure is implemented, it will allow exporters of letters to collect letters in Canada and transport and deliver them abroad. That means that Canada Post’s competitors will be able to collect mail in Canada and Quebec and then ship it outside Canada.

The people in the Canadian Union of Postal Workers have been publicly calling on the government for a long time to preserve jobs in this sector. Instead of listening to them, the government has proposed a measure that will end Canada Post’s exclusive privilege.

On June 17, 2009, the Conservative government introduced Bill C-44 to eliminate international mail from Canada Post’s exclusive privilege. The bill, which made it to second reading, died on the order paper because the House was prorogued. It died, like all other government bills.

So they decided to short-circuit the democratic process. They put that measure in the budget implementation bill. That shows the insidious nature of the Conservative government and its real intention to completely deregulate this crown corporation.

The people in our various ridings, particularly in rural regions, are continually lobbying for the survival of postal services as we know them today. This is not a matter of closing your eyes and thinking there should be no change in the services. But we know how governments work. I say governments because the Liberals did the same thing in their time. They were closing post offices in the regions left and right, saying they weren’t profitable. But we have the evidence that Canada Post is actually very profitable.

We have to accept that the services we receive in the regions must be paid for and that they may be less profitable than other services, but they do make it possible for a community to survive and keep its services. It is the same thing for schools and financial institutions. When those establishments close down, one after another, the regions lose their vitality and their population declines. These are services the public is entitled to. We pay for these services and governments use sleight of hand to reduce those services.

The Bloc Québécois is firmly opposed to privatizing Canada Post, even partially. This crown corporation must continue to be a public agency and maintain universal services with uniform rates throughout Quebec and Canada. When these services are eliminated, all rural regions suffer the same fate.

The change to the Employment Insurance Act is also not in the actual budget but in the implementation bill. The Bloc Québécois has been calling for substantial improvements in the employment insurance system.

A few examples of this would be to administer the system on the assumption that applicants are acting in good faith; increase the program's wage replacement rate to 60% of maximum insurable earnings; eliminate the much-discussed waiting period; standardize the qualification requirements for benefits at 360 hours of work; calculate benefits on the basis of the 12 best weeks of insurable earnings; expand the right of recipients to continue receiving benefits while receiving training; and make self-employed workers eligible for regular benefits.

More generally, we believe that the government should submit a plan for reimbursing the funds diverted to its own accounts from the employment insurance fund. It should also drop its obvious intention to loot this fund once again; the fund does not belong to the government.

We are very concerned about certain provisions in the implementation bill. The Conservatives’ 2008 budget established a new crown corporation, the Canada Employment Insurance Financing Board, reporting to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development. This board’s duties included administering a separate bank account. Any annual surpluses in the employment insurance fund were supposed to be retained and invested until needed to cover the costs of the program.

Budget 2010 closes the board’s separate bank account, the EI account, and creates a new one, the employment insurance operating account.

They are permanently eliminating the accumulated surpluses in the EI account, effective retroactively to January 1, 2009. This account will therefore no longer exist and will be replaced by the employment insurance operating account, which will start from zero. The EI surpluses, amounting to more than $57 billion on March 31, 2009, according to the Public Accounts of Canada, will disappear for good.

We very much regret the fact that there is no mention of the reforms needed to make employment insurance more accessible. That is a real problem. Most people who contribute to employment insurance do not necessarily qualify for it.

My colleague from Compton—Stanstead spoke about the situation of women, who are especially affected. They are the least able to access employment insurance. It is nearly as bad for young people. People contribute to EI but are not entitled to the fruits of their labour, that is to say, benefits. When someone loses his or her job and has paid into the system, that person should have benefits for a little time before finding another job. Unfortunately, though, some people cannot even get employment insurance benefits.

Furthermore, lifting the freeze on premium rates will not improve the system. The government will not hesitate to pilfer $19 billion from the employment insurance fund between 2011 and 2015.

When the Conservatives were the official opposition, they, like the other opposition parties, publicly criticized the pillaging of the employment insurance fund by the Liberals who were in power at the time. Former Prime Minister Paul Martin, when he was finance minister, was mandated by Jean Chrétien to get Canada's finances in order. He did two things: he pilfered from the EI fund and cut transfers to provinces.

The Conservatives were highly critical of these measures. They took power a few years later, and are now pilfering $19 billion from the EI fund themselves. For that reason alone, we must vote against the budget implementation bill.

Between 2011-12 and 2014-15, the government has estimated the surplus at $19.2 billion. With the 2010 budget, the government will be able to pocket these surpluses.

In order to generate these surpluses, the government plans on increasing premium rates by 15¢ a year, as of 2011, as permitted under the act. However, I must note that the increase will be suggested by the EI Financing Board, which we find very worrisome.

I will talk about other changes we found in the implementation bill, such as an amendment to the Banking Act, which will enable credit unions to incorporate as banks

I have just mentioned some aspects of the implementation bill that show that this government has tried to slip in some completely unacceptable measures. The people of Quebec are calling on us to vote against this bill.

Agriculture and Agri-food--Main Estimates, 2009-10Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

May 14th, 2009 / 7:45 p.m.
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Bloc

André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Madam Chair, I would remind the minister that, in many cases, the Bloc Québécois does support government measures or ones from the other opposition parties. Very recently, we passed Bill C-29, which is so dear to the heart of the Prime Minister that once again he made an announcement before it was passed by the House. That is funny, because in committee today the Conservative members sabotaged the clause by clause study; it did not even take place. The minister will have to explain that to the farmers. The Prime Minister himself was singing the praises of this bill to them and I would point out again that the Bloc Québécois was absolutely in favour of it.

The same thing happened when it came time to help the swine producers and livestock producers in general. A week after the minister introduced Bill C-44, not only did the Bloc Québécois vote in favour of it, but we initiated an emergency debate in the House to help those people out. A week after that, the minister came along with Bill C-44. I even had the opportunity to speak with him about it and we were in agreement.

It is wrong to say that the Bloc is always opposed to everything and that it blocks every bill. The Conservatives can do what they did in the last election campaign, travel around in a bus and badmouth the Bloc, but we saw the election results.

I have one more question, and it concerns Levinoff-Colbex. Will the minister make sure that this company receives its fair share of the $50 million they announced for the slaughter industry?

Agriculture and Agri-FoodCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

April 17th, 2008 / 11:25 a.m.
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Bloc

André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would be embarrassed to make such comments. What he said is anti-democratic.

Since 1993, Quebeckers have been voting for the Bloc Québécois because Quebec needs Bloc Québécois MPs to represent them; otherwise we would no longer be here. That is democracy. The public chooses to vote for MPs to defend the interests of Quebec and that is what we are doing. I was elected in 2004. The Bloc has been here since 1990 and became the official opposition in 1993. Since that time, it has formed the official opposition twice in this Parliament.

This question is absolutely ridiculous. The hon. member should be ashamed to stand up and play cheap politics, instead of talking about the livestock crisis. Does he want examples of how effective the Bloc has been in taking action? I do not think he was here, but in 2005, on November 22, from this very seat, I had a motion adopted unanimously to protect the supply management system in its entirety. That means that his party, which formed the official opposition at the time, voted in favour of what the Bloc Québécois had presented.

