Madam Speaker, it is certainly a pleasure for me to rise on this debate in support of the proactive approach the minister and this government are taking to enhance the agriculture and agri-food sector of the Canadian economy.
I might say in beginning that my colleague who spoke earlier should try some of those P.E.I. potatoes from that beautiful red soil. It is unlikely she would then go back to her own variety.
The proactive approach starts right here in the House of Commons with the new government and in committees with the participation of backbench MPs, both from the government side and members opposite. I believe there is a new sense of democracy in the land. As a government we said we would give members of Parliament more power and that we would give a voice to committees. That is evident every day in the discussions in the various committees and is quite a turnaround from the past administration.
The tragedy of the past administration is that many of its policies are still ongoing today in the new administration.
Let us look at the work of the agriculture committee. I think it adds to the leadership provided by the government. The estimates we had before us and are before the committee as yet still contain some of the policies of the past administration. It will take some time to get the new policies of the government in place.
The agriculture committee has been very serious in doing an intense analysis of the department's estimates and looking at ways and means that the department can better deliver services to the farm community. We have been very open about that analysis. We believe that the views of all members are important and should be considered. In that way the government gives a renewed voice to primary producers, to the agri-food industry members, through their members of Parliament at the committee and House of Commons levels.
Let us take a look for a moment at the aggressive direction the government has been taking in the past six months. Let me start with what is a very difficult issue, GATT article XI(2)(c). It has been raised by members opposite to a certain extent. They are claiming that we have undermined producers of their ability to survive and prosper in some areas. We did have a stacked deck against us, left there by the previous administration. We have set up a process to retain the benefits of the supply management system and at every opportunity we talk about how supply management could be used as a model of development for rural areas in other countries around the world.
Changes that happen at the GATT negotiations are not without difficulty, but that is what leadership is all about and that is what this new Liberal government is showing. We have admitted up front to the loss of article XI(2)(c). We did not try to put a spin on it as previous administrations had tried to do. In fact, because we believe in primary producers and have great confidence in the farm community, we have involved them in a process to retain the benefits of the supply management system and move on to greater prosperity we hope in the future.
At this stage I must address some of the points the member for Québec-Est made in suggesting that the government failed Quebec relative to article XI(2)(c). Nothing could be further from the truth.
It is because of strong national policies that Canada has put in place over the years-most of those policies were started under a previous Liberal administration-that Quebec has been able to make the gains it has. For instance, Quebec's net farm income has grown steadily over the past 20 years as a result of the stability and the national programs that we put in place. In fact the member for Québec-Est on April 28 had this to say: "With milk definitely we have had a certain advantage in Quebec over the west, that is for sure".
I do not mind admitting that the attempt of members opposite to try to misconstrue the facts and show that certain moneys are going west or going east and not going to Quebec are creating grave difficulties for us as a nation because the wrong impression is left. Let me tell you that this national government wants
to ensure that dairy producers and chicken producers in all provinces retain the advantage that supply management has given them. We will continue to do so with the processes we have set up in order to see that supply management survives into the future.
Let us examine the stance of this government versus that of the previous administration in terms of the trade action and trade rhetoric coming from our neighbours south of the border. The United States continues to challenge our agencies, our marketing of grain, ice cream and yogurt and other areas. It knows full well that we have won every trade dispute that has been put to any panel. We have won before the International Trade Commission, the General Accounting Office, the Binational Trade Panel under CUSTA and just recently under an international trade audit.
However, instead of lying down and dying the government has said, as the minister said this morning: "This minister will not lie down and die. Canada will fight back". That is leadership. He is standing up for our producers and our nation and that is something new.
Another example of the proactive policies of the government is that we recognize full well the trouble in the transportation sector in terms of the car allocations of grain moving west. We immediately came together and set up two subcommittees, one on agriculture and one on transport. These committees held two intensive days of hearings. Out of them we came up with some recommendations in which we basically suggested that the GTA, the Grain Transportation Agency, should apply the rules of the land.
Where the previous administration failed to apply the penalties that should have been imposed on the railways for not moving product and not putting the capital investment on the rolling stock into place, this government and its members through the committees have said that the penalties should be enforced and that the GTA should live up to its responsibilities. We have recommended that to the minister and the minister is moving forward. The minister of agriculture is moving forward to a meeting on May 16.
I have always been concerned about the policies that lead to a continuing reliance on off-farm income. Liberals will not be working toward removing more farm families from the land but rather working with them to strengthen their ties to the land and the farming community. The government will be working to ensure that farmers become less dependent on off-farm income which not only merely supplements family incomes but is often one of the pillars which ensures the very survival of farming operations.
We are pursuing policies in which primary producers can achieve the majority of their income from the farm. We will work toward implementing marketing programs to do this.
In conclusion, though the government has been very proactive and has provided strong leadership, one of the important factors is the minister of agriculture. Last weekend when the minister was in my riding he showed that he is a leader of the times, that he believes strongly in the Liberal policies that were in the red book during the election campaign. He is willing to sit down and listen to producers, discuss with them and build that strong rural community base in the interests of primary producers and the agri-food industry and businesses all across Canada that this country sorely needs.