If he checks with Steve Verheul, Canada's chief agriculture negotiator at the WTO, he would see that it is still the same Bloc Québécois motion that is being used in current negotiations. Canada's position is the Bloc Québécois position. It was an ordinary backbencher from Richmond—Arthabaska—whom the parliamentary secretary is disparaging—who presented this motion, who worked on it with his colleagues and who influenced Canada's position today. The hon. member must be embarrassed that a sovereignist MP and Quebec separatist managed to get such a thing adopted. That is one example.

Another example in this specific matter occurred here on February 13, 2008. Who requested an emergency debate on the livestock crisis? The parliamentary secretary stood up to mock us and tell us it was useless, that everything was just fine and going well, while some of his Conservative colleagues stood up, were brighter and recognized that there was indeed a crisis. Once again, it was the Bloc Québécois who called for and obtained that emergency debate.

Why did the minister contact me a week later to say he would need my help to move Bill C-44 through quickly in order to get cash to farmers? Why did he call me? Why did he ask me for the votes he needed if the Bloc Québécois is useless? The minister needs to wake up.

Agriculture and Agri-FoodCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

April 17th, 2008 / 11 a.m.
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Bloc

André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, I hope that no one will question the relevance of this debate today, despite the fact, as I mentioned earlier when I asked a question, that the Bloc Québécois was able to get an emergency debate on the crisis in the hog and beef sectors not too long ago on February 13.

Nevertheless, I am pleased that the member for Malpeque has reopened this very important debate, because of the government's response to the unanimous report tabled by the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food.

The committee's study was not exhaustive—that would perhaps be going too far—but it was still quite detailed on the crisis in the livestock sector. If only the responses had been completely satisfactory. Earlier, we heard the minister make an optimistic speech about how everyone is happy and all is well. But if that were the case, we would not be here today still talking about the situation. The reason is simple; we are talking about it because the government's responses to the report of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food are largely unsatisfactory.

We know that this crisis is due in large part to the increase in the value of the Canadian dollar. The soaring prices of animal feed and the decline in the international hog market have also led to huge losses for producers.

A few moments ago, I spoke about the costs of conforming to specified risk material regulations for beef producers. To this day, I do not understand how the Canadian government came up with such regulations, knowing full well that the Americans would not abide by them. The government has almost deliberately created unfair competition against our producers.

Yet these producers are by no means refusing to comply with the regulations. No one wants a repeat of the mad cow crisis. They are well aware that specified risk materials must be disposed of. The regulations are here to stay.

However, the Fédération des producteurs de bovins du Québec asked for $50 million in aid over two years. Just now, the minister trivialized the situation and rejected this request out of hand. He gave the excuse that producers have been requesting such assistance for four or five years and that the Bloc Québécois has done nothing. The Bloc Québécois is rising in this House, we are asking for and demanding this aid because we support our farmers. We stand up for Quebeckers, as we have always done so well, and often we get results. In this case, the government is asleep at the wheel. Nothing has been done about specified risk materials.

The producers are asking for $50 million over two years. The minister finds that somewhat ridiculous because producers have been making this request for four or five years. If it is so ridiculous, if it is not so serious or so complicated as all that, then I do not understand why the money is not already in the federation's coffers. This money would be used for a very simple purpose: to allow beef producers to conform to these regulations.

At present, producers must pay for the removal of specified risk materials from carcasses, and for their collection and burial. They are not sure what to do with the materials. We could invest in the biodiesel plants in Quebec so these materials could be used for biofuel. This waste would no longer be buried and they would know what to do with it. This might be worth investing in.

I did not know that specified risk materials would become a symbol of Canadian unity. The minister reaffirmed Canada's sovereignty when he stated that we are different from the United States. Big deal. SRMs are not going to become a symbol of Canadian sovereignty.

Naturally, standards must be harmonized to the greatest extent possible. If the Americans are not interest, Canada, even if it continues to regulate this area, should help our producers and processors so that they are not penalized by these regulations. For their part, American producers do not have to worry about disposing of specified risk materials as do our producers.

So now, back to pork producers, since they were the main reason we asked for an emergency debate in February. We heard a lot of testimony in committee, but also in our offices, because there had been a campaign.

I simply want to point out that this industry is very important in Quebec. Total agricultural revenue is $6.198 billion dollars. Of this, 13.6%, or $844.9 million, is from pork production.

That is the economic impact of the pork industry in Quebec. It accounts for 28,200 jobs and $1.3 billion in value added. This industry is present in several different regions of Quebec. There are perhaps 400 pork producers in my riding. And the president of the Fédération des producteurs de porcs du Québec, Jean-Guy Vincent, lives in my riding.

It is the leading bio-food export product in Quebec and ranks twelfth among products exported from Quebec. Pork production provides a trade surplus of $890.5 million, thus producing a positive agri-food trade balance of $289.2 million, a significant amount. Pork production also generates over $225 million in government revenue, which is one of reasons that the pork industry is important economically. And it shows why, even today, we need to talk about the crisis in this sector.

I mentioned the emergency debate that was held here in February. The reasons we asked for that debate are just as relevant today, because of the unsatisfactory responses the government has given to the committee's recommendations. We asked for the emergency debate because the livestock industry was going through a crisis caused by the rise in the value of the dollar and the costs of inputs, combined with a major drop in meat prices in the case of pork and additional costs to manage and dispose of specified risk materials in the case of beef producers. This is still true today.

Pork producers want an immediate program to guarantee loans—they got something that I mentioned earlier, but it is not exactly what they wanted—or take over the interest currently assumed by producers, while beef producers want emergency measures such as a $50 million assistance program over two years, as I just explained.

There were several reasons why this emergency debate was needed, including the silence of the Prime Minister and the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food in the face of all the letters sent to them by producers, in addition to the first report of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food. Entitled “Study on the Collapse of the Beef and Pork Sector Revenues”, the unanimous report recommended transitional measures to alleviate the crisis as well as more long-term measures to improve the competitiveness of the industry.

When I said earlier that some good had come from the emergency debate, I was referring to the fact that, after the debate, the minister contacted the opposition critics to tell us that he wanted to move ahead on Bill C-44. All the parties agreed to fast-track the bill so that producers would have some cash flow.

Is has to be said that this is not exactly what producers wanted. It is also important to understand that this is still a debt. Agricultural producers will get loans, but they are still going into debt. Clearly, this is not a magic bullet, but in the short term, we could not disagree with such a measure.

Another program also just came into effect a few days ago, on April 14 I believe, with a view to ensuring that those producers who wanted to get out of the business could receive compensation for shutting down. Of course, the Bloc Québécois would prefer not to see our farms close down, one after the other. We will not solve the problem by simply paying them to shut down.

We need an agricultural sector that is strong, one that contributes to the Quebec and Canadian economy, instead of simply closing down our farms and ultimately being forced to import the products we need, which, incidentally, is already all too often the case. I would like people to become more aware of the importance of buying products from Quebec and Canada.

It is still a problem, despite Bill C-44 and despite the measures to allow farmers to get out. The government's responses are especially unsatisfactory over the long term. In that respect, the committee made some very specific recommendations concerning long-term measures. I will come back to this a little later.

I would like to quote from a letter that was distributed to all hon. members by the Fédération des producteurs de porcs du Québec, expressing just how serious the situation has become:

Given the seriousness of the crisis currently facing the pork industry, the assistance announced on December 19, 2007, the action plan to support Canada's livestock sector, is woefully inadequate.

Bearing in mind these concerns and others, to the effect that aid for producers must come through existing programs, the requests made by the Fédération des producteurs de porcs du Québec are, for the most part, being made within the framework of existing programs. The federation is asking for improvements and changes in the business risk management programs. They want the $1.5 million ceiling in the AgriStability and AgriInvest programs and the $3 million ceiling in the AgriInvest Kickstart program to be raised.

The federation also asked that the reference margins to provide appropriate support to producers be adjusted in light of the unique nature of the crisis and the persistently poor market conditions. It asked that the Canadian product labelling rules, designed to ensure that consumers can clearly identify where products come from, be tightened up.

Something was handed out in committee today. Was it the hon. member for Malpeque who brought that? I think he is in the middle of reading, but today in committee someone handed out pork loins. We looked at all the labels from all the angles and still wondered where that pork really came from. It is hard for the consumer to know, let alone those of us who are truly in the process of studying Canadian products in committee. It is even more difficult for the consumer to know whether he or she is buying pork loin from Canada, the United States or elsewhere, since that is not very clear on the label. It was rather difficult to know where the pork came from. The minister said that he is in the process of preparing a policy. I hope that the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food is not in the process of working for nothing and that our recommendations will be heard by the minister, because he says he is doing his share of the work. We cannot spend all this time and energy for nothing. Either way, I think the work of the committee is very important and that the minister should listen to its recommendations.

Creating a new fiscal envelope to support shared cost programs would allow for regional flexibility in the next generation of agricultural policies, the famous Flexi-Farm policies, which do not exist because there is AgriInvest, AgriStability and so on. In the end, the government did not think of introducing flexible measures, which we called for after the committee crossed Canada. Producers were unanimous about the need for such measures and made a point of telling us that it was important to put flexible measures and programs in place instead of very rigid national programs applying from coast to coast. When the provinces already had similar sorts of programs, they could no longer adapt or do anything. They were trapped. They could either get on board and duplicate federal initiatives or do nothing and not get any money.

I want to remind the government that all agricultural producers pay taxes. Every province has programs that are more or less effective, more or less good. Whenever a federal program is set up, it should be flexible. I am talking in particular about programs for pork producers. However, in the case of grain producers, the lack of flexibility is even more blatant, because they never receive CAIS payments. For the past 10 years, they have been in serious trouble, and they are the farmers who have suffered the most. Fortunately for them, prices have begun to rise recently, but they are calling for a program that could be called Flexi-Farm. The government can put that in its pipe and smoke it.

The letter ends as follows:

The advance payments program which has just been improved to include stock production, should not use the business risk management program as a collateral since that forces producers to pay back advances when they receive a payment.

This letter gave a good summary of pork producers' demands. I have also spoken at length about beef producers' demands, to make the point that even though some measures have been announced, the crisis is not over. Despite the cheery speech the minister gave earlier, the crisis in the livestock industry has not been solved.

That is why I congratulate the hon. member for Malpeque for bringing this issue back to the House today so that we can get the machinery working again and make not only the government but also the general public see that this problem has not been resolved.

The problem is that the programs I spoke about earlier do not work. We have been trying for a long time to figure out where to place the blame for the CAIS program. The Liberals and the Conservatives established it; we know that. But everyone agrees that it does not work.

Coming to power and simply changing the name of the program will not solve the problem. Blaming the former government will not solve the problem either. The minister must realize that changing the program's name did nothing to increase the producers' access to it.

They invest and say that there is $600 million available. Show me agricultural producers that have succeeded in getting any money. When they do manage to get advance payments, or some other kind of payment, there will be something else they have to fork out money for. It is quite ironic to say that money has been invested, but it is basically being put into one pocket and taken out of the other. That is often what governments do, and it is unfortunate.

The Conservative government made grand announcements, but the money is not getting to those who need it. AgriInvest, AgriStability and the advance payments program are simply CAIS programs under other names. On one hand, the government is putting money into a program, but they get it back through a different one. They have made some grand announcements, but the fact remains that farmers are not recouping anything. At the end of the day, the reality is that the government is paying itself.

We must always be cautious about these grand announcements and pay attention to the amounts that are announced. Unfortunately, they are often announced two to six times, but they should not be added up. Canadians would think there was an investment of billions and billions of dollars, when in reality, it is always the same $600 million program. Earlier, we heard some comments that gave me the impression that the problems in the agricultural sector were over, that there was no longer anything to be done or anything to be demanded, and that the producers were happy. The minister was patting himself on the back about everything that had been done.

We must give credit where credit is due. Some measures have been well received. That does not mean that the government should stop there and no longer make any effort. On the contrary, it must continue to find long-term measures to ensure that Quebec and Canadian producers remain active on the national and international markets. We are talking about exporters.

Not too long ago we had a clear advantage. The Canadian dollar was lower and productivity was higher than in the United States. When everything aligns so that our producers can, with all the necessary work, perform well nationally and internationally, things go well. But no matter what they want or how competent they are, there are times when the economy causes producers to face stiffer and more effective competition than before. I am referring to the United States, of course. The Americans have improved their productivity, and in some cases, the quality of their products. However, it is especially the rising Canadian dollar that is hurting us.

When the government simply watches what is going on and acknowledges that this is how it is and that we must wait, that is clearly not enough to get this entire industry back on track. There are two choices: the government can abandon the industry or support it. The Bloc Québécois would obviously choose to support it.

I was talking about the long-term measures people have been asking for. That is why I would like the government to take a more serious look at the committee's report. The report did a very good job of explaining long-term measures, especially in recommendations 3 and 4. The government's response to these recommendations did not satisfy the opposition parties, nor did it satisfy agricultural producers, who are not as happy as the minister would have us believe.

This is not about being happy or unhappy; this is about survival. In the livestock sector, this is about survival. If we do not come up with long-term measures and implement them right away—it should have been done the day before yesterday—that means we will no longer be supporting our agricultural producers.

Without support, we will lose our livestock industry.

Slaughterhouses are closing. One closed in Ontario and another in Quebec. The only one that is still open is the Levinoff-Colbex abattoir. People have been asking the federal government for help with this for years, but the government has not given them a penny. The government has to wake up and invest in our slaughterhouses so that this part of the production process happens here at home.

The government says it wants Canadian products, but soon, our products will not even be slaughtered here at home. How will we be able to talk about Canadian products when slaughtering and processing no longer happen here at home? We have to take a close look at this issue too.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

April 4th, 2008 / 10:35 a.m.
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Bloc

Carole Lavallée Bloc Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

I apologize, Mr. Speaker. I meant to say the Conservative government. I am sorry.

In the agriculture file, the Bloc Québécois called for the implementation of an action plan to address the crisis in the livestock industry—pork and beef, in particular—as well as improvements to the income support programs. In this Conservative budget, farmers will have to make do with an additional $72 million over two years for agricultural programs, while forestry workers will not see any new money at all.

The government says it intends to change how emergency advances are given through the advance payments program, by allocating $22.1 million to that adjustment in 2008-09. That measure was introduced in Bill C-44.

The government says it will create a cull breeding swine program. The federal government will invest $50 million in 2007-08 in this program, which will be administered by the Canadian Pork Council. Ottawa thereby hopes to reduce the Canadian breeding swine inventory by 10%. The government hopes this will facilitate the transition for any producers who wish to get out of the pork industry. Payments would be based on the number of animals and on reimbursement costs for humane slaughter and carcass disposal.

As we can see, the Harper government has ignored the appeals—

March 5th, 2008 / 7:10 p.m.
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Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, the government has a duty to demonstrate that it is prepared to assist our struggling farm community and to date it has refused to do so.

Let me make two points in the beginning. One, the income of Canadian farmers is crucial in sustaining Canadian food sovereignty, and two, Canadians want truth in labelling of food on grocery store shelves.

I raised a number of questions related to the crisis facing our hog and beef producers and the crisis the government is intent upon inflicting upon our western Canadian grain farmers through its illegitimate efforts to undermine the Wheat Board.

As I stated in my question on January 31:

The minister talks about programs, raising expectations, but never delivers real cash.

The response I received then from the minister was:

I advise the member for Malpeque to hang onto his chair, quit sitting on his hands and support the budget when it comes up and more cash flow for Canadian farmers.

Now we know that statement by the minister was a falsehood, because there was no cash flow in the budget for farmers. There was no new money, with one small exception, and that is the $50 million cull sow program which is designed to get farmers out of business.

In fact, the action by Bill C-44 to allow the December 19 money to flow to farmers came about as a result of Liberal suggestions released at a press conference in Charlottetown about 10 days before the announcement by the government. Those suggestions were also tabled in this House in the emergency debate on the livestock crisis. However, the government failed to implement all of our suggestions.

I heard the parliamentary secretary heckle, but I would say to him to live and learn and go back to the emergency debate and look at the recommendations put forward by myself with the strong support and efforts of Cindy Duncan McMillan. Those suggestions are there. The government has picked a couple of them and with our assistance the government managed to get them through the House last Monday so that farmers could gain some money. The government is still failing to deal with the crisis.

The minister told this House on January 31:

We delivered more for Canadian farmers in the last short term than the Liberal government did over 13 years, $4.5 billion and climbing.

The parliamentary secretary repeated those statements on February 13.

The minister has obviously not read his own department's farm income forecast report of February 8, which states in part that program payments reached a “record level of $4.9 billion in 2005”. To refresh the minister's memory, the government of the day in 2005 was Liberal.

The report from Agriculture Canada contained some additional information which Canadians should be made aware of, considering the minister has used program spending as the criteria of success. In aggregate program payments for 2008 in Canada, they are expected to fall by 6% to $3.8 billion.

The translation of that for the members opposite is that the Conservative government, according to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, has effectively reduced agriculture program spending by $1.1 billion. It is time they acted.

Financial Statement of Minister of FinanceThe BudgetGovernment Orders

February 28th, 2008 / 4:05 p.m.
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Conservative

Mike Allen Conservative Tobique—Mactaquac, NB

Mr. Speaker, I had a feeling the member for Malpeque was going to get up and that is why I held back a little on agriculture. I knew he would give me an opportunity and I knew he would wade right in. It is interesting because the government has given $4.5 billion in additional money.

I was at a meeting today with some pork and beef producers who said that the program in Bill C-44 is exactly what they wanted.

It is interesting that this member can get up on his hind legs and talk about this. Many years ago this member was a minister and a parliament secretary. He actually dealt with the PVYn initiative and said he was going to solve it. Guess what? We did not get this way in agriculture and forestry overnight. We got this way because of a lack of action from members like that.

Financial Statement of Minister of FinanceThe BudgetGovernment Orders

February 28th, 2008 / 4:05 p.m.
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Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, the thing with Bill C-44 was that it was needed because the minister's announcement of December 19 would not flow the money like the parliamentary secretary and the minister said it would.

The money was not getting out there. All that was in the budget, with the assistance of Bill C-44, was more loans for beef and hog producers. One cannot borrow oneself out of debt.

I ask the member, first, why he did not stand up for his producers against this voiceless Minister of Agriculture and try to get real money out there for farmers?

Second, what about the PVYn that the member promised money to producers as far back as four years ago? Have they received that money yet?

Financial Statement of Minister of FinanceThe BudgetGovernment Orders

February 28th, 2008 / 4:05 p.m.
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Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

The minister talks about Bill C-44. Liberals first recommended it a week before. The only way he could get Bill C-44 passed was by asking for unanimous consent to get it through the House. It went through the House, but the thing about Bill C-44 was that--

Financial Statement of Minister of FinanceThe BudgetGovernment Orders

February 28th, 2008 / 4:05 p.m.
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Conservative

Gerry Ritz Conservative Battlefords—Lloydminster, SK

It was a separate bill, Bill C-44.

February 28th, 2008 / 3:50 p.m.
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Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I have the honour to inform the House that when the House went up to the Senate chamber, Her Excellency the Governor General was pleased to give, in Her Majesty's name, royal assent to the following bills:

Bill C-8, An Act to amend the Canada Transportation Act (railway transportation)—Chapter 5.

Bill C-2, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and to make consequential amendments to other Acts—Chapter 6.

Bill C-44, An Act to amend the Agricultural Marketing Programs Act—Chapter 7.

Agricultural Marketing Programs ActGovernment Orders

February 25th, 2008 / 11:05 p.m.
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NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

I feel like I should say a word of thanks. I feel like I have been chairing the agriculture committee all night. With apologies to the hon. member for Selkirk—Interlake, I appreciate this vicarious opportunity, but it has come to an end.

Pursuant to order made earlier today Bill C-44 is deemed read a second time, deemed referred to a committee of the whole, deemed reported without amendment, deemed concurred in at report stage and deemed read a third time and passed.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the second time, considered in committee of the whole, reported without amendment, concurred in, read the third time and passed)

Agricultural Marketing Programs ActGovernment Orders

February 25th, 2008 / 10:50 p.m.
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NDP

Alex Atamanenko NDP British Columbia Southern Interior, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to appear again in front of this full House of all my colleagues who have come to listen to this speech. I realize it is standing room only. I will try not to be it too long because the time is getting late. I will leave the eloquence to those who spoke before me.

Before I talk a bit about my reaction to this bill, I would like to underline what my colleague from Richmond—Arthabaska said about our committee.

The motion he had today was very logical. It was something to the effect that we ask the chairman and the committee to respect all of the recommendations that were voted upon.

We underline once again for the government and the minister that these are important recommendations and it would seem kind of bizarre that the government side, the Conservatives, voted against this motion. I did not quite understand that but being new in politics there are a lot of things I do not understand.

I kind of looked at this as an insurance. We have this bill today but we have this insurance to see that all those recommendations are followed. Actually, had we acted and followed all those recommendations in due time, we probably would not be here speaking tonight. Nevertheless, I thank the minister for his action.

I had a conference call on Friday with him, the deputy minister and Mr. Clare Schlegel, the president of the Canadian Pork Council, who was also on the line. As we talked, the minister outlined what he was proposing. My basic question was for Mr. Schlegel and I asked him what he thought. He said that it was a good bill and that it was a good move. I told him that was fine with me because we were there for the producers. The minister had been in contact with someone from the livestock and cattle sectors and they said that it was a good move.

In a sense, I am glad that we are finally moving quickly, that we do have the political will to move and that we have the support of all members in the House. This is a cooperative effort.

Since I got into this business, I have always maintained that I do not care who gets the credit as long as we do something and the fact is that something is getting done. Election or no election, so be it, but at least we are getting out there to help the producers.

However, it is important, as we talk and as we listen to this debate, to put this into perspective. The crisis did not start yesterday. The crisis did not start two weeks ago and we have a reaction today.

We heard from the cattle producers and the pork producers late last November and there was indeed a crisis. We knew all along but we were wondering what steps were being taken and finally we had an emergency meeting. As a result of that meeting, the committee made recommendations, which all parties supported. It would have been logical for those recommendations to have been followed as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, as often is the case, nothing really happened. A lot of words were said and we got the spin that a lot of help was getting out to folks but when they came back to our meeting in January, we heard that this was not the case and that they were still hurting.

There were press conferences and press releases. I wrote a couple of letters to the minister. I must say that when I write these letters I do them in a cooperative tone. It was just a letter telling the minister about the meeting we had and that I would like to once again emphasize that there is a problem and I would like to see what action we are taking.

Many of us asked questions. I asked a question in the House on February 1, which reads:

Mr. Speaker, pork and cattle producers told the agriculture committee that the government has basically abandoned them. Some have called today, February 1, black Friday and others are calling the government's funding promises a cruel joke.

Farms are foreclosing, rural communities are dying and yet no immediate assistance has been committed.

Then my final statement was this. When is this going to end? When is the government going to stop leading Canada down the road to agricultural suicide, which is the term I used?

As we can see, there was a cooperative approach. There was pressure, press releases, questions and the debate that my hon. colleague from Richmond—Arthabaska was able to get in the House. Then we laid out what was happening in consultation with our friends in the pork and cattle industry.

It is important perhaps to underline and note some of the correspondence that had gone back and forth over these last few months. I will quote from a letter from the president of the Canadian Pork Council, Mr. Clare Schlegel, to the minister on January 23. He stated:

Over the last four months we have been working with you and your officials to find solutions to the “perfect storm” facing hog producers across Canada. After much debate within our industry, we put forward a series of reasonable requests to respond to the financial dilemma. We do appreciate the speeding up of payments within CAIS or (AgriStability). But, as you are aware, that alone does not come close to responding adequately to this crisis. This has been pointed out to you in the cash flow statement when we met in December.

He went on to say this:

We had asked for unsecured loans to help producers facing serious liquidity problems. We recognize that a loan must be secured, and we have changed our request accordingly. We need your department to immediately provide loans that come after those of secured creditors.

In its current form, the advance payments program is not very useful, because it only serves to put off current loan contracts. The program should be significantly changed and most of the changes would be legislative or regulatory. Could that be done quickly?

He asked, “Could that be done quickly?” He continued:

In addition, none of the suggested improvements to the AgriStability program have been introduced, except for faster payments. This is threatening the survival of some of our best businesses.

I want to emphasize that he said, “This is threatening the survival of some of our best businesses”. The letter went on:

As you know, the Canadian pork industry is a modern, world-class industry. But our future is problematic because of the strength of the Canadian dollar compared to the U.S. dollar. Pork producers are prepared to adapt to the new reality, but they cannot react fast enough.

Mr. Schlegel finished his letter by saying:

Difficult decisions are being made now on the farm. False hope does not help, as your announcement before Christmas created. While many of the provinces have stepped in with individual programs, they await your leadership. It is time for the Canadian government to step up to the plate.

We see this happening little by little. As I go through the file and I see what has happened over the last few months, I wonder why it has taken this time.

I have a very high regard for the officials that work in the Department of Agriculture. They are professionals. They can get the job done. The minister himself told me, “We are not going to go political with this. We are not going to tie it to the budget. Let us do it quickly so that just in case there is an election my officials in March can get some money out to farmers”. We know that the minister can act quickly. The reason this has not been happening is not because of them. It is that somewhere along the line these quick and important decisions were not being made.

There are a couple of points in the provisions of this new bill which I think are really important. For example, the bill expands the circumstances for which an emergency advance can be issued to include severe economic hardship if the Ministers of Agriculture and Finance jointly agree that the hardship exists.

This is a tremendous point. It gives a little flexibility to the minister to say that there are economic hardships. In this case it is the Canadian dollar, but whether it is a rise in the biofuel industry or the world situation, at least the decision can be made to start getting some help flowing to our farmers.

The interesting thing is that the farmers are not asking for aid and handouts. All they are asking for is a little help to give them some security and stability so that they can get loans and weather this perfect storm. They do not want their farms foreclosed. They want to continue to farm until the world situation improves and there is a better situation at all levels.

On November 15 a communiqué came out from the Canadian Pork Council and I will quote a couple of paragraphs. I said that I did not want to speak too long. I want my colleagues to have a chance to go home early and get up bright and early tomorrow so we can get on with another day. The communiqué says:

Canadian hog producers are facing a financial crisis that is unprecedented in terms of cause and unparalleled in terms of negative outlook. Simply put, prices are collapsing, input costs have increased dramatically and cash losses are mounting at such astonishing rates that entire communities including producers and input suppliers face financial ruin. Most disturbing is the observation that no positive market correction in the foreseeable future seems apparent.

That is an interesting point. We should emphasize that for those who think that the market can regulate everything, that the market will make sure that everything works out well for producers. At times we see that is not the case. I firmly believe that we need an intervention from government, not necessarily in the form of handouts, but in this case we need to assist our primary producers.

The second paragraph says:

The situation is critical. The rapid increase in the value of the Canadian dollar relative to the U.S. is having an effect that is akin to a major system shock. For 25 years, Canadian pork producers faced a steadily declining dollar. They responded by building an industry that became a world leader in terms of exports and overall competitiveness. That advantage has vanished in a few short months driven by forces completely outside their control.

We talked about the pork industry, but the conditions are relatively the same for the cattle industry. We have probably the best producers in the world. They are faced with hardships because of the rise in the dollar, because of what is happening in the world and also because of the biofuel industry. We have to come to grips with those problems.

If prices are increasing and helping one segment of the agricultural community, which is good from the point of view of agriculture, then what about the effect it is having on another sector? Somehow we have to mitigate that. By working together we will probably be able to do that.

I and my party support Bill C-44. It is a positive step. I am a little disappointed that we have not acted on all those recommendations. I hope that as a result of our support for the bill and as a result of the motion that we had in committee today, we will see quick action by government to implement all the recommendations so we can help producers across the country who are hurting. They deserve no less.

Agricultural Marketing Programs ActGovernment Orders

February 25th, 2008 / 10:30 p.m.
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Bloc

André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to also take part in this debate on Bill C-44, which the Bloc Québécois fully supports. Admittedly, there is an emergency and, as a farm producer keeps telling me, all this is not the workings of the Holy spirit.

Listening to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food who spoke earlier, one got the impression that the government is taking action today to solve a problem that arose just yesterday. That is my greatest fear in this situation because, while we support Bill C-44, the government must certainly not assume that the problem is solved, that it can wash its hands of it and that all is said and done.

The optimistic remarks of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food had me fearing the worst. Just this afternoon, the worst did happen at a meeting of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food. With the help of opposition members on the committee, I managed to get a motion approved, asking that the chair of our committee send the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food a letter urging him to respect the recommendations of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food concerning the crisis in the livestock industry. But the Conservative members, the government members of the committee voted against this motion, arguing that this bill would solve the problem. Far from it. Just because we support the bill does not mean that we believe the livestock crisis is completely over and that there is no longer any problem. It was really pathetic to hear the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food earlier try to persuade us that all is fine again, that everything has been fixed and that the government did all that with its magic wand. That is not true, and we must be very careful.

We definitely have some reservations. We have some questions about this bill. Will the government follow up on the recommendations in the unanimous report I mentioned earlier by the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food, which was behind the emergency debate I instigated on February 13?

Will there also be consequences for Quebec since this bill falls under the agricultural policy framework?

And how much of the $80 million is new money?

It is all well and good to broaden the definitions, but if at the end of the day the producers are sharing the same amount, no one benefits. According to some sources, this is not new money, but an interest rate reduction instead. We must remember that a loan is still a loan, and we do not want to increase the debt load of producers.

Earlier, I heard cries from the government side when I spoke about the committee's unanimous report. What happened this afternoon does not make any sense. All the members of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food unanimously adopted a report to help resolve or at least alleviate the crisis in the livestock sector, in the pork and, particularly, the beef sector. All the committee members voted in favour of this report and agreed that long-term measures were needed to alleviate this crisis because they acknowledged there was a crisis and that solutions must be found.

Bill C-44 is not the ultimate and only solution. I think it is completely inconsistent and cynical of the government members to have voted against a motion today in committee that would have had the chair of the committee call on the minister to take action to ensure that the committee's recommendations are adopted. I will list them later on, so we can see how the committee, including members from the government, had a clear view of the situation and were prepared do something to propose logical solutions, demanded by the producers themselves.

Today, because a bill has been introduced, all that is going by the wayside. But the Bloc Québécois will not give up, just as we did not give up when I joined the agriculture committee, which was grappling with the supply management issue. We obtained a unanimous motion to protect the supply management system.

The same is true of our call to use article 28 to restrict milk protein imports. Government representatives and bureaucrats told us that we were going to be crushed by countries like the United States and New Zealand, which would tell us that we had no right to use article 28 and that it made no sense. The country would be put in an embarrassing position, and there would be plenty of problems. Then, out of the blue, the Minister of Agriculture at the time came to the annual meeting of the dairy farmers of Canada and told them that he was invoking article 28. It was no good when the Bloc Québécois was calling for it, but when the government feels an election coming or a demonstration on Parliament Hill, it makes the necessary decisions.

We have to put things in perspective.

On a positive note, I will say that I am glad the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food introduced this bill, which would change the eligibility requirements for the advance payments program, in response to the emergency debate the Bloc Québécois requested on February 13 about the crisis in the livestock industry.

As I said, the government still has a long way to go to make livestock producers more competitive. There was a reason we asked for an emergency debate. Livestock producers are at the end of their rope and have to take whatever help they are offered. That is why Bill C-44 helps matters. But as I told the minister when I spoke to him last Friday, the government still has not responded to the six recommendations in the unanimous report of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food, entitled “Study on the Collapse of the Beef and Pork Sector Revenues”, which was tabled in this House on December 12.

The report recommends that transitional measures be put in place to alleviate this crisis, along with longer-term measures to improve the competitiveness of the industry. The government does not seem to understand that we are looking for longer-term measures. As with any problem, we have to look beyond the end of our noses. To resolve a problem, we have to ask what can be done in the future to have solutions that ensure the sustainability of a certain sector. That is what we tried to do with this report.

The Bloc Québécois has been very aware of the problems of livestock producers for a long time now. In November 2006, I invited pork producers from Quebec to come testify in the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food. A year later, in light of the government's inaction, we had to raise this issue again and put the livestock crisis back on the agenda. I also had to request an emergency debate on this matter because nothing was being done.

As I was saying earlier, to listen to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, we get the impression that the Conservatives only found out there was a problem yesterday and today they are taking action and resolving the problem. We have to go back much further than that. My colleague, the hon. member for Malpeque, has already listed everything the opposition has done in this matter. For a very long time now, alarm bells have been ringing and it was high time the government took action.

I do not know whether it is because an election is in the air, but perhaps some matters will get resolved a little more quickly now. Mind you, I am not complaining. This does not bother me. In any case, when we achieve success for the producers and the people we represent, we are always prepared to hold our heads high in our ridings and throughout Quebec and tell people that we did something good for them. That is not a problem. The minister can also say he got things done with Bill C-44, and I would be the first to recognize that he finally did.

Yet, it took threats of demonstrations on the Hill—which, farmers told us, were in the works—as well as the possibility of an election, before we saw any action. This government has been in power for two years and could have taken action long ago. Members here in this House have expressed their agreement with what I just said.

Some very interesting recommendations were adopted by the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food. I would remind the House that the report was unanimously passed. The first recommendation states:

The Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food recommends that Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada deploy ... a special transitional measure that will provide cash flow in the form of interest-free loans to be paid back over a period of three to five years, and bankable cash advances to hog and cattle producers.

The report also states:

The Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food recommends that Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, in partnership with the provinces and territories, payout the remaining percentage owed to producers under the CAIS Inventory Transition Initiative (CITI) and respect the federal-provincial funding agreement.

Another interesting recommendation states that:

The Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food recommends that Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) hold formal discussions with the Minister of Finance to show the impact of the strengthening Canadian dollar on the food producing and processing industry in Canada and to examine ways to relieve the pressure on the industry from the rising Canadian dollar. AAFC officials should report back to the Committee on the result of these discussions.

Of course, this would have allowed us to participate in the debate that arose in all the sectors affected by the sudden surge of the Canadian dollar.

It is our duty to examine this situation and determine to what extent it affects our sectors. In addition, given that pork and beef producers are exporters, it would have been important to study this.

The fourth recommendation states:

The Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food recommends that measures be taken to improve the responsiveness of BRM programs when a liquidity crunch arises in the farming sector. Examples of these measures include, but are not limited to:

allowing producers, for the purpose of reference margin calculations, to use the better of the Olympic average, the average of the last three years, or a five-year rolling average;

eliminating the viability test, which requires that producers show positive margins in two of the three years;

increasing the annual contribution limit in the AgriInvest program;

fast-tracking the federal $600 million Kickstart program for producer accounts in the AgriInvest program, so that funds can start flowing earlier than initially planned.

Another recommendation states:

The Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food recommends that the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food conduct a complete review of regulatory measures susceptible of putting the Canadian meat industry at a competitive disadvantage vis-à-vis other countries, and that this information be shared with the Committee.

And the final recommendation states:

The Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food recommends that Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada review program funding available to beef producers, processors and renderers to help them with the disposal and storage costs of ruminant specified risk material (SRM).

Those are the six recommendations. Because I only have 20 minutes, I will not read the entire report. However, I can tell you that it is an excellent report that was adopted unanimously. We would have thought that government members would join us in continuing to exert pressure on the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food to respond favourably to these six recommendations. Unfortunately, we did not have this opportunity because the members of government are under the impression that Bill C-44 has fixed everything.

However, not everything has been fixed yet. This is evidenced by the fact that, in a press release issued today, the Canadian Pork Council says that it is pleased to see the bill being passed quickly. At least, this is what it hopes, and this is what will happen, because all the opposition parties will ensure that we go through the various stages very quickly, so that the bill comes into effect. However, while the Canadian Pork Council is pleased with this situation, it also makes the following comment, through its president, Mr. Clare Schlegel:

...while the troubles in the industry will not end soon, the federal government and the pork industry must continue to work together to find improvements that help to guarantee the long-term competitiveness of this important Canadian livestock industry.

That pretty well sums up what I said earlier. We are of course pleased that the government has finally decided to take action, but we are concerned about guaranteeing long-term competitiveness, and we are saying that the troubles in the industry will not end soon. The producers themselves just sent us a very important message. That is why we, on this side, will continue to ensure that the recommendations made in the report of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food are implemented once and for all.

I should also point out that the producers' demands have not all been met. Obviously. One might argue that every industry has specific demands but does not always get everything it asks for. The fact of the matter is that this bill does not solve the majority of problems experienced in the beef and pork industries.

Just last Friday, I met with representatives of the Fédération des producteurs de porcs du Québec at my constituency office. These are people from my region, central Quebec. They came and presented their problems to us. Every member from Quebec received a small pamphlet in which the federation asks the federal government to implement several solutions to help pork producers. The hon. members will see that Bill C-44 does not solve everything.

For example, the Fédération des producteurs de porcs du Québec is asking that the $1.5 million cap under the AgriStability and AgriInvest programs, as well as the $3 million cap on the start-up fund, be raised.

It is asking that the reference margins to provide appropriate support to producers be adjusted in light of the unique nature of the crisis and the persistently poor market conditions.

It is asking that the Canadian product labelling rules designed to ensure that consumers can clearly identify where products come from be tightened up.

It is also asking that a new envelope be set up to support shared cost programs, allowing for regional flexibility in the next generation of agricultural policies.

As we know, Quebec farm producers are calling for agri-flexibility in addition to the AgriStability and AgriInvest programs. We are therefore looking for a much more flexible program for the producers and for the provinces as well.

The advance payments program, which was recently expanded to include stock production, should not use the business risk management program as collateral, thereby forcing producers to pay back advances when they receive payments.

All the MPs from Quebec received a visit from the pork producers in their region pushing these demands. Obviously, I would like to take advantage of this speech to pass this along to the government and make it realize that Bill C-44 is not going to put an end to all this and shut everyone up. Of course the government would rather see the opposition remain quietly seated and not say another word, but since we represent our people we will continue to speak up. It is with a great deal of vigour that I, personally, will continue to defend not only the pork producers, but the also the beef producers who are going through this crisis.

I must say that it was not so long ago that the Conservative government sang a very different tune about this crisis. I am referring to the emergency debate that I requested and obtained on February 13. I agree that some Conservative members made good, realistic presentations. In any case, one such member, the chair of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food and the hon. member for Selkirk—Interlake, was even cited in the Canadian Pork Council newsletter as having delivered an eloquent and interesting speech.

It should be noted that the news release did not cite the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food because he had his rose-coloured glasses on. He came here, and all he did was put down the opposition parties, saying that it was all a bunch of garbage, that money had been pumped into the pockets of agricultural producers, and that all was well in the best of all possible worlds. As a result, the Canadian Pork Council did not quote him as having given a speech that addressed the producers' grievances.

It did mention me, the member for Richmond—Arthabaska—I cannot say my own name—because I was the one who called for and got an emergency debate. It also said that the comments made by the members for Malpeque and British Columbia Southern Interior were especially notable. I would add that the Bloc Québécois members for Montcalm, Beauharnois—Salaberry, and Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot also gave speeches recognizing the seriousness of the crisis.

On the government side, we heard from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, and especially from the member for Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière. I promised him that I would print copies of his speech to give to agricultural producers because it was so appalling, lamentable and sad to hear him say that everything was fine in the livestock sector. And that is exactly what I did.

On Friday, when people came to see me to talk about this crisis, I gave them a copy of the speech. After reading a few lines, they were very disappointed in this government member, who refused to acknowledge just how serious the crisis had become. Yet, even his minister realized that something was happening, given that we are now studying a bill that was just introduced.

There was a problem at that time. Fortunately, the opposition is here to make the government understand what is going on. Otherwise, we would still be stuck there and nothing would happen.

All that to say I am very pleased to see this bill fast tracked, so that our farmers may get at least a bit of a break.

Agricultural Marketing Programs ActGovernment Orders

February 25th, 2008 / 10:10 p.m.
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Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I thought there were questions.

In any event, what we heard just a moment ago was a lot of rhetoric. As for the last comment by the parliamentary secretary about putting farmers first, nothing is further from the truth.

That member has stood up many times in the House talking about farmers being pleased and about the government acting decisively. We asked the government about this in October. This is now February 25.

This is February 25 and the member stays quiet. Yes, I am frustrated, because I know too many people who have gone broke in the process. As for that member standing there and talking about the government acting decisively, nothing is further from the truth.

Finally today in this bill the government has admitted what we have been telling those members since last summer, which is that their programs are not working, especially not for a livestock industry in crisis. Instead of acting as they should have, government spokesmen continued to perpetuate the myth to the general public that they were actually doing something, as we heard a moment ago.

Following questions in the House to which the minister failed to respond, I raised the crisis in a late show debate on October 30 of last year. It is important to note what was said at that time:

Atlantic Canada is on the verge of losing its hog industry. Many of the most efficient hog operators are packing it in and hoping to get out with some dignity and the minister still sits on his hands.

Their life's work was being destroyed. Third, fourth, fifth and sixth generation farmers were losing their farms, losing their homes and losing their heritage.

The federal government, as I said at the time, had a duty and a responsibility that previous Liberal governments understood and acted on. They acted on potatoes and PVYn, on poultry, on ad hoc payments and on BSE, but the Conservative government fails to act and continues to perpetuate the myth that it is doing something.

It was October of last year when this crisis was raised, and vividly, for the government's attention. It failed to act. Week after week, we and other opposition parties in the House raised questions. The non-response from the minister and his government was, to be blunt about it, just unbelievable.

Mr. Speaker, as you well know, and we just heard it a moment ago, it is not unusual for the government to say something that we cannot believe. Worse, in November, the Minister of Finance released his economic statement and again ignored the livestock crisis. There was absolutely nothing for an industry in crisis in the November economic statement when the government had high surpluses at its disposal before it started to squander that surplus away.

Any government should use prudence so that it has reserves in place to assist industries when they are in trouble, whether it is manufacturing, agriculture or forestry. However, the government, with its incompetent Minister of Finance, has squandered those resources and those surpluses. I do not know whether the money is there or not, but the money was there in November and should have been utilized to assist this industry in crisis.

On December 3, many of the points were raised again in debate in the House to suggest that the government should be acting rapidly. Even in a western paper, the StarPhoenix, Kevin Hursh, a consulting agrologist and farmer, said something that I want to quote because I think it is important:

For the past decade, the agricultural industry in Saskatchewan has gradually developed a more healthy balance between livestock and grain. Grain is still king, but the cowherd has expanded. While the number of hog producers has continued to drop, hog numbers in Saskatchewan are up substantially.

All that is now at risk. Those of us in the grain business shouldn't feel too smug. There won't always be such a strong international market for our feed grains. If we lose a big chunk of the livestock industry, we'll also lose a large part of the domestic feed grain market.

He went on to say that he felt “the cattle and hog sectors would go forward to government with a united front” with proposals for assistance that would not open them up to countervail action. He closed by saying, “Hopefully, governments will listen”. Those were the key words: “Hopefully, governments will listen”. But as we now know, the government did not listen and it did not act and every single day some producers went out of business in this country.

That parliamentary secretary stood and said what he just said as if nothing happened, as if no family farms were destroyed, trying to leave the impression that his is a government of action that puts farmers first. Absolutely nothing is further from the truth.

A Senate committee and a House of Commons committee tabled reports in December and still there was no action on the part of the government. Finally on December 19 we had an announcement by the minister of a so-called action plan, but as we warned at the time it was not an action plan that would work.

There are three points I need to make. First, the minister called the United States Secretary of Agriculture to get his approval. This is the first government in Canadian history that allows the Secretary of Agriculture in the United States to determine what our agriculture should be. That is absolutely the wrong approach. Second, the minister raised expectations and false hopes. Third, the program could not work without legislation and could not provide the financial liquidity the livestock industry really needed.

What really angered producers was that every time the minister and his parliamentary secretary could, they would re-announce that old $600 million kickstart program, which for the livestock industry was basically inaccessible. That is why we have the legislation here today. That is why the government is coming forward with Bill C-44. It is finally admitting that the proposal on December 19 really did not work and required legislative amendment.

For the minister and his parliamentary secretary to get up time after time and say that farmers were happy, the program was working and the government was taking action was just throwing salt on the wounds of those producers who were suffering out there. The bill certainly shows the mistruths in those answers, especially those from the parliamentary secretary.

In fact, when the standing committee--and I note that the chair of the committee is listening--called the Canadian Cattlemen's Association and the Canadian Pork Council before the committee on January 31 to gain their response to the government position, they laid it out fairly clearly. The president of the Canadian Pork Council said:

Let me be clear that the December 19th response was a cruel joke to many of our producers. There were false hopes and false assumptions and false expectations that simply weren't deliverable.

In other words, the program was not working, but all we got from the government was deny, deny, deny, and the parliamentary secretary, as is his way, and as he did tonight as well, on January 29 stated: “That money is flowing toward cattle and hog sectors as we speak”. We now know that not to be true. The money was not flowing to hog and beef sectors “as we speak”.

I wonder if the parliamentary secretary would apologize to this House and to producers who now know what he said was not true.

There is even further evidence of that in the frequently asked questions paper that the department provided with this legislation. I will read question six from the document:

Why go the legislative route? Isn't this just more parliamentary brinkmanship?

The answer:

The legislative changes are necessary to get these advances out to the producers who are in dire straits. If all parties worked together, we can do this very quickly.

What is the government going to do for the 15% of producers across Canada who have gone because of the government's lack of action? What is the government going to do with the almost 40% of the industry in Prince Edward Island that have left because of the government's lack of action?

We have called. Farmers have called. We have had an emergency debate. Months have gone by since this issue should have been dealt with: September, October, November, December, January, and we are at February 25. It is a little late. Every day some family farm bites the dust because there has been no real concrete action that would mean dollars in producers' pockets.

Thank goodness for the ideas and cooperation from the opposition or we would still be waiting. The impression the government tries to leave is that it is the opposition that is holding things up. We have cooperated. We tried to get this bill through. We have tried to encourage the government to come forward. We have offered to be cooperative in the emergency debates at committee to get the legislation through and actually get dollars in people's pockets. That is what we are doing tonight. We are trying to get Bill C-44 through so the money can get to producers.

The holdup all along has been the minister and the government in terms of burying their heads in the sand and thinking they had done something when that something really did not mean anything to the actual producers who really need the money.

It is kind of interesting that finally on Friday we got a call from the minister that there is now an emergency to get this through before the budget. Do the Conservatives think there is an election coming and they have to own up that they have not done what they ought to have done? It is rather interesting that we are debating this bill tonight and the briefing is tomorrow, after we have debated and passed the bill.

The leader of our party asked me and Cindy Duncan-MacMillan to hold some quick and dirty hearings on the livestock crisis and come up with some recommendations, which we did. We tabled those recommendations last Monday. I want to go through those recommendations.

I will admit that the bill the government has proposed does move one step forward, but there are a lot of steps that have to be taken in terms of a livestock crisis recovery strategy. For instance, on the agri-invest, or the old CAIS, or agri-stability, with losing 15% from the agri-stability as a result of the agri-invest, what the livestock industry is asking for is to make that optional to producers so that they can either use the agri-stability program or have the option of agri-invest. That would help them out in this time of crisis. There is nothing in this bill about that proposal.

Let me just go through some of the recommendations so that they are on the record. Maybe after a few months the government might come forward and seize on them. That is, if the Conservatives are around in a few months. They may be long gone and we will not have to worry about this inactive government anymore.

Here are some of the recommendations.

Put cash in the hands of beef producers immediately by making special 2007 CAIS advance payments of up to $100 per cow and $150 for feeder cattle.

Put cash in the hands of hog producers and implement an immediate short term loan for Canadian hog producers to improve cash flow as markets adjust with the loan program secured by long run future business risk management payment programs to be negotiated with hog producers. That is basically what this bill does tonight.

Put, on an immediate priority basis, 2006 CAIS payments and 2007 CAIS targeted and interim advance payments for all hog and beef producers.

Work with all parties to determine how the livestock advance payment program could be improved and be accessed by the hog and beef producers including amending the security requirements, which is in the bill and we support that.

Unlinking or decoupling CAIS payment offset with advances given.

Extending time restrictions on advances and the bill, I believe, does that as well.

Allow all hog and beef producers to be given the option of having the top 15% CAIS or the new agri-invest program for at least 2007 and 2008 and maintain the $600 million agri-invest kick-start already announced.

Defer not only interest payments but also clawbacks of all CAIS overpayments to hog and beef producers until December 2008.

Establish immediately a working group to develop a livestock production insurance program to provide hog producers equivalent coverage given to crop producers and help them to address margin declines due to disease outbreaks.

For the sake of not only the agriculture sectors but also Canada's forestry and manufacturing sectors and exporting industries, look at and examine their monetary policies.

There are measures that need to be taken in the medium and long term, as well. Market competitiveness is the key for hog and beef producers.

For farmers in this country, significant regulatory hurdles and a non-level playing field relative to our competitors in the United States and elsewhere impedes our producers success in markets. Specifically, the livestock prices strategy should also include some medium and long term initiatives.

These would include the following.

Realigning Canada's regulatory inspection fees and cost recovery rates such as those applied to border measures, traceability and food inspection to be competitive with Canada's major trading partners.

Working with the CFIA and industry groups to significantly improve approvals for new medications.

Establishing a new dedicated trade directorate that could pull together resources from the CFIA, Agri-Food Canada and International Trade Canada to focus maximum resources on market access agreements for Canadian livestock production.

Establishing a new trade quick response team to rapidly defend against industry trade challenges.

Eliminating supplemental imports of beef above current trade commitments in Canada.

Working with all provinces to significantly reduce interprovincial trade barriers such as meat inspection, a chronic barrier to innovation and entrepreneurship as producers face a bewildering disarray of different provincial standards and regulations.

That kind of livestock prices recovery strategy, as we proposed a week ago today, is composed of suggestions from farmers for farmers. It addresses both short and long term challenges.

We believe those initiatives, if put into action, would in fact help our industry become innovative, more economically sound, put it at a more level playing field with our competitors around the world, and do what needs to be done for the long term potential of the industry.

I am disappointed tonight that it took the government six months to finally come to the realization that it needed to at least take a step in the right direction to assist our industry that is in trouble.

I encourage the government to consider some of the other proposals that I have put forward here tonight.